Alan Jacobs on Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, published in 1908:windwillow

The Wind in the Willows is surely the most beautifully written of all children’s books—it offers to the willing learner a deep course in the making of sentences. . . .

Gary Kamiya agrees:

It is apples and oranges to compare Grahame and the two other masters of genre-blurring imaginative prose, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

Grahame cannot rival Tolkien’s epic grandeur, nor does he possess Lewis’ double ability to create completely different imaginary worlds and weave vivid and intricate stories.

But neither of those geniuses handle English the way he does. Tolkien knows only the high style, and Lewis’ solid prose never soars. Grahame is the inheritor of the stately style of Thomas Browne and the lyrical effusions of Wordsworth, with a little Dickens and P.G. Wodehouse thrown in as ballast.

Both Kamiya and Jacobs describe their first encounters with the book and how deeply it impacted them. For Kamiay it was as a 14-year-old:

There are certain books that become a permanent part of your life, like an old tree that stands at the bend of a favorite path. You may not notice them, but if they were taken away, the world would be less mysterious, less friendly, less itself.

“The Wind in the Willows” . . . is one of those books. I first read Kenneth Grahame’s classic when I was 14, and I have been going back to it ever since. I just read it again, and its wonders seem greater than ever, its colors more glowing, its language more miraculous. Although it is uniquely mixed in style and matter, moving effortlessly from deadpan observation to piercing lyricism to raucous comedy to incantatory mysticism, it is a complete world. And like the old friend that it is, it always welcomes you back.

For Jacobs, it was as an adult:

Best of all were those winter evenings when I crawled into bed and grinned a big grin as I picked up our lovely hardcover edition of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, with illustrations by Michael Hague. Before I cracked it open I knew I would like it, but I really never expected to be transported, as, evening by evening, I was. After the first night (I read only one chapter at a stretch), I wanted the experience to last as long as I could possibly drag it out. It was with a sigh compounded of pleasure and regret and satisfaction in Toad’s successful homecoming that I closed the book. I knew I would read The Wind in the Willows many times, but I could never again read it for the first time.