Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Title: The Wind in the Willows
Author: Kenneth Grahame
Published: 1908
Challenges: Back-to-the Classics (a children's classic), book club

I know this is a children's book, but by no means should adults overlook it.  Of course, you may find it unconventional to read seriously about four small animal friends, with human characteristics, and their joyful life experiences and thrilling adventures; but their tale is told with great human themes that everyone can relate to or learn from.  

Illustration by Michael Foreman

Mole, Rat, Toad, and Badger take you on many excursions through their little animal world, set in England, and teach you about the natural longings for home and long-lasting, good friendships.  There are lessons in consequences for bad choices and how loyal friends will stand by you though thick and thin.  Adventure is a major theme, and each animal has a calling, although it is not always the end result because it may not be the best idea.  This is where friends come in handy and help to make good decisions.  At times the plot seems to be missing, but it is not; and if you focus on the themes, you may appreciate the story even deeper.  

Illustration by Inga Moore

At the center of the story, the mythological Greek god of Nature, Pan, makes an appearance. Some have made his connection to Christ, but I am quick to think, "No! Why would Grahame use a pagan god to represent Christ?"  However, Pan is seen here as a remake, rather an intentionally gentle, caring character, a helper and protector of nature, animals, and peace.  Could it be easier to imagine Pan in this fictional animal children's story, as opposed to a human figure, like Christ?  Possibly.  This is a really fantastical chapter of the story, and I want to reread it a few more times, to experience it again.

"The Piper at the Gates of Dawn"

I would also add that this might be difficult at times to read aloud to children because Grahame is another master weaver of the English language.  For me, it was such a pleasure to read aloud, as literature should be, but my children interrupted often to ask for definitions of words. However, they did enjoy the overall experience of the animals and their simple and complicated antics.  And since it took over a month to read through just 12 chapters, my younger ones were anxious to read the adapted versions of Wind in the Willows that we own.  They wanted to read ahead to see what happened next.

Caught my kids reading ahead in their adapted versions of Wind in the Willows

Someday I hope to reread this to myself again, without having to stop and explain British English words to my kids.  Now that I focused more on the themes, I know why I was fond of this story when I first read it many years ago. 

P.S. I found this short YouTube video of Wind in the Willows' illustrations, by Inga Moore, which I find delightfully sweet, just like the story itself.  


Sharon Wilfong said...

This is really one of my favorite stories. I have more than one edition but my favorite is with E.P. Shephard's illustrations. Interesting comments about Pan. I also wondered about his inclusion. It seemed a little pagan but your comments have given me good for thought.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Sorry. I meant FOOD for thought.

Ruth said...

I'll take a look at Shephard's illustrations. I don't know what I love more: the story or the illustrations.

When I first read Wind in the Willows, I was uncomfortable about reading about Pan in such a glorious light; and then I read opinions about it having a Christian connection, and I thought people were stretching it. I need to research the author about his intentions and reasons for including Pan b/c I don't know how else to look at it, accept that maybe it just made more sense that he would be a Protector of animals. I have no idea.

o said...

I love this book, definitely a favourite for me :) I read somewhere it was based on or at least very influenced by Homer's Odyssey, which definitely makes sense.

Ruth said...

Yes, that's right. I did read that it was. It is supposed to parallel the story of the Odyssey: more specifically, Toad is supposed to be Odysseus.

Also, I made a mistake. Grahame was Scottish. I thought he was English.

o said...

I thought he was English for much of my life as well! I was very surprised when I read that he was Scottish :)