Kenneth Grahame, Secretary to the Bank of England in the 1890's, wrote two successful books about childhood ('Golden Age' and 'Dream Days') which were aimed firmly at adults. Then came 'Wind in the Willows', which caused a good deal of consternation as its dressed-up talking animals could be enjoyed on the child's level, but decidedly more so on an adult-and-child's level. How to comprehend this chimerical beast, destined as it was to become the true classic of the three books?
Fortunately, the book had two powerful advocates which ensured its success. In the USA President Theodore Roosevelt wrote from the White House to Kenneth Grahame to say how greatly his whole family enjoyed it, and in Britain A.A. Milne made a very popular play out of it called 'Toad of Toad Hall'. And indeed Mole, Rat, Badger, Toad, and Otter can be enjoyed simply for their distinctive characters and their adventures, major and minor, by the riverbank. Personally I must admit that I had to make a certain effort to suspend my disbelief (as to a lesser extent for 'Animal Farm') and allow myself to enjoy the humourous characterisations and banter - there is no Narnian or Middlearth magic to get you 'over the hump'. However, there is a great deal to enjoy at this child's level once you get into it.
Then there are the elements for more adult entertainment. Mr. Grahame clearly had a high old time writing this book; when Toad is arrested he indulges himself in a page of Shakespeare: 'Then the brutal minions of the law fell upon the hapless Toad...past men-at-arms in casquet and corselet of steel...past ancient warders, their halberds leant against the wall...till they reached the door of the grimmest dungeon...'. Then there is the gentle parody on the positivistic scientific method when Rat and Mole have to find Badger's front door in the snow by logical deduction; the Otter (that gay blade) describing how even rabbits can be made to talk sense if you just give them a bit of a slapping; the awe of the numinous on the river island when they have a vision of the good god Pan looking after the lost child otter; the wily sea-faring Rat mesmerising our River-Rat into going to sea with him; and finally the grand battle to recapture Toad Hall from those villains the (....) - but it would be unfair to reveal that plot element and ruin some of the suspense. To be read more than once.
This report prepared by Michael JR Jose