Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows has been a classic for over a hundred years. I have heard about it all my life, and yet I am reading it for the first time now. S and I are sharing the same beautiful copy I purchased online, a hardback with richly expressive and detailed illustrations by Robert Ingpen. It has been a little tricky trying to share a copy. We both tend to want to read it at bedtime curled up with pillows and the welcome silence of the house. We are also writing summaries, or “skeletons of the plot” for each chapter.
Even as an adult, if you have not read this 1908 classic, I highly recommend it even though I have only completed the first four chapters. It tells the story of inexperienced but eager Mole, wise river-residing Ratty, distractible Toad, unsociable Badger and others. Grahame is a master at presenting their distinctly animal-like characteristics while also providing a discerning eye toward our own human peculiarities. The stories flow at an easy trickle. No great events happen, but we are privy to more and more of their strengths and flaws with each chapter. Mole, for example, is quickly dismayed when his foolishness causes him to get lost in the Wild Wood. Not heeding the sage advice of his friend, he persists in entering the forest alone in search of Badger. A rabbit races past him screaming, “Get out of this, you fool, get out!” This is not helpful to Mole.
But then, there is Rat, ever true and brave, seeking out his foolish friend, despite his own fears and the dangers. His only thought is to rescue Mole. Rat holds no grudges. It doesn’t matter that Mole had previously refused his warnings and brought this calamity on himself. Instead, the Rat responds kindly and works to get them out of the situation.
“Dear Ratty,” said the Mole. “I’m dreadfully sorry, but I’m simply dead beat and that’s a solid fact. You must let me rest here a while longer, and get my strength back, if I’m to get home at all.”
“O, all right,” said the good-natured Rat, “rest away. It’s pretty nearly pitch dark now, anyhow; and there ought to be a bit of a moon later.”
And that, my friends, is love and compassion and grace. Not once did Rat chastise Mole, though it was all completely his fault. He did not abandon him. He saw his predicament, and it became their predicament.
Here is the way to lead others out of the terrors of the Wild Wood:
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”