Sunday, 14 June 2020

Thoughts on The Wind in the Willows

First - Mr Toad is evil surely? He doesn't seem to genuinely care about the welfare of anyone other than him. He is certainly pleasing when he wishes to please but as soon as he is out of the sight of others the only thing he cares about is himself and not even his own long term welfare but whatever is going to get him dopamine in that particular moment.

Everyone says 'Toad is a good fellow really' but he really isn't.

Ok I have that out of my system, main points

This was a book I thought I knew because I had absorbed it through vague cultural osmosis, but really I didn't at all.

I think my parents too me to see a stage production when I was little but I was too small and it scared me. And I must have picked up fragments from TV.

But none of those really do the book justice at all because it is much much better than any of its degraded cultural shadows


There is lots and lots of very wierd genre, or just weird stuff in the book.

Badgers house is built into roman (or current if this is a post-apocalyptic novel) ruins, and his capacious tunnel systems are the envy of batman or a paranoid schizophrenic.

PAN - Mole and rat literally MEET A GOD, and then get mindwiped because meeting gods will fuck you up.

Toad feels really more like Anansi or Coyote, a fundamental trickster spirit. Entirely self-involved, disguising himself, charming (some) people always getting away with everything. He seems able to move between worlds in a way the other animals don't and interacts with governmental or societal systems in a way they don't.


The shifting interrelationships of scale, and how they don't make 'sense' but stll work are utterly fascinating. Only Toad persistently interacts with Humans, despite not being the largest animal, and he can disguise himself as a human and interact with the legal system. Drive a car. Lives in a house instead of a hole. The animals go through a village at night, looking through windows, but then Mole lives in a hole again.



what are the threats in wind in the willows?

Getting lost in the Wild Wood during snowfall/a friend getting lost. A child getting lost on the riverbank. A friend getting . Wanderlust. Mr Toad and his addictions, (and he does seem like an addict). The working class doing a revolution and taking over your stately home. A friend missing home (Mole and Rats friendship is threatened both by Mole smelling his old home and Rat being enraptured by Wanderlust), not having food to entertain carollers. Change....


Everyone is male except for the washerwoman and the girl who gets Toad out of prison. Everyone is a Gentleman, (of the middling kind for Mole and Rat) except for maybe Otter, and definitely the wild wooders. There are quantum servants, likely descended from the Quantum Hermits of Mallory. Badger says 'I'll send someone with you'. Cooking and other things take place via invisible hands.

Mole speaks a dab of common because he is a bit common, probably only a generation or so away from the labouring classes. Badger speaks in a 'common way' because he can. He is old money landed aristocracy and doesn't need to give two fucks about what anyone else thinks.

The Hobbsean predation nightmare that is actual nature is dealt with in the manner of a 19th century gentleman of liberal tendancies;

'Well, of course - there - are others,' explained the Rat in a hesitating soft of way. 'Weasels - and stoats - and foxes - and so on. They're all right in a way - I'm very good friends with them - pass the time of day when we meet, and all that - but they break out sometimes, there's no denying it, and then - well, you can't really trust them and that's the fact.'


The Wind in the Willows has a surprising and deep emotional range.

It might seem, in a way, to be a story about nothing.

But it is about home, about domestic emotions.

You have to quieten the drum to let those memories and emotions become clear. What Graham does is like a lullaby, a soothing. A spell. Like a near-sleep. But the purpose of that sleep isn't woozieness but a stillness that brings clarity, and which therefore can form a substrate or canvas of a kind which can let those very soft, very gentle emotions flow. Its very hard to do a story or make a thing about soft, positive, pro-social emotions without ritualising them and fetishising them to the point where they become performative or just objects.

All of the characters are complex and all of them (except Toad) are extremely emotionally aware of each other, though in the style of Anglo men of the time, they do not 'bring it up'.


The prose is very very good. From the voices and patterns of the characters, to the semi-incantory ultra-present nature poetry, to, well, everything. There are no duff lines.

"he increased his pace, and as the car devoured the street and leapt forth on the high road through the open country, he was only conscious that he was Toad once more, Toad at his best and highest, Toad the terror, the traffic queller, the Lord of the lone trail, before whom all must give way or be smitten into nothingness and everlasting night. He changed as he flew, and the car responded with a sonerous drone; the miles were eaten up under him as he sped he knew not wither, fulfilling his instincts, living his hour, reckless of what might come to him."

It is both too good for children, as they will not appreciate how good it is compared to everything else, but also just right in the sense that it is whole writing, writing that is like smooth well-carpentered wood, not because it is simply made from single pieces but subtly made from many parts to feel whole.

I think Rapheal said a good sculpture was one you could roll down a hill without anything breaking off. I take that to mean that it contains and deals with all the energy it produces without lacking for expression, like a very good, but very calm, dancer. Skill brought to the pitch of near-invisibility. There it is.


  1. It's a wonderful book and was something I revisited over and again, especially when I discovered Syd Barrett. For obvious reasons, there's an association--- though I think TWitW and his work, are representations of a powerful and insistent myth, a British thing that almost scrapes the surface of a magnificent and overwhelming otherness.

    Thanks for this Patrick.

  2. Wonderful closing paragraph.

  3. I think Toad is Chaotic, or Chaotic Neutral if you prefer. I'm sure this isn't an accident. Frogs are symbols of chaos.

  4. Try Winnie the Pooh! I was reading it to my kids and, like you say, it's too good for them--in a more childish but still awesome kind of way.

  5. I found it a bit devastating trying to read it again as an adult. So I stuck with enjoying the art. Maybe I'll give it another try. I loved that book as a kid.

  6. Thank you! I've been searching for someone on the internet to acknowledge that it is confusing what size the animals are, and you are the first person I found to do so!