‘The Wind in the Willows’ is not at all what I expected. Granted, I read it in a fog of sleep-deprivation, but it felt like Kenneth Grahame was writing an anti-kids’ story. It started out charmingly, with idyllic forests and anthropomorphized woodland creatures, but then weird shit started happening.
The main character is Toad. You kind of have to love and hate this amphibian; he’s ridiculously arrogant and most of his conversation has to do with how awesome he is, but somehow his manipulative and irrepressible sincerity is endearing. After all, he just wants to drive cars really fast. But his friends, Mole, Rat, and Badger, decide after the seventh crashed car that enough is enough. Behaving as though Toad is a drug addict and they’re staging an intervention, the furry ones first try reasoning with Toad. When that doesn’t work, they put him under house-arrest. He escapes and has all sorts of sweet adventures, one of which includes cross-dressing.
While Toad’s off making his web-footed mischief, the mammals back home blunder around doing a whole lot of nothing— that is, until a baby otter goes missing. Mole and Rat go wandering through the forest looking for him. When they find him, he’s hanging out with Jesus. Who is a faun. With hooves and horns and stuff. I still have no idea what Grahame was going for there.
In the end, Toad comes home and is force-fed humble pie and everyone lives happily ever after. Except Toad, since it’s firmly implied that he’s the same egotistical fuck and he’s just swallowing it to make his buddies happy. Which leads me to Grahame’s apparent message in the story. It is fourfold. First, have no passions, because if you do they’ll send you straight to jail for twenty years. Second, don’t like anything, because your friends will sit on you until you quit liking it. Third, adventures are dumb and you shouldn’t ever have them. And fourth, just give up on your dreams now and live your life to make everybody else happy.
Kenneth Grahame probably hatched from an egg at age eighty and missed his entire childhood, because no one who was ever six years old thinks that adventures are dumb. This book should be kept far, far away from the impressionable minds of everyone’s offspring. The world has enough people-pleasers who are too meek to do anything risky.