Collecting Articles and Features

Wind in the Willows Books & Illustrators


wind in the willows 1st edition bookThe Wind in the Willows is a classic of children’s literature by Kenneth Grahame, first published in 1908. Alternately slow moving and fast paced, it focuses on four anthropomorphised animal characters in a pastoral version of England. The novel is notable for its mixture of mysticism, adventure, morality, and camaraderie and celebrated for its evocation of the nature of the Thames valley.


wind in the willows 1st edition letters

Pictured right and left: Grahame (Kenneth) The Wind in the Willows, first edition, signed presentation copy from the author to Ruth Ward with his ink inscription on half-title, frontispiece by Graham Robertson, end papers foxed and browned, original gilt pictorial cloth, very small stain at head of upper cover, edges and corners a little rubbed and frayed, lower corners bumped, spine sunned, edges uncut, 8vo, 1908 [with] Grahame (Elspeth, wife of Kenneth Grahame, 1862-1946) 3 Autograph Letters signed, 2 to Mrs. Sidney Ward and 1 to her daughter Ruth, and 3 Christmas Postcards, 1 on behalf of her son. The book and letters offer a fascinating insight into Kenneth Grahame’s family life. Sold for £33,000 at Bloomsbury Auctions on 24th November 2010.


In 1908 Grahame retired from his position as secretary of the Bank of England. He moved back to Cookham, Berkshire, where he had been brought up and spent his time by the River Thames doing much as the animal characters in his book do—namely, as one of the most famous phrases from the book says, “simply messing about in boats”—and wrote down the bed-time stories he had been telling his son Alistair.


wind in the willows graham robertson illustration

Pictured right: Graham Robertson frontispiece illustration from the first edition Wind in the Willows, 1908 featuring Ratty and Mole. The edition only had one illustration.


The Wind in the Willows was in its thirty-first printing when then-famous playwright, A. A. Milne, who loved it, adapted a part of it for stage as Toad of Toad Hall in 1929.


Wind in the Willows Editions


The book was originally published as plain text, but many illustrated, comic and annotated versions have been published over the years. Notable illustrators include Paul Bransom (1913), Arthur Rackham (1940), Tasha Tudor (1966), Michael Hague (1980), Harry Hargreaves (1983), Scott McKowen (2005), and Robert Ingpen (2007).


wind in the willows paul bransom

Pictured left: Illustration by Paul Bransom, who provided the artwork for the first fully illustrated edition of The Wind in the Willows. The very first edition of the book had only one black and white frontispiece by Graham Robertson. Bransom’s illustrations, after wonderful watercolur paintings, portray Grahame’s characters in naturalistic style, the only clothed character being the Sea Rat, who sports a tunic, trousers and an ear-ring.


The most popular illustrations are probably by E. H. Shepard, originally published in 1931, and believed to be authorised as Grahame was pleased with the initial sketches, though he did not live to see the completed work.


wind in the willows paul bransom toad

Pictured right: Paul Bransom illustration of Toad “Dwelling chiefly on his own cleverness, and presence of mind in emergencies” from the 1913 edition in which Paul Bramsom illustrated 10 colour plates . Toad at this time was unclothed.


The Folio Society edition published in 2006 featured 85 illustrations, 35 in colour, by Charles van Sandwyk. A fancier centenary edition was produced two years later.


wind in the willows eh shepherd 1stMichel Plessix created a Wind in the Willows comic book series, which helped to introduce the stories to France. They have been translated into English by Cinebook Ltd.


Pictured left: Shepard “First sketch for ‘Wind and the Willows’. Rat & Mole”, original pencil drawing depicting Rat and Mole lounging with a picnic on the banks of the river, captioned and signed (“E.H. Shepard”) beneath the image, 243 x 170mm. E.H.) The caption in the published book is “Now pitch in, old fellow! and the Mole was indeed very glad to obey”.  Sold for £7,440 at Bonhams, London, Nov 2008.


Patrick Benson re-illustrated the story in 1994 and it was published together with the William Horwood sequels The Willows in Winter, Toad Triumphant and The Willows and Beyond. It was published in 1994 by HarperCollins and published in the US in 1995 by St Martin’s Press.


eh shepard wind in the willows

Pictured right: EH Shepard illustration of Ratty and Mole on the river from the 1931 edition of Wind in the Willows. 


wind in the willows eh shepherdInga Moore’s abridged edition features text and illustrations paced so that a line of text, such as “oh my oh my,” also serves as a caption.


The Wind in the Willows, edited with introduction by Gardner McFall, was published in 2007 by Barnes & Noble Classics, New York, ISBN 1-59308-256-7


Seth Lerer’s The Wind in the Willows: An Annotated Edition was published in 2009 by Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-03447-1


Annie Gauger and Brian Jacques released The Annotated Wind in the Willows in 2009, published by W. W. Norton, as part of the Norton Annotated Series. ISBN 978-0-393-05774-4


The Story of Wind in the Willows


At the start of the book, it is spring time: the weather is fine, and good-natured Mole loses patience with spring cleaning. He flees his underground home, heading up to take in the air. He ends up at the river, which he has never seen before. Here he meets Ratty (a water rat), who at this time of year spends all his days in, on and close by the river. Rat takes Mole for a ride in his rowing boat. They get along well and spend many more days boating, with Rat teaching Mole the ways of the river.


wind in the willows arthur rackham

Pictured left: Limited Editions Club Signed by Bruce Rogers and With Rackham Illustrations [Arthur Rackham, illustrator]. Kenneth Grahame. The Wind in the Willows. New York: Limited Editions Club, 1940. Number 1853 of 2,200 copies and signed by designer, Bruce Rogers. Quarto. 244, [2] pages. Sixteen color mounted plates. Publisher’s quarter pale yellow buckram over patterned paper boards; top edge gilt, others untrimmed. Upper corner of front board with soft bump. Glassine jacket worn. Housed in lightly worn publisher’s paper slipcase. A fine copy. Sold for $478.00 at Heritage Auctions.


One summer day shortly thereafter, Rat and Mole find themselves near the grand Toad Hall and pay a visit to Toad. Toad is rich (having inherited wealth from his father): jovial, friendly and kind-hearted but aimless and conceited, he regularly becomes obsessed with current fads, only to abandon them as quickly as he took them up. Having only recently given up boating, Toad’s current craze is his horse-drawn caravan. In fact, he is about to go on a trip, and persuades the reluctant Rat and willing Mole to join him. The following day (after Toad has already tired of the realities of camp life and sleeps-in to avoid chores), a passing motor car scares the horse, causing the caravan to overturn into a ditch. Rat does a war dance and threatens to have the law on the motor car drivers, but this marks the immediate end of Toad’s craze for caravan travel, to be replaced with an obsession for motor cars. When the three animals get to the nearest town, they have Toad go to the police station to make a complaint against the vandals and their motor car and thence to a blacksmith to retrieve and mend the caravan. Toad – in thrall to the experience of his encounter – refuses. Rat and Mole find an inn from where they organise the necessary steps and, exhausted, return home by train. Meanwhile, Toad makes no effort to help, instead deciding to order himself a motor car.


wind in the willows arthur rackhamPictured left:  Arthur Rackham illustration from the 1940 edition of Wind in the Willows.

Mole wants to meet the respected but elusive Badger, who lives deep in the Wild Wood, but Rat – knowing that Badger does not appreciate visits – refuses to take him, telling Mole to be patient and wait and Badger will pay them a visit himself. Nevertheless, on a snowy winter’s day, whilst the seasonally somnolent Ratty dozes unaware, Mole impulsively goes to the Wild Wood to explore, hoping to meet Badger. He gets lost in the woods, sees many “evil faces” among the wood’s less-welcoming denizens, succumbs to fright and panic and hides, trying to stay warm, amongst the sheltering roots of a tree. Rat, upon awakening and finding Mole gone, guesses his mission from the direction of Mole’s tracks and, equipping himself with a pistol and a stout stick, goes in search, finding him as snow begins to fall in earnest. Attempting to find their way home, Rat and Mole quite literally stumble across Badger’s home — Mole barks his shin upon the boot scraper on Badger’s doorstep. Rat finds it and a doormat, knowing they are an obvious sign of hope, but Mole thinks Rat has gone crazy, only to believe him when the digging reveals a door. Badger – en-route to bed in his dressing-gown and slippers – nonetheless warmly welcomes Rat and Mole to his large and cosy underground home and hastens to give them hot food and dry clothes. Badger learns from his visitors that Toad has crashed six cars, has been hospitalised three times, and has spent a fortune on fines. Though nothing can be done at the moment (it being winter), they resolve that once spring arrives they will make a plan to protect Toad from himself; they are, after all, his friends and are worried for his well-being.


With the arrival of spring, Badger visits Mole and Rat to do something about Toad’s self-destructive obsession. The three of them go to visit Toad, and Badger tries talking him out of his behaviour, to no avail. They decide to put Toad under house arrest, with themselves as the guards, until Toad changes his mind. Feigning illness, Toad bamboozles the Water Rat (who is on guard duty at the time) and escapes. He steals a car, drives it recklessly and is caught by the police. He is sent to prison on a twenty-year sentence.

Badger and Mole are cross with Rat for his gullibility but draw comfort from the fact that they need no longer waste their summer guarding Toad. However, Badger and Mole continue to live in Toad Hall in the hope that Toad may return. Meanwhile in prison, Toad gains the sympathy of the Jailer’s Daughter who helps him to escape disguised as a washerwoman. Though free again, Toad is without money or possessions other than the clothes upon his back, and is being pursued by the police. Still disguised as a washerwoman, and after hitchhiking a lift on a train, Toad comes across a horse-drawn barge. The Barge’s Owner offers him a lift in exchange for Toad’s services as a “washer woman”. After botching the wash, Toad gets into a fight with the Barge-Woman, who deliberately tosses him in the canal. After making off with the barge horse, which he then sells to a gypsy, Toad flags down a passing car, which happens to be the very one which he stole earlier. The car owners, not recognizing Toad disguised as a washer woman, permit him to drive their car. Once behind the wheel, he is repossessed by his former passion and drives furiously, declaring his true identity to the outraged passengers who try to seize him. This leads to an accident, after which Toad flees once more. Pursued by police he runs accidentally into a river, which carries him by sheer chance to the house of the Water Rat.


harry hargreaves 1983 wind in the willows

Pictured right: Harry Hargreaves (1922-2004) Back soon signed ‘HARGREAVES’ (lower left)
pencil, pen and black ink heightened with white, unframed 13½ x 10 in. (34.3 x 25.4 cm.) Harry Hargreaves was born in Manchester in 1922 and began contributing cartoons to his school newspaper Arrow from the age of 12, and his first cartoon for the Manchester Evening News was published 2 years later. Hargreaves’s incredible talent as an animal cartoonist and illustrator is demonstrated in the beautifully detailed illustrations that he produced for a 1983 edition of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, which are offered here for sale. Pitched midway between Ernest Shepard and Arthur Rackham, the drawings are enchanting and capture the characteristics and movement of the animals as well as portraying the humour of Grahame’s classic story. It proved to be a winning combination and the edition was reprinted several times.  Sold for £500 at Christies, London, December 2011. 


Toad now hears from Rat that Toad Hall has been taken over by weasels, stoats and ferrets from the Wild Wood, who have driven out its former custodians, Mole and Badger. Although upset at the loss of his house, Toad realises what good friends he has and how badly he has behaved. Badger then arrives and announces that he knows of a secret tunnel into Toad Hall through which the enemies may be attacked. Armed to the teeth, Rat, Mole and Toad enter via the tunnel and pounce upon the unsuspecting weasels who are holding a party in honour of their leader. Having driven away the intruders, Toad holds a banquet to mark his return, during which (for a change) he behaves both quietly and humbly. He makes up for his earlier wrongdoings by seeking out and compensating those he has wronged, and the four friends live out their lives happily ever after.


In addition to the main narrative, the book contains several independent short-stories featuring Rat and Mole. These appear for the most part between the chapters chronicling Toad’s adventures, and are often omitted from abridgements and dramatizations. The chapter Dulce Domum describes Mole’s return to his home, accompanied by Rat, in which despite finding it in a terrible mess after his abortive spring clean he rediscovers, with Rat’s help, a familiar comfort. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn tells how Mole and Rat go in search of Otter’s missing son Portly, whom they find in the care of the god Pan. (Pan removes their memories of this meeting “lest the awful remembrance should remain and grow, and overshadow mirth and pleasure”.) Finally in Wayfarers All Ratty shows a restless side to his character when he is sorely tempted to join a Sea Rat on his travelling adventures.