What can I say about The Wind in the Willows that has not already been said? Well, I shall give it a try.
What follows is an impression, my impression of Kenneth Grahame’s masterwork, based upon my optimism that those who have already read it, will enjoy my review, and those who have not will be tempted.
THE Mole had long wanted to make the acquaintance of the Badger. He seemed, by all accounts, to be such an important personage and, though rarely visible, to make his unseen influence felt by everybody about the place. But whenever the Mole mentioned his wish to the Water Rat he always found himself put off. `It's all right,' the Rat would say. `Badger'll turn up some day or other -- he's always turning up -- and then I'll introduce you. The best of fellows! But you must not only take him as you find him, but when you find him.'
`Couldn't you ask him here dinner or something?' said the Mole.
`He wouldn't come,' replied the Rat simply. `Badger hates Society, and invitations, and dinner, and all that sort of thing.'
`Well, then, supposing we go and call on him?' suggested the Mole.
`O, I'm sure he wouldn't like that at all,' said the Rat, quite alarmed. `He's so very shy, he'd be sure to be offended. I've never even ventured to call on him at his own home myself, though I know him so well. Besides, we can't. It's quite out of the question, because he lives in the very middle of the Wild Wood.'
`Well, supposing he does,' said the Mole. `You told me the Wild Wood was all right, you know.'
`O, I know, I know, so it is,' replied the Rat evasively. `But I think we won't go there just now. Not just yet. It's a long way, and he wouldn't be at home at this time of year anyhow, and he'll be coming along some day, if you'll wait quietly.'
The Mole had to be content with this. But the Badger never came along, and every day brought its amusements, and it was not till summer was long over, and cold and frost and miry ways kept them much indoors, and the swollen river raced past outside their windows with a speed that mocked at boating of any sort or kind, that he found his thoughts dwelling again with much persistence on the solitary grey Badger, who lived his own life by himself, in his hole in the middle of the Wild Wood.
I have often been fascinated by someone to the point of distraction, just like Mole and his curiosity about Badger. And so I was drawn to Mole and the teasing way in which Ratty tells him that, `Badger hates Society, and invitations, and dinner, and all that sort of thing.' - because it turns out to be not entirely true. It is just a sort of lazy surmise that has done the rounds. The truth about Badger is far more compelling and delightful. It becomes later an encouragement to seek out people and form your own impression. That said, WitW is never preachy, and despite it being about small furry animals, never strays into sentiment. The story itself is a page turner; this chapter among many, leads Mole to go of into the Wild Wood on a journey fraught with danger, to the point of death by exhaustion, and it is this which resonates with contemporary events and must have struck a chord with those who read this chapter in the light of Scott’s doomed journey to the Antarctic, five years later.
Of course, the whole thing is animals with human characteristics, but this very thing enables you to imagine the world of the Wild Wood, the world of nature unbound, and the daily struggle for life and survival that all creatures on this earth must undergo. Perhaps the chapter that most exemplifies this is the “Piper at the Gates of Dawn” – yes, famously borrowed for a Pink Floyd Album title; a chapter redolent and rich with pagan imagery and the thin veil between that which is temporal and that world which we cannot see, but for some reason, we need to believe in.