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The Big ReadThe Wind in the Willows

Kenneth Grahame

Average Review Rating Average Rating 9/10 (1 Review)
Book Details

Publisher : OUP Oxford

Published : 2010, 1908

Copyright : OUP Oxford 2010

ISBN-10 : PB 0-19-956756-5
ISBN-13 : PB 978-0-19-956756-0

Publisher's Write-Up

'Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.' So says Rat to Mole, as he introduces him to the delights of the river and his friends Toad, the spirit of rebellion, and Badger, the spirit of England. But it is a world where the motor-car is about to wreck the gipsy caravan, the revolutionaries in the Wild Wood are threatening the social fabric, the god Pan is abroad, and the warm seductive whispers of the south are drifting into the English lanes. An international children's classic, The Wind in the Willows grew from the author's letters to his young son, yet it is concerned almost exclusively with adult themes: fear of radical changes in political, social, and economic power. Mole's acceptance into the conservative world of the River Bank, and Toad's wild attempts to escape from it, are narrated in virtuoso language ranging from lively parody to elaborate fin-de-si├Ęcle mysticism. A profoundly English fiction with a world following, it is a book for adults adopted by children, a timeless masterpiece, and a vital portrait of an age.

One of the most celebrated works of classic literature for children, The Wind In The Willows follows Mole, Rat, Toad and Badger from one adventure to the next - in gipsy caravans, stolen sports cars, to prison and back to the Wild Wood. A story of animal cunning and human camaraderie, this remains a timeless tale nearly 100 years after its publication. When Mole goes boating with the Water Rat instead of spring-cleaning, he discovers a new world. As well as the river and the Wild Wood, there is Toad's craze for fast travel: which leads him and his friends on a whirl of trains, barges, gipsy caravans and motor cars, and into a lot of trouble.

Far from fading with time, Kenneth Grahame's classic tale of fantasy has attracted a growing audience in each generation. Rat, Mole, Badger and the preposterous Mr Toad, have brought delight to many through the years with their odd adventures on and by the river, and at the imposing residence of Toad Hall.

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Review by Geoff Ward (050910) Rating (9/10)

Review by Geoff Ward
Rating 9/10
This new edition [Oxford World's Classics] of the international masterpiece makes it abundantly clear that it never was a children's book, despite its acceptance as such for the past century.

As Peter Hunt, Professor Emeritus in children's literature at Cardiff University, says in his introduction, it could be 'the greatest case of mistaken identity in literature'. It is widely accepted as an animal story for children, despite being neither an animal story, nor for children. While characters are called Toad, Rat, Mole and Badger, they are meant to be humans.

In actuality, the book was 'the reaction of a conservative man (and a conservative society) to radical change' in political, social and economic power. Although born in Edinburgh, Grahame (1859-1932) loved England, but he was a rather puzzling character, conventional and socially well-connected but only a dabbler in writing, and something of an outsider.
A depression in agriculture from 1870-1902 had seriously undermined the rural way of life, already bemoaned in the works of Thomas Hardy and Edward Thomas, for example, and the Boer Wars of 1899-1902 had proved that British military strength was not all-powerful. The working classes were mobilising with trades unions, the Labour Party was nascent with 29 MPs of the Labour Representative Committee elected in 1906, and the national Union of Women's Suffrage Societies was launched in 1897.

Toad, who embodies the spirit of rebellion, tries frantically to escape from the conservative world of the River Bank, while Rat accepts Mole into it: '...there is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats'. But revolutionaries in the Wild Wood are threatening the status quo, and the motor car is displacing the gipsy caravan, the sensual god Pan, the rural pagan, is making his presence felt, and the warm, alluring ululations of the south are infiltrating the lanes of England.

Although developed from Grahame's bedtime stories and letters to his son, the book, first published in 1908, deals almost exclusively with adult themes embracing farce, satire, mysticism, nostalgia, rebellion, repression, worry and insecurity. It is such qualities which consistently challenge declarations about the appeal of The Wind in the Willows as a children's book.

A quintessentially English work, and an indispensable portrait of an England in that period, it's a book for adults which has been adopted by and for children. As well as the enlightening introduction, this excellent new edition includes valuable explanatory notes by Prof Hunt, chronology, bibliography and a textual note.
Geoff Ward ( 2010)

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