The Wind in the Willows

What a fantastic day today at Beggars Tomb! I have really found that I enjoy cloudy day’s just as much as sunny days! I sat and watched the birds and the squirrels throughout the morning snacking from the bird feeder as I sipped at a piping hot cup of, you guessed it, Earl Grey! I even managed to snap a couple of pictures that I may eventually find time to get off the camera and either upload them to my blog or Facebook! I am also working on putting together the next installment of Sticks and Stones for those that have been following that story. As I sat on the porch this morning though my thoughts wandered to the Wind in the Willows as I kept picturing the world that Kenneth Grahame had created and many others have continued. One question I have always wonder is why the book was titled the Wind in the Willows when there are many more titles that seem better suited to describe the book. I truly have come to believe that although many people consider the Wind in the Willows a charming anthropomorphic tale of happy times laced with humor, I see the book more realistically is a novel that portrays desire and the pain that comes from wanting something very badly. Mole, Toad and even Ratty are all looking and desiring different things from life. Grahame details the characters physical desires for good food, and the comforts of home but he always details for us the desire that the characters have for an intellectual awakening, the desire that Ratty has awakened in him by the sea rat to travel the world, and the desire for stimulation beyond the usual comfortable surroundings that the characters find in their day to day home life. In short all the characters have a strong desire to experience life on their own terms. The most important desire that permeates the pages though is a spiritual longing. The characters just like us are all wanting and searching for something and it is clear that they are not quite sure what it is as they are always referring to it as “Beyond” and that we all are looking for that one experience that will complete us and bring us peace.

In the first chapter, Kenneth Grahame describes the sounds of the wind blowing through reeds, after the Mole has begun his life on the river: 

“This day was only the first of many similar ones for the emancipated Mole, each of them longer and fuller of interest as the ripening summer moved onward. He learned to swim and to row, and entered into the joy of running water; and with his ear to the reed stems he caught, at intervals, something of what the wind went whispering so constantly among them.”

Grahame brings up this theme again in chapter 7: The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. In this chapter, Mole and Rat meet Pan, the god of the forest, and they experience such profound joy on seeing him, that Pan makes them forget the meeting so they won’t torment themselves with the memory later in life. 

“O, Mole. The beauty of it! The merry bubble and joy, the thin, clear, happy call of the distant piping! Such music I never dreamed of, and the call in it is stronger even than the music is sweet! Row on, Mole, row! For the music and the call must be for us.” 

The mole, greatly wondering, obeyed. “I hear nothing myself,” he said “but the wind, playing in the weeds and rushes and osiers.”

In both of these references the sound of the wind in the rushes is essentially the voice of the ultimate moving through the world and is the desire that drives us all to search and experience all that life has to offer. It is the substance of the animal’s desire. I think Kenneth Grahame called his novel The Wind in the Willows, because really that’s what his book is about: the voice of the ultimate, the sound of what we want. This thought is even further touched upon by subsequent books that continue the story line of the Wind in the Willows. William Horwood continued the saga of life on the River Bank in the Willows in Winter, The Willows at Christmas, Toad Triumphant, and The Willows and Beyond. In each of these stories it builds on Grahams original idea of the desires that drive us and ultimately that those desires are met as we succumb and younger ones take our places to fulfill their desires and to listen to the wind as it talks and stirs us into actions that we think will be the experience that completes us and makes us complete. I truthfully think that this is one reason why this series holds such a special place in my heart. In each of these characters I can see bits of myself and they are struggling with the journey that I have struggled with in life and the desires that have driven me to experience and then as I realize that just like Badger, Toad, Mole, Ratty, and gold faithful old Otter I to will eventually go to “Beyond” and that the most important part is to nurture and cultivate the younger ones who are coming to take our place. The Wind in the Willows is not a children’s story but rather a life story for us all.

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