The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame. Published in 1908, this book is a great literary treasure. I first became entranced by its gorgeous prose and imagery when I was eleven years old, and my teacher, Mr. Ballard, read it aloud to our class. Nominally a children’s book, it actually continues to grow in depth and beauty as we age. Indeed, it is one of those rare books that grows with the child into adulthood.
This is a book which speaks to that place within us which can be defined as holy. Its sense of the mystical, the unnamed, the unknown, that in us which responds to beauty and deep, unfettered joy, permeates the whole of the book. Gradually we come to know that when awe, reverence and beauty defines our lives, we possess the transcendent ability to overcome limiting margins. There is also a delicious humour throughout which delights all the senses.
"Never in his life had he seen a river before -- this sleek, sinuous, full-bodied animal, chasing and chuckling, gripping things with a gurgle and leaving them with a laugh ..... All was a-shake and a-shiver -- glints and gleams and sparkles, rustle and swirl, chatter and bubble. The Mole was bewitched, entranced, fascinated. By the side of the river he trotted as one trots, when very small, by the side of a man who holds one spell-bound by exciting stories sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea.”
Mole then meets Rat, who invites him to go boating on the river and share a picnic.
“There he got out the luncheon-basket and packed a simple meal, in which, remembering the stranger's origin and preferences, he took care to include a yard of long French bread, a sausage out of which the garlic sang, some cheese which lay down and cried, and a long-necked straw-covered flask wherein lay bottled sunshine shed and garnered on far Southern slopes.”
Along the way they encounter Badger, Toad and Otter. Each character is gradually honed and distilled and refined through their conversation, actions and the way they experience every aspect of the day’s adventures. Toad’s manic search for happiness is a foil for the others who each define and seek it differently. What constitutes sanity, happiness, peace? There are so many layers of redemption, forgiveness, fulfillment and transcendence in this tale.
“All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.”
Kenneth Grahame is the grand master of alliteration and word play. His coupling of words is brilliant; “chatter and bubble”, rustle and swirl” as they meander along the river "chasing, chuckling," "gurgling, glints and gleams." The words are truly bewitching. We are entranced by them. Our senses "a-shake, a-shiver” as we become alive to his gorgeous passages of prose."This day was only the first of many similar ones for the emancipated Mole, each of them longer and fuller of interest as the ripening summer moved onward. He learnt to swim and to row, and entered into the joy of running water; and with his ear to the reed-stems he caught, at intervals, something of what the wind went whispering so constantly among them."
All you who love the art of the word, whether it be written, spoken, composed, sang, painted, sculpted, photographed, prayed, eaten, danced … please read the wonder that is ‘ The Wind in the Willows.’