Literature / The Wind in the Willows

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"The world has held great Heroes,
As history books have showed;
But never a name to go down to fame
Compared with that of Toad!"
Mr. Toad

A beloved 1908 children's novel by British author Kenneth Grahame, set in an idealized England of the late Victorian to early Edwardian Era. It details the adventures and misadventures of four variably anthropomorphic animals living around the banks of "The River".

Chapter 7, "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn" (where the name of Pink Floyd's debut album came from) and Chapter 9, "Wayfarers All" are sometimes cut from publications of the book.

Adaptations include:

The whole text of the book is available for free here.


This novel contains examples of:

  • Ambiguous Disorder: Toad's behavior matches up perfectly with bipolar disorder, though the novel certainly doesn't call it that.
  • Anachronism Stew: As Toad goes into the jail we time-travel from the turn of the century into the Middle Ages, walking past "men-at-arms" and "ancient warders" with halberds and a room with racks and thumbscrews, and by the time we've stepped into the "grimmest dungeon... in the heart of the innermost keep," the Edwardian police sergeant is starting to say things like "Oddsbodikins!" and "a murrain on both of them!"
  • Anthropomorphic Shift: The animals seem to alter their status several times over the novel, moving back and forth between Civilized Animal, Partially Civilized Animal, and Funny Animal. Seemingly they become more or less humanlike as the plot demands. The anthropomorphic line gets so uncertain that at one point Toad is said to have "combed the dry leaves out of his hair". It's probably best to think of it with the MST3K Mantra.
  • Arcadian Interlude: "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn."
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Toad is convicted for stealing a motor-car, dangerous driving and cheeking the police. Ironically, the Clerk is more lenient with the first two crimes. Although never specified, Toad's cheek is described as "imaginative" and "gross impertinence". Given his flamboyant, conceited attitude, it's not hard to believe.
  • Bedsheet Ladder: How Toad escapes after being locked in his bedroom.
  • The Big Bad: Although the weasels, stoats and ferrets are usually grouped together as a whole, The Chief Weasel is usually given this status.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The Latin title of the chapter "Dulce Domum", where Mole rediscovers his old abandoned house, means "Sweet Home", obviously meant to evoke "Home Sweet Home".
  • Break the Haughty: Toad's humiliating arrest and imprisonment, during which he attempts to starve himself to death, but decides to live after all thanks to a kind jailer's daughter and a bit of bubble-and-squeak. Not to mention being chased by the police after escaping, and all the indignity he receives for his washerwoman disguise.
  • Carnivore Confusion: The narrative says it's against animal etiquette to actually discuss it, but the subject is touched upon by Rat, when he describes the inhabitants in the Wild Wood:
    "Weasels — and stoats — and foxes — and so on. They're all right in a way — I'm very good friends with them —pass the time of day when we meet, and all that — but they break out sometimes, there's no denying it, and then —well, you can't really trust them, and that's the fact."
  • Character Development: Over the novel, Mole comes out of his shell, and Toad settles down to become serious and respectable by the end. Badger also becomes a little bit less reclusive, shown in the epilogue. Grahame pointed out in a later interview that Toad would eventually turn back to his old ways. Mole is the only character whose development would stick.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Mr. Toad, at times. "A motorcar! Poop-poop! Poop-poop!" (Or, in some editions, "Beep-beep!")
  • Cool Boat: It's just a punt, but Ratty's boat is described as beautifully painted and gaily decorated, and there's always a picnic basket on board. Unfortunately, it gets sunk near the end of the novel thanks to the stoats.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: Pan, who is in fact the Savior, but for animals instead of humans. Interestingly enough, the chapter "Dulce Domum" has young field mice singing a Christmas carol that invokes and pays homage to Mary, Joseph and the Christ child. note 
  • A Dog Named "Dog": All the principal characters are either this or Species Surname. (Since they only appear to have one name apiece, it's hard to tell which.)
  • Drives Like Crazy: Mr. Toad's second defining characteristic; he wrecks five cars a week, on average, and has to be locked into his room to try and dissuade him.
  • Felony Misdemeanor: Mr. Toad's prison sentence. Stealing the motor car is twelve months, while his reckless driving warrants three years and cheeking the police warrants fifteen years which adds up all together to nineteen years, which the judge then makes an even twenty.
  • Fiction500: Averted with Mr. Toad, he may be rich but as Rat points out "he's not a millionaire". note 
  • Fleeting Passionate Hobbies: A defining aspect of Mr Toad, to the point that Ratty discussing it with Otter forms part of Toad's Establishing Character Moment in Chapter 1:
    Ratty: Once, it was nothing but sailing. Then he tired of that and took to punting. Nothing would please him but to punt all day and every day, and a nice mess he made of it. Last year it was house-boating, and we all had to go and stay with him in his house-boat, and pretend we liked it. He was going to spend the rest of his life in a house-boat. It's all the same, whatever he takes up; he gets tired of it, and starts on something fresh.
  • Food Porn: The stew Toad dines on, which contains no less than seven animals, is lovingly described. Toad's expression of rapture in the accompanying illustration doesn't help.
    • Also the contents of Ratty's picnic basket.
    "What’s inside it?" asked the Mole, wriggling with curiosity.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Mole is Phlegmatic, Badger is Choleric, Toad is Sanguine and Rat is Melancholic. That said, Badger is a pretty Melancholic character as well.
  • Funny Animal: The whole cast, except for the humans that Toad interacts with.
  • Furry Confusion:
    • Not particularly strong, but in a lot of the artwork, the main cast are much, much bigger than the stoats and weasels. Also, while the main cast wears clothing, Otter wears none.
    • Also: Toad has a horse called Alfred. While he is an actual quadrupedal horse who pulls the caravan, he does seem to be sentient. Strangely, this is one of the few animal characters not named after his species.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: According to the annotated edition, "Up tails all" was slang for coitus.
  • Gilligan Cut: Toad steals a motorcar and roars off in triumphant splendor. Cut to him in court being sentenced to twenty years in prison.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Mole and Water Rat.
  • Idle Rich: Toad. He's a deconstruction of this trope as he has way too much time to devote to whatever hobby takes his interest.
  • Lions and Tigers and Humans... Oh, My!: Zig-zagged. Most of the animals live in burrows (albeit in very human-like comfort) and have little or no interaction with humans. Mr. Toad, on the other hand, lives in an actual house, drives cars, is put on trial in a human court, held in a human prison, and escapes by disguising himself as a human washerwoman. During his escape no one suspects that he's Mr. Toad until he actually announces it when he rides off with a barge woman's horse. And he also interacts on a more-or-less equal basis with all the other animals.
  • The Load: Mole becomes this during the "Wild Wood" chapter; he recklessly goes off to visit the place in the middle of a winter snowfall, and proceeds to be absolutely useless while Rat is trying to save both their lives.
  • Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair!: There appears to be an ancient ruined human city abandoned and buried beneath the Wild Wood. Badger cynically comments how its builders thought that they were building for eternity.
  • Loveable Rogue: Toad is considered an epitome of this. Although conceited, reckless and even kleptomaniacal at one point, he genuinely cares for his friends and shows great humility and distress upon learning of the hardships they suffer on his account.
  • Make It Look Like a Struggle: The washerwoman who sells her clothes to Toad so he can escape the prison asks to be left bound and gagged so she can make out that he took her clothes without her consent.
  • Mundane Fantastic: While Toad is the only animal to have extensive interaction with humans, no one seems surprised at the sight of a bipedal talking toad who wears clothes.
  • Not Helping Your Case: Mr. Toad is fairly unconvincing when he stands trial for auto-theft, destruction of property and cheeking the police.
  • Pride: Mr. Toad's defining characteristic.
    The Queen and her ladies-in-waiting
    Sat at the window and sewed.
    She cried, "Look! Who's that handsome man?
    They answered, "Mr. Toad."

    The clever men at Oxford
    Know all that there is to be knowed,
    But they none of them know one half as much
    As intelligent Mr. Toad!
  • Pride Before a Fall: Toad's pride is eventually his undoing; see above under Break the Haughty.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Toad's washerwoman outfit.
  • Scavengers Are Scum: The Wild Wooders are treated this way: although they are also a product of the author's class-based mistrust of the English working classes, lazy, idle, prone to theft rather than hard labour, ill-educated and vicious to their social betters. (And, unlike the more selective middle-class house-owning middle class voles, moles and badgers, breed uncontrollably). The is a pretty reactionary text, written at a time when the English bourgeousie was frightened of unrest, labour agitation and socialism among the lower orders, of the proletariat rising up against the hard-working middle classes. (It is no accident the heroes are all members of the stout English yeomanry).
  • Science Is Bad: Not science, exactly, but the rush of new fads for the rich, such as automobiles and aeroplanes.
  • Snap Back: Averted, in that Ratty mentions that if Toad keeps buying all these new cars, he's eventually going to use up his whole fortune.
  • Storming the Castle: "When the Toad came home..."
  • Taking the Veil: Mole recounts how the young mice had put on a play about a sailor lost at sea and how when he returned, his beloved had done this.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Toad is quite rich and also rather fat-headed.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Cute?: The weasels, and the related ferrets and stoats, are all nasty little buggers, sneaking into Toad Hall to take it over while Toad is out. They're eventually let go with a warning, though, as they promise to be good after being thrashed by Badger.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: In a humorous incident, Toad escapes prison disguised as a washerwoman with clothes from the jailer's daughter, and manages to wind up disguised on a train outrunning the police.
  • Wistful Amnesia: After their encounter with the god of the forest in "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn", Rat and Mole are left with a feeling that something amazing and wonderful has recently happened, but they can't recall quite what.

Adaptations with their own pages include:

Other adaptations (including sequels by other authors) contain examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: Pretty much every adaptation, even the most faithful ones, add a scene at the end where Toad shows signs of slipping back into his old ways by buying an aeroplane.
  • Ascended Extra:
    • In Willam Horwood's sequels, Otter is promoted from "most major of the minor characters" to a full fledged major character. In the same books, the judge who sentenced Toad to prison becomes a recurring character and is pretty much the series' Big Bad.
    • In Jacqueline Kelly's sequel Return to the Willows the "small, bedraggled weasel" who volunteered to deliver the invitations to Toad's banquet is a major character (His name is "Sammy").
  • The Baby of the Bunch: Mole in sometimes treated as such in some adaptations, usually due to Mole being often portrayed in said adaptations as more naive and wide-eyed compared to the rest of the cast.
  • Big Ball of Violence: In the 1987 made-for-tv animated film version by Rankin-Bass. When Toad was briefed about what happened to Toad Hall while he was in prison, he went into a big rant over it, prompting Badger to order Ratty and Mole to restrain him, resulting in the Big Ball of Violence.
  • Bowdlerize: Some "Young Reader" adaptations of the book change Toad's imitation of a car horn from "poop-poop!" to "beep-beep!"
  • Characterization Marches On: For the sequels by William Horwood, the main characters have slightly changed personalities. Toad's been hit with some Character Exaggeration and become even more egotistical and ridiculous (though with frequent bursts of extravagant generosity), while Ratty's become a spiritualist of some sort who talks to the river. Only Mole remains more or less the same.
  • Community-Threatening Construction: The Cosgrove Hall TV series had a season long arc about a railway being built through the forest most of the animals called home.
  • Footnote Fever: The American edition of Jacqueline Kelly's Return to the Willows has a number of footnotes to explain British terms, but there are a number of other footnotes, including one explaining the concept of life not being fair, and another directing readers back to the previous footnote when Mr. Toad complains to himself about how unfair things are.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Toad tends to be a borderline example in some adaptations, since the book mentions he's rich but not a millionaire. The 2006 BBC Adaptation had Toad selling his chairs to pay for a car. The Cosgrove Hall TV Show often had Toad fall for some con the Weasels cooked up so he would have to give them Toad Hall as payment. In The Willows in Winter he actually does lose his fortune and Toad Hall in a fire, until he finds out that his American cousin left him a fortune.
  • Large Ham: Mr. Toad is usually played as this in any adaptation.
  • Leitmotif: In the TV series, each character, e.g. Mole, Toad, has a certain musical theme.
  • Reality Ensues: In the first of William Horwood's sequels, The Willows in Winter, Toad discovers that he's still wanted for all the crimes he committed in the first book, and for breaking out of prison. His continued escapades to stay out of prison results in a life-long enmity between him and the High Judge, who becomes his most prominent adversary and pretty much the Big Bad of the rest of the series.
  • Wolverine Publicity: Several adaptations aren't named "The Wind in the Willows" but rather "Toad of Toad Hall", "The Adventures of Mr. Toad", etc. etc.

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