Kenneth Grahame It is a proven fact that children's literature is a somewhat subjective concept over time. When you are young it can appear quite amazing. When you are old it can seem quite immature. But when you're comedian, Griff Rhys Jones, you have to make a one hour documentary about it, as seen in 2012. Nuff said.

The Wind in the Willows

One time Mister Toad, Griff Rhys Jones, is on a mission to find out a little bit more about a book that he has cherished since he was a lad, 'The Wind in the Willows'. Now to help him present his finding, Griff is aided with stock-photography, voice over narration, and pre-recorded interviews with expert in this field, such as Nick Hyder, Max Hastings, and Alison Prince.

What now follows is a break-down of this program:

  • Who wrote 'The Wind in the Willows', and where did this author come from?   Kenneth Grahame was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1859. His mother died when he was only five. And his father left his auntie and uncle to look after him in their country house, whilst he escaped to Paris, never to be heard from again.
  • What did Kenneth do before he became an author? He was forced by his Uncle to move to London and work in the Bank of England. Although, on a personal note, he would have much rather preferred to have spent some time at University first.
  • Did Kenneth like his time in London?   No. He hated it. And on occasion he'd escape to the country whenever the chance presented itself.
  • What happened to Kenneth in 1903, to trigger his mind into becoming a writer?   Whilst working at the bank, a deranged customer pulled a gun on him and fired. The gunman was arrested by the police. Kenneth ran into a room to hide.
  • Did Kenneth have a family?   Yes. At the age of 39 he was wooed a very simple lady called Elspeth Thomson. And they had a rather boisterous child together, called Alistair, who was partially sighted.
  • When did Kenneth start writing?   Thanks to a learned friend of his, Furnival, Kenneth managed to publish some of his childhood recollections in an alternate anthology called 'The Yellow Book'. His works were called the 'Pagan Papers'.  
  • So when did Kenneth get round to writing the 'Wind and the Willows'?   This tale began as a bedtime story to his son, Alistair, so that he would fall asleep. It then progressed when he and his wife went on holiday together, prompting him to continue this tale in letter form to his son, who was still at home during this time. And finally, he got down to writing the complete works for publication, titivating his earlier narration. 
  • How was this book received?   His publisher did not want to publish it, so with a bit of help from the then American President, Theodore Roosevelt, this tale was first printed in the States. The critiques hated it, but it has still stood the test of time. Mixed.
  • What is the genesis of the story?   Conceptually, this book is a parable about three woodland creatures seeking sanctuary whilst avoiding the 'Wilds of the Woods'. There is Mole (based on Kenneth), who is a timid and inquisitive chap. Then there is Ratty (based on Furnival), who is a cleaver and rustic fellow. And finally there is Toad (based on Alistair), who is a rogue of jovial proportions. Plus, many-many more. 

On an end note, Alistair, who was an un-well child with an emotional temperament, committed suicide at an early age. Whereas Kenneth died at the age of 73 by the side of a river.

Their memory lives on.

Just like this documentary itself, my review of 'Perspectives - The Wind in the Willows' will also be a tale of two half's. You see, whilst watching this program, I found myself torn between two aspects of this tale - the creative truth verses the emotional truth.

Anybody who has tried to write something on a creative level before would know that they cannot help but 'give' a little bit of themselves in the process. In retrospect, 'Willows' author, Kenneth Grahame, did this as well, plus he also had a somewhat bi-polar nature too. He was creative yet he worked in a logical field. He was emotional but could not express emotion very well. He hated the city life yet he stuck it out for the majority of his life. And he loved his son enough to feed his imagination but not his soul.

Listen, I do not want to sound judgmental about this great man at all. And I do admire to a great deal what he has given this world in book form. Though a question kept on resonating in my head whilst watching this show - was Kenneth's mind more in the creative world than the real one?

Yeah. Most probably. And that is a burden most creative folk have to cope with on a daily basis, to the chagrin of those people around them.   


The last part of this documentary touched upon Kenneth's son, Alistair, and how he committed suicide after living such a strange life. Spoilt since a child. Eye-sight on the wane. And ill equipped to deal with the nature of society. So how the hell could he have succeeded at University? Kenneth appeared to be a somewhat logical man, right? And obviously had some understanding of academia at a basic level. Though in the same breath, maybe he didn't, huh?

I myself know of a lot of people like Alistair, and I can tell as soon as I meet one of them, that they are 'living in a world of their own'.

Again, no judgement is placed on this type of personality what so ever. The world comprises of all different sorts of people - as depicted in 'Wind and the Willow' - and traits are allowed to run free. However, 'horses for courses' is an expression that only works well in the domain of fiction, and doesn't seem to run true where reality is concerned.

Sad but true.

The Wind in the Willows Cartoon

Overall 'Perspectives - The Wind in the Willows' is a really great an evolving documentary to watch. I found Griff Rhys Jones a very informal and captivating host throughout, who managed to take you around this story in a very relaxed and congenial way. I also liked some of the experts as well - particularly Alison Prince - whom obviously have a passion and a understanding about Kenneth and his life, that could have easily turned this one hour special into a twenty part series.

Oh! On an end note, I would just like to mention that I have read 'The Wind in the Willows'. And yes. I do like it very much.

I'm Toad.


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