|Cover of the 1at Edition released in 1908.|
Kenneth Grahame's 1908 children's classic The Wind in the Willows keeps the radical symbols very simple, so simple, even a child can understand. Ratty is a the symbol of reason; Mole is the symbol of the emotions; Badger is the symbol of strength and, Toad, well, Toad is stubborness personified. These are, basically, the great qualities that make up England yet, according to Grahame, Empire, Imperialism and "adventure" is not English.
|Kenneth Grahame by Sargent.|
|The Ditchley Portrait by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, circa 1592, The National Portrait Gallery, London. The world is at the feet of Elizabeth, literally. The vast power of her Navy and her... pirates.|
|Sir Francis Drake, knighted by Queen Elizabeth.|
|The statue of "The Lionheart" outside Westminster.|
In his "drive" to conquer the Holy Land, King Richard was captured and held prisoner. English monarchs should not leave home. And speaking of "home," we come to what happened at Toad Hall while Toad was imprisoned: the weasels from the Wild Wood take over his great manor house, very similar to Prince John taking over the throne of England while his glamorous brother is held prisoner. It's telling that Toad only regains his home by a tunnel which comes out at the butler's pantry, symbolizing, that the "lords" of great estates are the servants of the people, and only by realizing that are the gentry eligible for their positions (remember in Ivanhoe and Robin Hood, King Richard returns wearing a disguise the way Toad has to enter Toad Hall in a way other than as the Lord of the house).
What Grahame's The Wind in the Willows so successfully accomplishes is the dilemma between being "at home" or on "the larger stage" of the world politic. In this passage, Mole has been living at Ratty's for a long while, "the larger stage" in the outdoors, but he has just returned to his own little home and delights in that feeling:
The weary Mole also was glad to turn in without delay, and soon had his head on his pillow, in great joy and contentment. But ere he closed his eyes he let them wander round his old room, mellow in the glow of the firelight that played or rested on familiar and friendly things which had long been unconsciously a part of him, and now smilingly received him back, without rancour. He was now in just the frame of mind that the tactful Rat had quietly worked to bring about in him. He saw clearly how plain and simple—how narrow, even—it all was; but clearly, too, how much it all meant to him, and the special value of some such anchorage in one's existence. He did not at all want to abandon the new life and its splendid spaces, to turn his back on sun and air and all they offered him and creep home and stay there; the upper world was all too strong, it called to him still, even down there, and he knew he must return to the larger stage. But it was good to think he had this to come back to, this place which was all his own, these things which were so glad to see him again and could always be counted upon for the same simple welcome. (The Wind in the Willows)
This must be very much like British soldiers returning home after the great exploits in the far corners of the Empire. But what The Wind in the Willows is most about is the first, the criminal activity of Empire and secondly the cost. Each character in the story either symbolizes that movement away from England or that feeling of being at home and hence, where one belongs (don't forget, it recurs in another famous work of English literature, The Lord of the Rings). It's important to be important, however, most important to be so for the right reasons, and when one has their priorities straight, their reason will be right.