"Kenneth Grahame (1859-1932)
English bank official, writer, author of THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS (1908), set in the idyllic English countryside. The work established Grahame's international reputation as a writer of children's books and has deeply influenced fantasy literature. The central characters in the story are the shy little Mole, clever Ratty, Badger, and crazy Toad. They converse and behave like humans, but they all have typical animal habits, and some of the animals are eaten for breakfast by Mole, Rat, or Badger. Grahame also published essays, stories, and collections of sketches.
""Beyond the Wild Wood comes the Wild World,"" said the Rat. ""And that's something that doesn't matter, either to you or me. I've never been there, and I'm never going, nor you either, if you've got any sense at all..."" (from The Wind in the Willows)
Kenneth Grahame was born in Edinburgh, as the son of a lawyer from an old Scottish family. Due to the alcoholism of his father, Grahame was brought up by elderly relatives. In the early years he lived with his family in the Western highlands. When his mother died of scarlet fever, the children were sent to live with their maternal grandmother in the village of Cookham Dene, Berkshire. Her house, set in a large garden by the River Thames, provided the background of The Wind in the Willows.
""As a rule, indeed, grown-up people are fairly correct on matters of fact; it is in the higher gift of imagination that they are so sadly to seek."" (from The Golden Age, 1985)
Grahame was educated at St. Edward's School, Oxford. His plans to go to Oxford University were thwarted by his uncle, who was acting his guardian, and in 1879 he entered the Bank Of England. While pursuing his career at the bank, Grahame began composing light nonfiction pieces as a pastime He contributed articles to such journals as the St. James Gazette, W.E. Henley's National Observer and The Yellow Book. Grahame's stories about a group of orphaned children were published in PAGAN PAPERS (1893). In 1895 appeared THE GOLDEN AGE, a collection of sketches from his published works. It was followed by DREAM DAYS in 1898, which included Grahame's most famous short story, 'The Reluctant Dragon'. All the Dragon, a happy Bohemian, wants is to be left alone, but the villagers want it dead. Thanks to a wise young boy, the Dragon manages to keep its life. St. George, supposed to be thirsting for its blood, doesn't want to hurt it. The Saint and the Dragon give a good performance, ""a jolly fight"", and the Dragon collapses as they had agreed beforehand. After refreshment St. George makes a speech and warns ""them against the sin of romancing, and making up stories and fancying other people would believe them just because they were plausible and highly-coloured.""
Grahame was appointed as the secretary at the Bank and in 1899 he married Elspeth Thomson, whose snobbish attitudes Grahame did not share. Living in a disastrous marriage, Grahame wrote parts of The Wind in the Willows originally in a letter form to his young son Alistair. He was born blind in one eye and with severe squint in the other. Grahame did not intend to to publish the stories; they were partly educational for his son, whose excesses of behavior had similarities with Toad. After his manuscript was rejected by an American publisher, the book appeared in 1908 in England. First it was received with mild enthusiasm, but E.H. Shephard's illustration and Grahame's animal characterizations started soon gain fame. In 1929 A.A. Milne dramatized it 1929 by as Toad of Toad Hall. Milne focused on the animals, cutting out most of Grahame's romantic fantasy.
The Wind in the Willows reflected the author's unhappiness in the real world - his riverbank woods and fields were ''clean of the clash of sex,'' as he said to Theodore Roosevelt. The main tale tells about Toad's obsession with motorcars. ""'Glorious, stirring sight!' murmured Toad, never offering to move. 'The poetry of motion! The REAL way to travel! The ONLY way to travel! Here to-day--in next week to-morrow! Villages skipped, towns and cities jumped--always somebody else's horizon! O bliss! O poop-poop! O my! O my!'"" Toad's motoring leads him into imprisonment. Meanwhile Toad Hall is invaded by stoats and weasels. Toad escapes dressed as a washerwoman. He sells a horse to a gypsy and returns into the Wild Wood. With the help of his companions Toad recaptures his ancestral home.
After the publication of the book, Grahame retired from his work because of health reasons or under pressure from his employees. He spent the rest of his life with his wife in idleness. Alistair committed suicide while an undergraduate at Oxford two days before his 20th birthday - he was killed by a train. Grahame stopped writing after WW I. He died in Pangbourne, Berkshire, on July 6, 1932. William Horwood's sequel The Willows in the Winter (1993) received mixed critics, although he managed to reproduce Grahame's phraseology and rhythms rather well. The second sequel, Toad Triumphant, appeared in 1996. The trilogy was finished with The Willows and Beyond (1998). Horwood has also written the internationally acclaimed Duncton trilogies. "