Penn State

Charlotte M. Houghton - Associate Professor of Art History, Penn State University Park

Book Title: The Wind in the Willows [New York, Scribner's, 1933-1937 only--must include Ernest Shepard illustrations]

Author: Kenneth Grahame

Book Description:

The Wind in the Willows is one of those rare children's books whose resonances deepen for readers from ages eight to eighty. It offers ever-fresh insights into the value of friendship, the responsibility of care and respect each creature owes its fellows, and the wonders (both terrible and beautiful) of the natural world. Its prose is simple, yet elegant--a model for writing that is clear and vivid without talking down to any member of its audience. Its pen-and-ink illustrations by Ernest Shepard bring its figures and landscapes to life. Ratty, Mole and Badger form a community through enjoying the aspects of life they hold in common, yet honoring each other's differences, while Toad's travails reveal the pitfalls of pretension and the questionable nature of the concept of progress. The tough love Mole, Rat, and Badger demonstrate toward Toad speaks movingly--and hilariously--to the development of character.

Lest I make an idiosyncratic masterpiece sound too politically correct, this text from 1908 also displays edges of sexism and social preference. Females are largely irrelevant in Rat's and Mole's world, and the animals' waistcoats and natty tweed jackets situate them firmly as males of the upper middle class. Yet even these aspects of the The Wind in the Willows allow for incisive contemporary interpretation. Adults, for instance, may savor in its cohort of males an understated queer subtext, while Rat's and Mole's and Badger's resolutely bourgeois surroundings may be read, in context, as reflecting their own subjective level of comfort and amplitude in their simple, natural surroundings. If you are not yet acquainted with The Wind in the Willows, find a copy now. If you already know Rat and Toad, visit them again. In Kenneth Grahame's wonderful telling of it, this tale enriches a lifetime of reading

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