I recently started listening to The Wind in the Willows on Audible Books at work. I love Amazon Prime and it recently added Audible Channels to prime membership and now, praise be, I can listen to many audible books for free. One of them is The Wind in the Willows. Before beginning the book, there was a brief history of its author, Kenneth Grahame and it interested me almost as much as the book. If you haven’t read this wonderful book, most people consider it a children’s book but I would beg to differ, I highly recommend it.
It’s about the adventures of some animal characters, Mole, Rat, Toad and Badger. It bears a lot to life and that is why I consider it so much more than a children’s book. Mole is tired of his every day life of just doing the routine, so he just wakes up one day, drops the dusting and starts out to see the world around him. That is how he meets Rat and eventually Badger and of course, Toad, who is a bit of an eccentric character in the story.
The reason this story really touches me is how Kenneth Grahame came to write it. He made up bed time stories for his son, Alistair. Why does this interest me? Because this is how I came to write my children’s book, as yet unpublished. It really has inspired me to want to continue on my journey to get my book published. But this story about Kenneth Grahame is very tragic. Grahame had a difficult childhood. His mother died when he was only five of scarlet fever. He, too, contracted the disease and his grandmother had to come to nurse him back to health. His father, however, after his wife’s death, reverted back to alcoholism and was unable to care for Kenneth or his three siblings who then moved to their grandmother’s home. Her home was lovely, right next to the Thames River, and those were the happiest of his childhood years. Although, his father tried to pull himself together and get his kids back, he never really succeeded and the kids went back to grandma’s house, which was now a cottage nowhere near the Thames because of a chimney fire in the old house. Kenneth as a child went to St. Edward’s in Oxford and always dreamed of attending the college but he could never afford to so he had to take a position at the Bank of England.
Being of a very ambitious character, he succeeded in most things he did and prospered at the bank. However, he did not have great success in marriage. He married Elspeth Thompson and they had a son born with disabilities, including blindness in one eye. However, neither was able to accept that their son was in any way imperfect, considering him a gifted child. He was not, however, and after he entered school, he was kicked out again and again. Although Alistair was the inspiration for the magical story about toad, rat and mole, he never attained any inspiration of his own and eventually died by collision with a train while walking on the tracks. All evidence led to suicide. Kenneth Grahame was devastated and never really wrote again.
The story behind the story is haunting. There’s a point in the book where Rat listens to a tale of a ship rat who travels all over and it transports him into a trance where he determines to follow his companion to the sea and live a life quite different than his own until Mole shakes him out of his delirium and he resumes his own existence. And I wonder if Grahame’s son longed for a life much different and so followed the train tracks until life woke him up to the realization that he would never be able to live his dreams and so he ended it all. We’ll never know, but one thing is sure. We should never give up hope in life. When hope dies, so do we.