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56 pages 1 hour read

Kenneth Grahame

The Wind in the Willows

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 1908

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

First published in 1908, The Wind in the Willows by Scottish writer Kenneth Grahame is a story for young readers that recounts the adventures of three animals: Mole, Rat, and Badger. In the woodlands where they live, the trio must deal with various problems—which include frequently rescuing their friend Mr. Toad, who loves thrills and often causes trouble.

Widely considered one of the greatest literary works for children, The Wind in the Willows has been reprinted dozens of times, and many editions are illustrated by famous artists. The 1931 edition famously featured drawings by Ernest H. Shepard, who also illustrated A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh. The book has been adapted into feature films, television productions, and a dozen works for stage, including musicals and an opera.

The 2019 Cervantes Digital eBook edition is the basis for this study guide.

Plot Summary

Tired of spring cleaning, Mr. Mole ventures up from his burrow to the surface and rejoices in the warm sun on the meadows. He wanders until he comes to a river, the first he’s ever seen. Across the water lives Mr. Rat, a water rat, who invites Mole to go boating. They picnic by a small lagoon. Otter joins them, and Mr. Badger drops by, but he’s grumpy around too much company and leaves. Mr. Toad hurries past in his latest water toy, a fancy competition rowboat. Otter says Toad will soon tire of it and take up another adventurous hobby. On the return trip with Rat, Mole eagerly tries to work the oars—but capsizes the boat. Rat quickly sets it right, and Mole apologizes. Rat invites Mole to live with him; Mole accepts.

Rat teaches Mole to swim and row. One day, they scull up to Toad Hall to visit Mr. Toad. He has bought a colorful wagon—a house on wheels—and Rat and Mole join him on a journey. Two days into their travels, a “motor-car” hurtles past, startling the horse and causing the wagon to tumble into a ditch. The car entrances Toad, who discovers a sudden passion for automobiles.

Fall turns to winter, and Mole gets a yen to visit the mysterious Mr. Badger. He walks to the Wild Wood, where glinting eyes stare from dark holes and strange whistles echo. Rabbits and other animals suddenly run for their lives, so Mole hides in a tree hole. A worried Rat searches for him and finds him in the tree.

They try to cross the Wild Wood at night but get bogged down in a snowstorm. By chance, they find Badger’s front door and knock on it. Badger welcomes them, feeds them, and gives them beds to sleep in. In return, Rat and Mole inform Badger that Mr. Toad has bought and crashed seven automobiles. Badger insists that, come springtime, they must talk sense into Toad.

On the way back from a December hunting trip, Mole senses his old burrow nearby. He and Rat locate it: It’s just as Mole left it, neat and orderly though dusty. A chorus of caroling mice appear at the door, and Mole and Rat invite them in. Rat has one of them run to the village for a basket of food, which they all enjoy. Mole is glad to be at his old home but continues his adventures above ground too.

Mr. Toad keeps buying and crashing cars. Worried about his health and dwindling estate, Badger, Rat, and Mole visit him and try to make him give up his driving adventures. They keep him locked up at home, but he escapes, steals a car, gets arrested, and goes to prison.

Meanwhile, Otter’s young boy, Portly, disappears, so Rat and Mole row upriver, searching for him. Near dawn, they hear beautiful pipes playing and follow the sound to a small, lovely island, where they find the demigod Pan playing music while protecting the sleeping Portly. A breeze makes them forget the vision of the island and Pan’s music. Rat and Mole deliver Portly to Otter and return home, puzzling sadly over something wonderful they can’t quite remember.

Wallowing in misery in his prison cell, Toad becomes a project for the jailer’s daughter, who brings him food and talks him out of his funk. She helps him escape by disguising him in a washerwoman’s uniform. Toad then asks a train engine driver to give him a ride back to his home. On the way, they’re chased by a police train, but Toad jumps off in the woods and disappears among the trees.

Rat meets a visiting ship rat, who enchants him with stories of the great coastal cities of Europe. Hypnotized, Rat decides that he, too, wants to visit other lands and prepares to leave—but Mole intercepts him and shakes him out of his trance.

Toad wakes in the forest and sets out along a canal road. A barge, pulled by a horse, floats past, and Toad hitches a ride on it. Toad tells the stout lady who steers it that he’s a very successful washerwoman with 20 employees. She tells him that she has many dirty clothes stashed below and wonders if he’d clean them while she takes him toward his destination. Toad tries to launder the clothes but doesn’t know what he’s doing. The woman laughs at his futile efforts; Toad is angry and insults her. She picks him up and throws him off the boat. Enraged, Toad climbs out of the canal, runs after her, and steals her horse.

He rides for miles and sees a “gipsy” cooking breakfast. The man offers to buy the horse for cheap. Toad is hungry, so he accepts on the condition that he receive some breakfast. Afterward, on foot, he hails an approaching car but nearly faints because it’s the same one he stole weeks earlier. The driver and passenger take pity on him, thinking he’s a distressed washerwoman, and give him a ride. Talking his way into the driver’s seat, he speeds and crashes the car into a pond.

Running from the police again, Toad falls into the river, which carries him past Rat’s house. Rat rescues him. Toad learns that Toad Hall has been taken over by weasels with guns. He marches up to his house but gets shot at and retreats; he tries to row there, but guards sink his boat. Badger says a secret tunnel opens into the Hall. The four friends agree to use it to raid the Hall during an upcoming weasel banquet and evict the squatters. Mole dresses up in Toad’s washerwoman disguise and visits the Hall, where he suggests to the guards that more than 100 rats and badgers will attack after dark. This sends the stoats into a panic.

That evening, in the middle of the boisterous banquet, the four friends burst into the great hall, shouting, swinging cudgels, and sending weasels scampering for the exits. The escaping animals get into a fight with the guardian stoats, who think the attack that Mole warned them of is on. All the interlopers scatter into the night.

Toad and Badger host a banquet for the neighbors. Badger and Rat prevail on Toad not to ruin it with boastful speeches and songs, and he instead behaves very well, even giving credit to his compatriots. To his surprise, the guests respect him more for his modesty than for his old bravado. Thereafter, the river community regards Mole, Rat, Badger, and Toad as great heroes.

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