I grew up with this story, but never the book. I remember watching the animated movie of The Wind in the Willows several times and the scenes of the animated Mr. Toad stand out to me most of all. Between the colors of his clothes, his hyperactive personality, and the funny way the illustrators made him look while he was driving a motorcar have stuck in my mind all these years. So when I found it as an eBook for ninety-nine cents I couldn’t refuse the opportunity to read this story for myself.
The Wind in the Willows is a story about a mole, a water rat, and a badger and their attempts to tame the eccentric Mr. Toad. When Mr. Toad finds himself behind the wheel of a motorcar there is nothing that can stand in his way, or so he thinks. But when his antics culminate with a jail sentence, Mr. Toad may find that the life he thought to be so extraordinary isn’t quite what he thought it would be.
My first thought about The Wind in the Willows is that it is a necessary piece of literature that everyone should read. It may not provide the same level of intellectual inquiry which other more esteemed novels are known to provide, but what it does provide is a great deal of important advice for life; especially for children. In layman’s terms this is a rite of passage tale. At some point in our lives we are all a little like Mr. Toad: energetic, excited about the many new things we discover, and filled with a little too much pride in ourselves. Yet we must all grow up some day and Mr. Toad’s journey gives an example on how we can move from being a child to becoming an adult, but perhaps without the jail sentence.
Something else that I find wonderful about the story, though others may consider this a flaw, is the simplicity of the story. The story description may sound vague, or without a large central plot, but the reality is that it doesn’t have one. The story follows the lives of several forest dwelling creatures and the interactions they have with one another. I’ve asked myself the question, would The Wind in the Willows and other stories like it be enhanced with the addition of more structured plot? After considering it for a short time I have to say no, it wouldn’t be improved. The change would so drastically alter the story that it wouldn’t be anything like its original self. The simplicity allows for greater significance to shine through: rite of passage and the process of maturing.
As a side note about this book and several others published in a similar time period, it should be noted that there is a reason why so many books published during that time were shorter in length or, if not shorter, than more simplified than books frequently published today. Consider books like Pride and Prejudice, Frankenstein, or The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and you will find that each book’s writing style is more simplistic or lacking in depth and detail. The reason for this is partially due to influence from the time, but also because they had to use type writers or pen and paper. It was much harder for them to write for long periods of time due to the extra work required of them. Yet I will say that I appreciate the antiquated style these books have because it requires the reader to exert a great deal more imagination when reading. Yet at the same time it brings an odd sense of intimacy to the story that I don’t always find in books published today; it is a feeling I don’t fully understand yet.
I’m grateful that I came back to explore this story and really experience reading it myself for the first time. Such books bring the reader back in touch with their younger selves, when the world seemed a much happier place; everyone held the potential to be remarkable individuals, and the only thing restricting our dreams from becoming a reality were ourselves. I may not read this book again for myself, but I will be surprised if I don’t read it to my future children.