Read a full summary of The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame right here! This page is full of spoilers, so beware. If you are wondering what happened in The Wind in the Willows, then you are in the right place!
Special thanks to Sarina Byron, a BSR contributor who wrote this great recap! Sarina is a British Author and Contributing Writer living in California. Sarina enjoys bringing forth a different perspective and encouraging a different way of thinking through her writing. Visit her blog to read her reviews, and check the end of the review for a link to her Instagram.
***** Everything below is a SPOILER *****
What happened in The Wind in the Willows?
The book opens in the home of the Mole, who was spring cleaning. He had been at it for a while and grew exhausted with the process. He decided to heed the call of spring and headed above ground level to enjoy the warm weather. As he sat by the water and enjoyed the warm sun, balmy breeze, and fresh grass, he saw the home of the Water Rat. They regarded each other for a minute before making introductions, and the Rat invited the Mole to his home.
As the Rat lived on the opposite bank to where the Mole was sitting, the Rat came over on his little blue and white boat to fetch him. This was the first time the Mole had sat in a boat, and he was thrilled. The Rat was surprised to learn it was the Mole’s first time in a boat and he was new to river life, so he suggested they make a day of it on the river. The Rat grabbed a picnic basket to take along, and they set off.
As they travelled down the river, the Rat told the Mole all about life on the river bank. He told him about how his home gets flooded in the winter and how many people have left the river bank as it has become too crowded. As they went along the river, the Mole asked about the various areas they were crossing, and the Rat told him what was what. The Rat told Mole they do not go to the Wild Wood as the weasels, stoats, and foxes lived there, and they weren’t very nice. He also mentioned Badger lived there, too, but no one messed with him. The Rat told the Mole to avoid the Wild Wood and the Wide World beyond that.
They were enjoying a lovely picnic by the riverbank when the Otter swam by and stopped for a chat. The Badger made a short appearance but disappeared as he was more of a solitary animal. The Mole, Rat, and Otter talked about Toad and his ever-changing hobbies, and he came by a little while later on his new boat. They tried to wave to him, but he just sailed on by. Shortly after, the Otter disappeared as well, and the Mole and Rat decided to pack up their picnic and head back.
The Mole was very keen to row, so he tried to snatch the oars from Rat despite his warnings. He did manage to grab them, but since he did not know how to row, he ended up capsizing the boat. Rat was a good-humored animal, so he helped Mole out of the water and retrieved their picnic basket and the boat. Mole apologized and was very touched that Rat forgave him instantly. Rat also took Mole to his own home, helped him get warm and comfortable, and told him lovely stories about life by the river. Mole stayed on at the Rat’s place through the summer, learned to swim and row, and generally had a merry time.
One day Mole asked Rat if he would take him to visit Mr. Toad, to which Rat readily agreed. They took the boat to Toad Hall. As they approached Toad Hall, Rat told Mole all about how Toad Hall was the most beautiful home in those parts and Toad always had some new obsession he was chasing. So far, it had been boats, and they would probably find out what he was obsessed with now. Toad was delighted to see them and swiftly led them to his stable-yard to show them his bright shiny new gipsy caravan. He told them the open road was the place to be and convinced them to take a road trip with him. Rat was reluctant at first, but he agreed to go along for Mole.
Toad was lazy, and he did not wake up early the next day, so Rat and Mole had to clean up from the night before and arrange breakfast. Having settled all their work, they set off down the road again. A car came racing toward them and caused them to go off the road. Rat and Mole were fuming, but Toad was so enamored by the car that he decided to abandon the caravan at that very minute. The horse saw his opportunity and ran away, and the caravan bird had to be rescued. Thus ended the road trip, and they all got to spend the night in the comfort of their homes.
After a few days, Mole got anxious for excitement again and wanted to visit Badger in the Wild Wood, but Rat kept putting him off by telling him Badger will show up one of these days. As the winter set in and Rat slept most of the time, Mole headed to the Wild Wood by himself. Everything was quiet and intimidating, and he started feeling like someone was following him. A rabbit came running by and told Mole to get away from there. The fear overwhelmed him at that point, and he took refuge in the hollow.
Meanwhile, the Rat woke up and found Mole was gone. He understood Mole must have headed to the Wild Wood, and he armed himself to follow him there. When he got there, he found Mole hidden in the hollow and asked him to follow him. Mole was very tired, though, so they stayed in the hollow for a while. Eventually Rat forced Mole to follow him out as it was snowing, and they realized they were right next to Badger’s house. They knocked, and a sleepy Badger came to receive them. Badger was annoyed to be intruded upon, but as soon as he realized it was Rat on the other side, he quickly opened the door.
Badger placed them in front of the fire and set about arranging for some supper. After a hearty meal, they settled down to a conversation, and Rat filled Badger in with all the news of the river dwellers, especially Toad. He told Badger how Toad has been obsessed with cars and how he repeatedly has accidents in them but does not give up the hobby. As he was causing himself a lot of harm, Rat asked Badger to speak with Toad. Badger promised that he would as soon as the weather improves.
They all retreated to bed and woke up late the next morning when two little hedgehogs showed up. They had been travelling to school when they lost their way. Badger received them and gave them something to eat and then retreated to his study. Mole and Rat understood not to disturb him as it was his season of hibernation.
As Mole and Rat were eating breakfast, Otter made an appearance. He had been out looking for them as the river animals were all concerned they had not been seen in the last day or so. Otter knew when people were in trouble in the Wild Wood, they headed to Badger, so he came to his home first. On his way, he tried to get information from a rabbit who told him that there was talk around the woods Mole was in trouble and “they” were out hunting. Otter was relieved to find the Mole and Rat safe and sound at the Badger’s home.
The Badger emerged from his study and sent the two little hedgehogs on their way with an escort. Then they all sat down to lunch. As Rat and the Otter exchanged notes about river life, Mole and Badger spoke of the joys of living in a burrow underground. That day after supper, Badger showed them around his endless house and told them how his ancestors had built it. After they finished touring Badger’s lovely home, Rat grew restless for his own home and insisted they leave right away.
Being in Badger’s home had reminded Mole of his own home, and as they walked back on the cold winter night, he felt like he could smell his comfortable home. He tried to get Rat’s attention to tell him his home was nearby and he would love to stop there for a bit, but Rat was so intent on his mission to head home, that he hushed Mole and kept walking on.
Unbeknownst to Rat, Mole had begun to cry, and that is what accounted for his slow pace. Rat thought that Mole had slowed down as he was tired and suggested they take a break against a tree stump. It was only when they stopped that Rat noticed Mole was sobbing and asked him what the matter was. Mole told him he was aching for his home and he had tried to tell Rat, but he did not listen. Rat insisted they head back to Mole’s home despite Mole’s many protestations that they had come too far. They plodded through the snow and duly arrived at a burrow marked ‘Mole End’.
Mole rushed in, keen to show Rat his beloved home. As he had not been home for a few seasons, his home was full of dust, and he regretted bringing Rat there. But Rat set about tidying it up for their comfort. He praised how well-organized Mole’s home was, and in no time at all, he had found enough food for them to have a fantastic meal.
They were soon visited by little field-mice who were going to various homes singing carols. Mole was worried he did not have anything to serve them, but Rat told him to leave it all to him. He invited them in when they had finished singing and sent one of them to the shops to buy some treats.
In the meantime, Rat mulled some ale and the other field mice toasted their feet and drank ale. As they all passed a pleasant time together, the mouse who had been sent out for supplies came back with a basket full of delicious food, and supper was presently laid out. They had a happy time chatting and eating together and the field mice took away some delicious food for their little siblings at home. Rat and Mole headed off to bed after a nightcap as soon as the field mice left. Mole drifted off to sleep thinking pleasant thoughts of how wonderful it was to be back to his own home.
One bright morning in early summer, Badger arrived to visit Mole and Rat with an intention to visit Toad and set him to rights about his wasteful new habit with cars. Toad greeted them with immense joy as he was a pleasant animal but stopped short after noticing the stern expressions on their faces. They were just in time for a new car that was being delivered to Toad. Badger took charge at once, refusing the delivery of the car and hustling Toad inside.
Badger led Toad into a room, and Rat and Mole could hear their voices rising and falling in conversation. Rat correctly predicted that words have no effect on Toad as he will say anything to get out of a situation. Badger seemed to think he had got through to Toad when they emerged from the room and asked Toad to admit his mistake to Rat and Mole. Toad promptly reverted to his former self and refused to apologize, at which point the well-intentioned animals decided to lock him up in his room and forcefully separated him from cars until he was sensible again. They decided to keep watch on him in rotation, which turned out to be quite tedious as he would periodically pretend to be driving a car, complete with sounds and everything.
One morning, when it was Rat’s turn to watch Toad, he asked for a doctor and a lawyer as he was feeling extremely poorly. Rat decided Toad must feel awful indeed if he was making these requests, so he set off to fetch the doctor and lawyer. As Toad saw him disappear down the carriage-drive, he escaped from his window. Rat was dismayed to learn he had been tricked when Badger and Mole returned, and they all decided to stay at Toad Hall to watch the place for Toad for a while.
Meanwhile, Toad was enjoying singing his own praises to himself when he spotted an inn called ‘The Red Lion,’ which reminded him that he had not breakfasted. About halfway through the meal, he heard the horn of a car, and his lust for the device arose again. He headed out to take one brief look when he lost control and ended up stealing it. Toad sped down the road in his stolen car and was promptly identified and arrested. He was presented in court and sentenced to twenty years for his crime.
Rat spent the night at the Otter’s place and told Mole about how the Otter family was sad as one of their babies, Little Portly, had gone missing again. Little Portly had a habit of wandering off, and they were all terribly worried for him. They decided they couldn’t turn in while Otter was as worried as he was, so they decided to go looking for the little otter.
They rowed all night in Rat’s boat and began to follow the direction of some enchanting music. Soon they came upon a place where both of them beheld the demi-god Pan, who had attracted them with his music and was protecting Little Portly in his lap. They looked upon him in awe and were transfixed with his magnificence. They bowed to him in reverence. He then gradually disappeared from their eyes, and they began to forget what they had seen as was customary with divine experiences. Little Portly woke up, and Rat and Mole promptly headed back with him.
They headed to the part of the river where the Otter was keeping watch, and Portly was soon reunited with his family. With the excitement of the search behind them, they headed to catch up on sleep with Rat still thinking about the haunting music they had experienced. Rat tried to repeat the lyrics to Mole as they came to him, but he soon drifted off to dreamland.
Toad was miserable in captivity and refused food and water most days. The gaoler’s daughter took pity on him and tried to tempt him with delicious meals. When this did not work, she made friends with Toad. He gradually opened up to her, telling her about Toad Hall and his many adventures. She felt bad for him as his was not a major crime and decided to help him escape. She introduced him to her aunt, the washerwoman, who agreed to let Toad have her outfit to disguise himself and leave the jail. Her only condition was that he must bound and gag her so she looks as innocent as she can. They executed the plan with success, and before he could say Jack Robinson, Toad was at the train station.
As Toad tried to buy his ticket, he realized much to his horror that he had left his money in his coat pocket at the jail. He was looking wistfully at the train when the train’s driver understood him to be a washerwoman and asked how he could help her overcome her sadness. Toad kept up the pretence and told him an untrue tale of how “she” had children waiting at home and “she” had lost her money to purchase a ticket. The train driver took pity on the washerwoman and let her ride for free in his cabin.
As they were halfway home, Toad got excited and started singing, but his joy was soon dampened by a police engine that was fast gaining on them. He panicked and confessed his true identity to the train driver. The train driver took pity on him and devised a plan to drop him off in the woods on the other side of the tunnel. Toad successfully made it off the train and walked until he took shelter in a tree’s hollow for the night.
Migration season was upon the riverside, and Rat found himself confused by why they needed to travel miles from home. He spent time talking to the swallows, who did their best to explain why they needed to migrate, but it was beyond Rat. He then met a Sea Rat, who regaled him with stories of his travels and inspired such wanderlust in him that he set off on his own journey. However, Mole ran into him just as he was about to set off and found him to be dazed, so he took Rat back into his home and put him to bed. Rat recovered after a while, but he was terribly dejected. To help him recover, Mole encouraged him to write some poetry, which he worked on slowly.
The next morning, Toad set out towards his home when he came across a barge woman who took him to be a washerwoman and allowed him to travel on the barge with her. When Toad was on the barge, she asked him to wash her clothes in exchange for the trip. Toad tried his best, but he could not do it. He told her he was only disguised as a washerwoman and insulted her, so she threw him into the water. He was furious, so he stole her horse and ran away.
As Toad rode on, he came upon a gypsy who was cooking a delicious stew. He struck a deal with the gypsy for the horse in exchange for as much stew as he could eat. Toad enjoyed a great meal and set off on his way with directions from the gypsy. As he walked, he marveled at how he had outsmarted multiple people since his escape, and he composed a song about his cleverness as he walked. As he went on, he heard a car approaching, which excited him again. When he saw it was the same car he had stolen, he was terrified of being recognized. He asked them for a lift, and they gladly obliged, mistaking him to be a tired washerwoman and not recognizing him to be the notorious Toad at all.
Once in the car, Toad could not help himself and asked if he could drive the car. The gentlemen let him drive, and soon he was speeding again and declaring his true identity. His reckless driving resulted in a car accident, and Toad ran as fast as he could to avoid being captured again. He ran until he arrived at the door of Rat. He saw the Rat sticking his head out of the hole and knew he had been saved.
Rat pulled him up into his home, and just as Toad started rambling about how he had suffered, Rat cut him off and sent him off to get changed. When Toad came down after cleaning up and changing, he found Rat had laid out a lovely meal. He promptly sat down to eat and started telling Rat all about how cleverly he outsmarted everyone he met. Rat let him go on for a while and then told him off about his bad behavior. Toad made a reference to returning to home, but Rat told him Toad Hall had been taken over by stoats and weasels. Rat told him about how the river animals and Wild wood animals had been divided over Toad’s treatment by the law and how the stoats and weasels had outnumbered Mole and Badger and snatched Toad Hall one stormy night.
Toad was incensed and headed to Toad Hall on Rat’s boat. The stoats standing guard threw a large rock at the boat and sunk it. Rat was angry at Toad for not heeding his advice and losing his boat too. The Rat chastised him for not caring about Badger and Mole, who spent many days looking after Toad Hall and marveled he could think about food at times like these. But he remembered Toad had been on prison fare for a while, so allowances had to be made.
Badger and Mole walked in then, and while Mole was thrilled to see Toad, Badger was too tired and hungry to give him a proper welcome. When Toad, Mole, and Rat had been talking about the proper way to get Toad Hall back, Badger silenced them with his commanding presence and reprimanded Toad by reminding him what his father would have thought of his behavior. At the mention of his father, Toad started sobbing.
As Badger comforted him, he began to outline the plan they would all follow. He reminded them stoats are the best guards, so they cannot be defeated with force, but he knew of a secret passage through which they could get into Toad Hall. Badger had asked Otter to pretend to be a sweep and offer his services. When he did that, he found out there was a big banquet at Toad Hall the next day for the Chief Weasel’s birthday. The animals planned to take Toad Hall back during the celebrations.
Mole had other plans, though. He wore Toad’s washerwoman disguise and asked the stoats if they needed any washing done. When they tried to chase away the washerwoman, Mole told them they would soon be sorry as a hundred badgers and toads were planning to storm Toad Hall by way of the river and the orchard and take it back from them. Rat, Badger, and Toad were dismayed at first, but then they realized the brilliance in what Mole had done.
True to the plan, the next night they set off down the secret passage and entered Toad Hall through the trapdoor in the butler’s pantry. They entered the main hall screaming and shouting and started attacking the weasels. Due to the fear Mole had instilled in them, the four animals looked like hundreds to the panic-stricken weasels. The stoats outside heard the screams of the weasels and escaped without even trying to find the cause. In no time at all, they had cleared the place of weasels and stoats. A few weasels tried to mend matters by offering to help with the place, and Mole led them upstairs to straighten out the bedrooms and clean up the mess. The weasels apologized, and Mole gave them a roll each and sent them on their way. Order restored, they all went to bed after a hearty supper.
Toad awoke late as usual the next morning, and the others had already finished breakfast. Mole and Rat were sitting outside, and Badger was enjoying the morning paper on the arm chair. He told Toad he ought to have a banquet for all his friends and neighbors. Toad was hesitant to spend the morning writing out invitations, but then he thought of a brilliant plan. He promptly headed over to his study to write out invitations with a program filled with his performances.
Luckily, Badger caught the invitations on the way out and forced Toad to re-write new ones which were simple and polite. As the guests began to arrive, Toad had an urge to sing, so he went to his room and performed to some empty chairs. Now that he was rid of the urge, he could go down to the banquet and refrain from performances, which is exactly what he did.
After the big banquet, life returned to normal. Toad dispatched gifts of gratitude to the engine driver, the gaoler’s daughter, and even the barge woman. They made friends with weasels, and the Wild Wood became a friendly place. Mother weasels would bring their young to see the great Mr. Toad, the gallant Water Rat, the famous Mr. Mole, and the strict Mr. Badger.
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