Summaryby Dr Mitchell Kalpakagian | Mr. Rat from the ‘Wind in the Willows’ is the happiest person, the best of friends, the most hospitable of hosts, and a wise man.
This article is part of a series on Favorite Characters in Literature. We hope that it may inspire children and adults alike to become acquainted, or re-acquainted, with some of the classics of English literature.
Rat is the happiest person, the best of friends, the most hospitable of hosts, and a wise man. On a spring day when Mole suddenly decides to pay a visit to the river where Rat dwells, Mole receives the warmest welcome and revels in all the simple pleasures of the day spent on the water where “all was a-shake and a–shiver—glints and gleams and sparkles.”
Introducing Mole to his joyous way of life, Rat teaches Mole how to row a boat, treats him to a picnic, shows him the natural beauty of the world, and invites him to spend the night as he entertains his guest with favorite river stories and anecdotes. All this mirth is free and abundant as Rat and Mole create their own fun and do not require an entertainment industry.
Messing About in Boats
Mole never spent such an enjoyable day delighting in simple, innocent pleasures outdoors in such friendly company: “It all seemed too good to be true.” From morning till night he and Rat experience delight after delight, always enjoying the moment and always looking forward to the next pleasure.
Mole never imagined that traveling by a stream to appreciate the beautiful day instead of doing spring cleaning could produce such exquisite joy. Never seeing a river until this occasion, Mole marvels at the beauty of the sun’s reflections on the water: “The Mole was bewitched, entranced, fascinated.”
Rat introduces him to the sources of lasting joy and true happiness that never lose their appeal or fail to satisfy.
For the first time Mole learns the pleasure of rowing a boat after Rat offers to teach him the sheer delight of the activity:
“Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”
Mole never enjoyed the satisfaction of conversation and storytelling to such a degree as the time he spends in Rat’s company and home hearing of his adventures about night fishing and excursions with friends. Rat’s love of life overflows and inspires Mole to wonder at the goodness of creation in humble places like homes and in glorious marvels like rivers.
With a generous heart Rat shares the abundant blessings of life with his friend, welcomes him into his cheerful home, offers him the gift of friendship, and imparts his wisdom.
A Leisurely Life
Even the simple picnic they enjoy fills Mole with a relish for the goodness of life’s sweetest pleasures in the taste of good food. Savoring cold chicken, pickled gherkins, French rolls, and ginger beer lemonade, he exclaims, “This is too much!”
None of the activities of Mole and Rat on this spring day were extravagant, expensive, or sophisticated but innocent pleasures with universal appeal: delicious food and cheerful company, the sport of rowing on the river, the sight of the river’s beauty, and the warmth of hospitality. These experiences never jade or bore.
Once evening comes, Mole sits in the parlor of Rat’s home in a comfortable chair by the fire and hears the tales of Rat’s rich life on the river, a place he calls “my world” because “it’s always got its fun and excitements.” Mole falls asleep with the sounds of the calm river quietly touching the window and lulling him into a deep restfulness, “his head on his pillow in great peace and contentment.”
Rat teaches Mole how to live a leisurely life that always allows time for play, social life, and contemplation.
A Rich Kingdom
Their day on the river fills Mole with one pleasure after another and invigorates him with the keen anticipation of looking forward to the next delight that awaits him. When he reflects, “This has been a wonderful day!” Mole can recall all the sources of fun that he relished every hour of the day from morning till evening.
Rat introduced Mole to the art of living, the skill of relishing all that life offers for the delectation of man’s body, heart, and soul. As Mole also learns from Rat, this quiet, simple life on the river with modest accommodations offers far greater contentment than Mr. Toad’s restless life on the Open Road always in pursuit of of new thrills, constant change, and the latest fads.
As Rat observes, Toad is constantly lured by newer vehicles and faster motion, whimsically abandoning old canary carts for fashionable cars: “He is now possessed. He has got a new craze.”
While Rat calls his home on the river his “world” or universe, Toad ridicules Rat’s humdrum, unspectacular life compared to his travels throughout the countryside, villages, cities, and countries: “Travels, change, interest, excitement! The whole world before you, and a horizon that’s always changing!”
But Mr. Rat is not deluded. His wisdom is not fooled by the life of constant motion and superficial change that does not allow for a life of roots, stability, and permanence that establish the culture of the home and create a network of loyal friendships. While Rat’s life on the river is filled with memorable adventures and surprises, Toad’s many travels to new places lead only to embarrassing escapades and misfortunes, not to the thrills or glamour he anticipated.
Rat knows that a big place like a Wild Wood can be a no man’s land and that a small spot on the river amounts to a rich kingdom:
“It’s brother and sister to me, and aunts, and company, and food and drink . . . . What it hasn’t got is not worth having, and what it doesn’t know is not worth knowing.”
A Lasting Friendship
Rat’s art of living not only consists of simplicity (an appreciation for innocent pleasures) and hospitality but also the cultivation of lasting friendships. His loyalty and devotion to friends knows no bounds. When Mole disappears, wanders into the Wild Wood, and gets lost in the maze of the forest, Rat goes in search of his lost companion, unafraid of the dangerous creatures that inhabit the Wild Wood.
When Little Portly, the baby otter, disappears on the river, Rat and Mole go in search of the child rather than go to bed, both agreeing that they cannot simply “go to sleep, and do nothing, even though there doesn’t seem to be anything to be done.”
When the stouts and weasels invade Mr. Toad’s mansion during his absence on the Open Road, Rat remains the true friend who forms an army of friends that attack and rout the invaders. Rat knows that civilization depends upon the stability of strong homes, the fidelity of friends, and an orderly way of life lived in tune with Mother Nature’s laws and rhythms—not by the frantic pace of the Open Road.
In a consumerist society in which too many people buy too much, complicate their lives with unnecessary things, and equate happiness with the accumulation of possessions, Mr. Rat’s example offers lessons in the art of simplifying life and reducing it to its essentials: enjoyable work, closeness to nature, innocent pleasures, hospitable occasions in the home, and storytelling and conversation in the company of good friends.
In a technological culture in which many seek diversion through electronic media and entertainment industries, Mr. Rat’s life offers a saner, healthier alternative—the enjoyment of people, not things; a stable life rooted to one place instead of incessant travel and change; and close bonds of friendship with neighbors in small communities instead of impersonal relationships in Wild Woods and Open Roads where a person loses identity, ceases to matter, and becomes nobody.
Mr. Rat keeps each person in touch with his humanity, his childhood, and the quintessential pleasures that keep a person young at heart and grateful for the gift of life.
Art Copyright by Philip Mendoza