Readers and critics don’t often consider children’s books classic literature because the topics they cover aren’t always seen as “serious.” That’s not the case with Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. So, what’s the secret behind this book’s title of being a 20th-century classic?
The Wind in the Willows is considered a classic because it’s an allegory of human life told through four animal friends. Because of that deeper meaning, adults and kids can enjoy this book. Moreover, The Wind in the Willows teaches us the importance of friendship and the love of nature.
Have you ever read a book and knew you stumbled upon a classic but couldn’t pinpoint why? That happens a lot with The Wind in the Willows, and I’ll explain why. I’ll present the most important reasons why this book is a classic in the eyes of many.
Here are all the reasons readers and critics agree The Wind in the Willows belongs on the “Classics” shelf. After you read this article, check out my other article 9 Most Read Children’s Books in the World to see other classics of children’s literature.
When an entire literary work is one big metaphor for something, it becomes an allegory. Allegory is one of the most common characteristics many literary classics have. An excellent example in US literature is Moby Dick.
Likewise, The Wind in the Willows is an allegory. Indeed, it was promoted as an allegory back when it came out. On the surface, it’s a story about four animals who live like Edwardian gentlemen. But deeper down, the story discusses everything from human nature to Edwardian Englishness myths.
Fables (stories where animals speak and behave like humans) are popular among writers when writing allegories. Mr. Badger, Mr. Toad, Mole, and Rat can represent all of us through their behavior. And that universality makes this book a classic.
Although The Wind in the Willows was supposed to be a book for adults, its origins go back to children. More specifically, Grahame wrote the stories to his son Alastair. A year later, he published them as the book we know today.
However, the fact remains that The Wind in the Willows contains many episodes and symbolism which only adult readers can understand. After all, the four animals act as adults. They own houses, drive cars, and dress like grown-up English gentlemen. Not many kids can relate to that.
Still, children can enjoy all the adventures the four animal friends have, which are often scary and dangerous. The Wind in the Willows is a classic precisely because different levels of meaning are suitable for kids and adults.
All great classics have some moral to pass down to their readers. The Wind in the Willows is one such book. Its readers can learn many important lessons, such as:
- The importance of friendship
- Being curious is okay
- Money isn’t everything in life
- Being different isn’t bad
The last point represents the allegorical aspect that we discussed. The four friends are all different animals, which only makes them stronger. They accept their differences, physical and behavioral. Some characters are caring, and others are adventurous and restless. There’s nothing wrong with any of these behaviors.
When Mr. Toad acts recklessly with his car, his other three friends want to help him. This is one of the most important lessons younger readers can benefit from.
The Wind in the Willows can be considered a classic for the 21st century. Professor Peter Hunt argues that the book is Grahame’s “gay manifesto.” The characters are all male and are close, so this book can also teach readers about accepting differences on many levels.
The natural world is a big part of The Wind in the Willows. He created a wonderful pastoral scene with the natural world as the focus. Love for nature is an important aspect of the book because many of us grow up away from the natural world.
The title of the book also shows the importance of nature for Grahame. The Wind in the Willows suggests both firm forms in nature (willows) and flowing elements (wind).
Grahame inspired the nostalgia and love of nature when describing landscapes, forests, rivers, and fields where the main characters have picnics. You know a book is a classic when it inspires you to do or love something (go on a picnic, maybe?).
One of the best ways to know if a book is a classic today is to see if it’s present in pop culture. That’s how we know The Wind in the Willows falls under that category. Not many years after the book was published, A. A. Milne wrote a play, Toad of Toad Hall(1929), based on The Wind in the Willows.
Since then, countless adaptations of this book have made it a popular novel. The Wind in the Willows adaptations include:
- Television series and cartoons
- Radio adaptations
The book is also famous in the music industry. For instance, Pink Floyed’s first album is called “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” which is the name of the seventh chapter of The Wind in the Willows.
If you ask people what they like about their favorite classics, many will tell you it’s the style of the prose. The Wind in the Willows has that in common with other classics. Grahame’s masterpiece is filled with the most beautiful descriptions of nature.
Additionally, the characters produce many memorable lines, like this one by Mr. Toad: Travel, change, interest, excitement! The whole world before you, and a horizon that’s always changing!
This book can sometimes be tough to understand for younger readers because of the dense text filled with phrases and words native English speakers don’t use today, but it’s a must-read.
The 20th century saw a rise in the popularity of children’s books, and one of the first ones was Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. Over time, it became a classic that everyone should read at least once.
- Study: Moby-Dick as an Allegory
- Project Muse: The Representation of Nature in The Wind in the Willows and The Secret Garden
- The Conversations: Guide to the Classics: The Wind in the Willows — a Tale of Wanderlust, Male Bonding and Timeless Delight
- Britannica: Allegory
- Literary Hub: The Wind in the Willows Isn’t Really a Children’s Book
- British Library: The Wind in the Willows: Letters from Kenneth Grahame to His Son, Alastair (‘Mouse’) Grahame
- JSTOR: Style and the Mole: Domestic Aesthetics in “The Wind in the Willows”
- JSTOR: Pottering ABout in the Garden: Kenneth Grahame’s Version of Pastoral in “The Wind in the Willows”
- Daily Mail: ‘I’ll Do Whatever You Like, Ratty’: Wind in the Willows ‘Was Author Kenneth Grahame’s Gay Manifesto’
- The Guardian: The 100 Best Novels: No 38 – The Wind in the Willows By Kenneth Grahame (1908)
- Gutenberg: The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Wind in the Willows, By Kenneth Grahame
- Wikipedia: The Wind in the Willows
- Grub Street: Book Review: The Wind in the Willows
- Luanne Rice: The Wind in the Willows