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In The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame's magisterial work, the first half of the book is mostly given over to the adventures of Mole and Ratty (although we are introduced to Badger and Mr. Toad). It ends quietly in chapter 5 (Dulce Domum), with Mole (accompanied by Ratty) finding his old and long-neglected home.

The second half of the book, quite rightly, deals with the amazing (and I suspect highly embellished) adventures of Mr. Toad, of which I am sure you are entirely familiar. However, embedded in these stories are two highly reflective chapters, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and Wayfarers All.

Chapter 7 (The Piper at the Gates of Dawn) deals with Mole and Ratty's frantic search for Otter's missing son, Portly. They eventually find him on an island, sleeping at the feet of the demigod, Pan, who Grahame personifies as the protector of animals, and they give him due worship. This indicates that the animals follow a far more ancient religion than the Christianity hinted at in chapter 5 (Dulce Domum). Ratty is thoroughly taken up with the experience, so Mole rows him and Portly back home.

Chapter 9 (Wayfarers All), deals with Ratty's restlessness, and his desire to expand his horizons, and explore a world of which he has little knowledge. He chances on another rat (a true rat, rather than a water vole), and they strike up a conversation. The rat is actually a sailor who has decided to give up the sea and settle down, but he regales Ratty with tales of far-off lands, and Ratty decides that this is the very life for him, and tries to abandon his home (and his friend) and take to the sea. Fortunately, Mole realises that something is wrong and manages to rescue him from his mania.

Now, what are these chapters for? Why did Grahame write them? Are they just intermezzi in a three-act comic opera about Toad, or is there some other significance? As a child, I found The Piper at the Gates of Dawn utterly enchanting, but Wayfarers All bored me, and I usually skipped it. Now that I am well into my middle-age, I can see the relevance of it, and I wish that I had been more adventurous in my youth, but when I was a child, its meaning was lost on me, so what is it doing in a book intended for children?

A related (and perhaps more important) question is: are there any parallels in adult fiction, preferably (but not necessarily) pre-dating this book (first published in 1908)? If so, what purpose do they serve, apart from providing a counterpoint to more exciting chapters?

  • I can think of some possible parallels in Three Men in a Boat. It's a comic book with serious interludes: the knight in the forest, and the woman drowned. – TRiG Feb 28 '17 at 22:03
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The answer to this question lies in the genesis of the book. Grahame invented these characters in stories told to his son, who suffered a variety of health problems and eventually committed suicide. It is likely that Toad's failings, which form the backbone of the narrative, were intended as a form of moral fable.

However, neither Grahame nor his publisher originally intended the book to be specifically for children. The author pitched it as ...

“A book of youth, and so perhaps chiefly for youth and those who still keep the spirit of youth alive in them; of life, sunshine, running water, woodlands, dusty roads, winter firesides, free of problems, clear of the clash of the sex, of life as it might fairly be supposed to be regarded by some of the wise, small things that ‘glide in grasses and rubble of woody wreck’.”

Which would seem to imply that he thought of it as a kind of Young Adult book for his age, aimed at late teens and adults who wished to keep that flame alive. The sheer density of the language supports that view: my pre-teen children, both prolific readers, struggled with the book.

The original publisher advertised the book as:

"A whimsical satire upon life."

And an early reviewer called it:

"An urbane exercise in irony at the expense of English character and mankind."

None of which suggests a piece of work aimed at younger readers, in spite of the anthropomorphic nature of the characters.

So: Grahame originally invented some children's stories for his son. According to his wife, Elspeth, he then wrote these down as individual short stories. Later, he went back to them and composed the stories into a single narrative which he intended for young adults and it was at this point that he inserted the two chapters to which you refer: Piper at the Gates of Dawn and Wayfarers All. It seems likely, although I have no evidence for this, that he intended them to increase the literary weight of the finished work.

The answer to your question then, is that they stick out from the general narrative because they were, in fact, later additions. And that they differ in tone because they are there to serve a different purpose.

References:

  • First whisper of 'The Wind in the Willows' by Kenneth Grahame, Elspeth Grahame.

  • The Essential Guide to Children's Books and Their Creators Paperback by Anita Slivey

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  • So basically they were to make the book seem more "high-brow" literature? Interesting! – Rand al'Thor May 2 '17 at 10:56
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    @Randal'Thor That's my supposition, but the evidence available seems to support it. I guess a more forgiving way of looking at it would be to say that they were added to help the author further explore and communicate the more adult themes of the book :) – Matt Thrower May 2 '17 at 10:58

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