The last two entries in this series were in chronological order, and there are a lot more books that greatly influenced my life between when I read The Fellowship of the Ring and The Wind in the Willows, but because I read The Wind in the Willows most recently, it seemed appropriate to discuss it now rather than later, when Pan's flute will have only left me with the impression of the book rather than its details.
I'll start off by saying that I don't know too many kids these days who would enjoy reading The Wind in the Willows. One of our college professors recommended this book to Abby as an example of a book with no plot. After one false start, she swore off The Wind in the Willows--until that same professor required it for a class later on. If you ever want to get her goat, just talk about "messing--about--in--boats."
I first read The Wind in the Willows at a very bittersweet time in my life. I had just graduated from college, and I didn't yet have a job. The sweet part was that I was done with college; the bitter part was the same. As a frequently absent introvert, and as someone who thought being a Christian in public school meant that no one else was a Christian and that being weird was a badge of honor, I didn't have many friends. I made several friends in my church youth group, but as I discovered when I went off to college, most of these were friends by proximity. A good friend is hard to find.
This is what made college such a special time for me. For whatever reason, from my first weekend there, I was much more open. I made several close friends, and through four years of college, we did almost everything together. We ate almost every meal together (and eating is one of the greatest pictures of friend- and fellowship), and we were typically together on the weekends. We didn't see each other much over summer breaks, but we still made an effort to visit when we could.
With college at an end, our excuse to be together was gone. It was in the midst of this that I read The Wind in the Willows, a plotless book, yes, but a book all about friendship. In fact, reading it reminded me of the Shire from The Fellowship of the Ring--a place of innocence and beauty, worthy of remembrance.
The book opens with Mole doing some spring cleaning on a beautiful day. Like many of us, Mole decides to shirk his chores in favor of a nice day outdoors, whereupon he meets the Water Rat and starts a string of "adventures." I put adventures in quotes because none of his adventures is too exciting; they all focus more on the good companions rather than the good quest.
What I like so much about The Wind in the Willows is the way it portrays friendship in a very real way. None of the characters is perfect, and they can all act rather beastly (!) in their own ways. The characters clearly have flaws, they clearly mess up, and yet their friendships are so gracious as to make allowances for these flaws without shying away from stern rebukes when necessary. Toad is impulsive, spendthrift, and often rude, yet he is also quite generous when with his friends. Mole is a bit of a coward and a control freak, with a tendency toward despair, yet he is also courageous (when he needs to be) and fiercely loyal. Badger is an introvert and does not seek out the company of others, yet when friends or strangers arrive unexpectedly on his doorstep, his hospitality is not to be matched.
The Wind in the Willows was just what I needed to read, right when I needed to read it. It celebrates friendship, but it is also a book about everything being done in its proper season. Mole sets out from home at the beginning of the book, and he doesn't return until much time has passed. When he does, he realizes that he missed the things he called his home, yet the call of the wider world is stronger. While his home will always occupy a special place in his heart, new adventures call him farther. What better picture than this of my after-college experience?