Places: The Wind in the Willows

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1908

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Allegory

Time of work: Early twentieth century

Places DiscussedRiver

River. Wind in the Willows, TheFictional river in England that flows to the sea past meadows, woods, and towns and which serves as the focus of the novel. The river, never named in the story, is modeled after the rivers of southern England well known to Kenneth Grahame throughout his life. It gurgles along its course between banks covered with rushes, flowers, reeds, and trees–silver birch, alder, and willow trees. As the novel progresses, it is the setting for Rat’s patient tutelage of Mole, Mole’s growing skill as a boatman, Otter’s despair over the disappearance of his son, Toad’s near-drowning following his escape from prison, and Rat and Mole’s mystical encounter with Pan.

Riverbank

Riverbank. Rat’s home, a multichambered hole in the muddy riverbank just above the water line. It is a marvel of cozy domesticity with its parlor where armchairs are pulled close to the fireside, its kitchen which supplies the food for the table and picnic baskets, and its bedrooms offering rest in their soft sheets and blankets.

Toad Hall

Toad Hall. Toad’s home, a large English country house with lawns sloping down to the river. In keeping with his bombastic character, Toad’s home is a grandiose establishment. In addition to an imposing brick manor house it includes a banqueting hall, a coach house and stable-yard, and a boathouse. Toad, careless in so many ways, is equally careless in appreciating all that his home means to him. Only after he has lost it does he understand its value. To regain his home, Toad works on a battle plan devised by Badger, who knows of a secret tunnel leading from the river to the interior of the house.

Mr. Badger’s home

Mr. Badger’s home. Extensive series of stone-lined rooms connected by paved passages, and bolt holes underground in the Wild Wood. In the novel, Badger observes that when humans went away, their structures fell into ruins and were eventually engulfed by the forest, and the animals, who always remain, made use of what the people left behind to create secure and comfortable homes.

Mole End

Mole End. Mole’s home, a simple underground burrow in the meadow near the river, with sleeping bunks built into the parlor wall.

Pan Island

Pan Island. Small wooded island in the river. Here Rat and Mole, in their search for Otter’s lost son, experience at sunrise the mystical presence of the god Pan, guardian of animals.

BibliographyCarpenter, Humphrey. “The Wind in the Willows.” In Secret Gardens: A Study of the Golden Age of Children’s Literature. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985. Carpenter, coauthor of The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature, concludes that, of all the subjects in his study, only Grahame managed to create a utopian world. For Carpenter, it is the level at which The Wind in the Willows explores the artistic imagination that gives it coherence.Chalmers, Patrick R. Kenneth Grahame: Life, Letters, and Unpublished Work. London: Methuen, 1933. This biography, appearing a year after Grahame’s death, sentimentalizes the genesis of The Wind in the Willows. Valuable in its extracts from Grahame’s letters to his son documenting the development of the story, and from correspondence between Grahame and his readers and publishers.Green, Peter. Kenneth Grahame 1859-1932: A Study of His Life, Work, and Times. London: John Murray, 1959. Considered a groundbreaking study. Presents as in-depth analysis of the psychological undercurrents, social context, literary sources, and creative method that produced The Wind in the Willows.Kuznets, Lois R. Kenneth Grahame. Boston: Twayne, 1987. Cogently discusses the work’s thematic and formal complexity, from its mock-epic structure and density of style to its archetypal associations. Surveys modern evaluations and adaptations.Sale, Roger. “Kenneth Grahame.” In Fairy Tales and After: From Snow White to E. B. White. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1978. Examines The Wind in the Willows as a classic of children’s literature. Sale argues that the book, reflecting Grahame’s own anxieties, offers reassurance in the face of the demands of adult life.
Categories: Places