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The Wind in the Willows

December 10, 2009

Christina writes: I have just finished reading a new book, The Illustrators of The Wind in the Willows 1908–2008 by Carolyn Hares-Stryker. This is not the continuous text discussing illustrated editions Wayne and I had expected when ordering it, but rather a biographical dictionary of some ninety artists who have illustrated Kenneth Grahame’s classic work since its first publication in 1908. At least one picture by each artist is reproduced, mainly in black and white (only sixteen are in colour), together with comments by artists on when they first read the book, their favourite passages, and how they approached its illustration. (A useful online bibliography of illustrated editions is on the Kenneth Grahame Society website. Another list may be found here.)

Rat and Mole Boating

From this, I went to our shelves to see which editions of The Wind in the Willows we own. It is a book we both read first in library copies, and it has held a special place in our hearts. (Pauline Baynes once asked Wayne which book – other than The Lord of the Rings – he would take with him to a desert island, and he answered ‘The Wind in the Willows’ without hesitation.) We have bought a number of copies in later years, mainly, as it happens, after we married and merged our collections. At that time, I owned a 1966 reprint with Ernest H. Shepard’s black and white illustrations, as well as a 1959 edition, the first to add full-page colour illustrations by Shepard, while Wayne had a 1969 paperback with black and white art by Alex Tsao. For both of us, Shepard is the illustrator who best captures the spirit of the story (today, 10 December, is his birthday, as remarked by our friend Brian Sibley). But we have also been attracted to editions illustrated by Inga Moore (two volumes with abridged text, The River Bank and Other Stories from The Wind in the Willows [1996] and The Adventures of Mr Toad from The Wind in the Willows [1998]), Helen Ward (2000), Michael Foreman (2001, autographed copy), and Charles van Sandwyk (2005).

In addition, our collection includes two copies (1983 and 1999), of the unillustrated World’s Classics paperback edition, which includes an introduction by Peter Green and a bibliography of Grahame criticism (the 1999 bibliography is updated); and, most recently, the two annotated editions published in 2009: The Annotated Wind in the Willows, edited by Annie Gauger, and The Wind in the Willows: An Annotated Edition, edited by Seth Lerer. Wayne will say something about these in a separate post.

While reading the Hares-Stryker book, I was very tempted by some of the art to consider adding more illustrated copies to our collection, but then remembered our diminishing shelf space and how often we’ve seen and admired one illustration for a book in a catalogue or magazine but have been disappointed with most of the others when we had a chance to look at the actual book. Still, I’ve made a mental note that when we’re next in New York and visit Books of Wonder – one of the few really good shops selling children’s books that survives – I’ll make a point of looking at copies of The Wind in the Willows.

The titles given to the two volumes illustrated by Inga Moore reflect a real division in the book. Hares-Stryker notes that some illustrators expressed a preference for the tranquil, pastoral atmosphere of the earlier chapters, and felt drawn more to Mole and Rat, while others were more attracted by the dramatic exploits of the irrepressible, conceited Toad in the latter part of the book. Both Wayne and I belong to the former group: I tend to identify mostly with Mole, Wayne mainly with Rat but also with Mole and Badger. Toad’s adventures are amusing, but he is not really the sort of person we would like to meet in real life.

Dulce Domum

The Wind in the Willows was a book that Tolkien also enjoyed, and therefore we have an entry on Kenneth Grahame (pp. 350–1) in the Reader’s Guide volume of our J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide. He mentioned the work briefly in the published On Fairy-Stories and more fully in drafts. He wrote: ‘Except for the character of Mr Toad (a human-type of automobile-enthusiast blatantly satirised in true beast-fable style), the animals in The Wind in the Willows live enchanting lives by the River-bank and have enchanting adventures. Some of the chapters come very close to prose poems, for example “Dulce Domum”, where the Mole emotionally rediscovers his old home, “Wayfarers All” where the Rat longs to go adventuring, and “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn”, where the god Pan watches over a baby otter lost from home.’ In draft, he also described the book as ‘an almost perfect blend, at the russet stage, of many pigments: a beast-fable, satire, comedy, Contes des fées, (or even pantomime), wild-wood and rivers of Oxfordshire’, though here he went on to express the opinion that the presence of Pan should not have been made explicit. (Tolkien On Fairy-stories, expanded edition, edited by Verlyn Flieger and Douglas A. Anderson, pp. 98–9 and 249.) When First Whisper of ‘The Wind in the Willows’, edited by Grahame’s widow Elspeth, was published in 1944, Tolkien wrote to his son Christopher: ‘It is not, I gather, notes for the book, but stories (about Toad and Mole etc.) that he wrote in letters to his son. I must get hold of a copy, if poss.’ (Letters by J.R.R. Tolkien, p. 90). We own early printings of this work, one British (1946), one American (1945).

It seems clear that Tolkien’s preference was for the earlier chapters, which depict the English countryside and rural life similar to what he would have experienced at Sarehole. His dislike of the noise and pollution produced by cars and the detrimental impact they and the expanding road network had on the countryside would not have disposed him to sympathize with the motor-mad Toad. In our article on Grahame we note that ‘The Hobbit has often been compared to The Wind in the Willows, perhaps first by C.S. Lewis’, and give various references. In our Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion we note similarities between Grahame’s work and both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

To illustrate the lengths to which collectors may go, we also have on our shelves four spin-offs from The Wind in the Willows: Wild Wood by Jan Needle, the story told from the point of view of the stoats and weasels; A Fresh Wind in the Willows by Dixon Scott, with new adventures similar in style to the original; The Willows in Winter by William Horwood, the first of several highly-publicized sequels (Wayne disliked it, and refused to buy the later volumes); and Alan Bennett’s dramatization. We own a BBC recording of the latter, and enjoyed listening to it while driving to the Midwest earlier this year, noting, however, the many liberties taken with Grahame’s original. In this same vein, Wayne also has in his DVD collection three adaptations of The Wind in the Willows for film.

Of course, in addition there are Grahame’s other works: we have The Golden Age, Dream Days, The Reluctant Dragon (from Dream Days, separately published), Pagan Papers, and The Cambridge Book of Poetry for Children, the latter selected and edited by Grahame. And also related biography and criticism: Kenneth Grahame: Life, Letters and Unpublished Work by Patrick Chalmers, Kenneth Grahame 1859–1932: A Study of his Life, Work and Times by Peter Green, Green’s Beyond the Wild Wood: The World of Kenneth Grahame (an abridged version of the previous book), The Wind in the Willows: A Fragmented Arcadia by Peter Hunt, Kenneth Grahame by Lois R. Kuznets, and Kenneth Grahame: An Innocent in the Wild Wood by Alison Pringle – as well as many books in which Grahame is mentioned, and journals (such as Children’s Literature and The Horn Book) containing articles about The Wind in the Willows.

If the extent of our Kenneth Grahame collection comes as a surprise to any of our readers, it has been no less to Wayne and me in bringing all of the books out, from a number of rooms and shelves, for the sake of this post!

Images: Illustrations of Rat and Mole boating, and of the carolers at Mole End, by E.H. Shepard from the 1959 Methuen edition of The Wind in the Willows.

  1. December 12, 2009 11:38 am

    I very much enjoyed reading your tribute to the The Wind in the Willows and as you were kind enough to mention my blog-reference to Shepard’s birthday, I’m bold enough to send you this link to a longer piece which I wrote about this wonderful, wonderful book.

    • December 12, 2009 10:13 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Brian. We enjoyed reading your earlier blog post. Another reviewer who thought The Wind in the Willows a failure was Arthur Ransome, in the London Bookman for January 1909. At that time, AR was a freelance critic, still years away from being a best-loved author himself. When Wayne was writing his Ransome bibliography he was surprised to read AR’s Grahame review, and considers it one of Ransome’s few literary misjudgments.

  2. February 7, 2010 4:48 pm

    Hello Wayne and Christina,

    The Wind in the Willows is, in my opinion, just about the only novel a person requires. I mean, really requires. And Shepard’s illustrations are inseparable, I feel, from the book. I didn’t read Wind in the Willows as a child, but as an adult, and as I see my second childhood goggling on the horizon, I enjoy it even more. My copy is the Charles Scribner’s Sons 1954 edition with the gorgeous title-page with the title in green! Got it at Dog Ears in Hoosick.

    I hope you’re both well. Best wishes for 2010,


  3. jo noel permalink
    March 7, 2010 9:57 am

    Just stumbled over your site with its lovely review of all the Wind in the Willows available. Crikey, it has inspired me to start up a collection of my favourite desert island book. If I was unlucky enough to be marooned how I would hanker for England! I read the Willows every couple of years and my children also love it. I recently found a 1954 World Book reprint edition in hard back in good condition though the jacket is a little scruffy. Inside was a postcard/Christmas card depicting the four companions playing various instruments outside a village cottage with two children looking on. The illustration appears to be by EH Shepard and I wondered if either of you had come across it in your travels. I cannot find anything about it on google. (Lord of the Rings is of course my other much loved read and puts paid to the often quoted premise that only ‘boys’ enjoy it!) Hope you can shed some light on the card.

    • March 18, 2010 1:48 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Jo. We’ve spent some time looking through our books on Shepard and on The Wind in the Willows in case a card such as you describe was reproduced, but with no luck. Nor can we ourselves find it online. We’ve never seen a picture of Mole, Ratty, Badger, and Toad playing musical instruments, by Shepard or any other artist. It doesn’t seem to be the sort of thing Shepard would draw, since there’s no such scene in Grahame, but anything is possible.

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