The Wind in the Willows

The Wind in the Willows Summary and Analysis of Chapters 7 and 8


Chapter 7 - "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn"

Rat returns home late from a visit with Otter, and Mole asks how the day went. Rat explains that Otter was clearly preoccupied, since his son Portly had been missing for several days. Mole mentions that Portly is an adventurous child who often goes off on his own, but Rat counters that he has been missing for an unusually long period. Dozens of animals have been searching for the boy for days, to no avail. Otter himself has been waiting each night at an old ford near a bridge, an area where father and son have shared many memories.

Mole and Rat try to pass a pleasant evening, but are too concerned about Portly’s safety. After a while, they set out in Rat's boat to search, even though it is late at night. They paddle upstream for a while, exiting occasionally to search on land, but have no luck.

At one point, Mole notices Rat leaning out the edge of the boat, transfixed with something Mole cannot see. Rat then begins to cry, saying that he heard a beautiful melody that made

him extremely happy. A moment later, Mole hears the song, a tune coming from pan pipes. Entranced, they follow the music to a small island in a narrow stream.

On the island, they see a faun, holding pan pipes and standing over a sleeping otter. (He is an allusion to the Greek demigod Pan.) They instinctively fall to the ground and worship him, but forget the experience as soon as they stand back up. Pan has also disappeared.

Once they wake from that trance, they realize that Portly is the otter lying there. They row him home, dropping him near the bridge where Otter waits nightly, so that the family can reunite without their interference.

They spend time trying to recollect what happened to them. Rat, being a songwriter and poet, tries to recall the words to the song they heard, and the lyrics tells a story about a helpful creature who watches over small animals, but then makes travelers forget they had ever seen him.

Chapter 8 - "Toad's Adventures"

Meanwhile, Toad remains imprisoned for car theft. Luckily, the gaoler’s daughter has a fondness for animals, so takes an interest in him. When Toad quits eating from depression, she helps him transcend his misery and they become friends. Eventually, she promises to help him escape.

Her plan involves her aunt, the jail's washerwoman. In exchange for compensation from Toad, the aunt agrees to give Toad her clothes so that the animal can walk out of jail disguised as a washerwoman. Toad accepts the plan, and easily escapes thanks to his ridiculous outfit.

However, when Toad tries to buy a train ticket out of the city, he realizes he does not have his wallet. Still dressed as a washerwoman, he promises to clean the engine driver's shirts in exchange for passage. He does not know how to wash, but fakes it well enough that his escape is almost assured. Unfortunately, another train soon approaches quickly from behind, and the engine driver muses that they must be in pursuit of someone.

In a panic, Toad admits the truth. The engine driver helps him escape, advising him to jump from the train after they exit a tunnel. Toad follows the plan, and is too exhausted to walk much before taking a well-deserved nap.


Chapter 7 is one of the most misunderstood chapters in The Wind in the Willows, and is often excluded from newer editions of the novel. And yet while it is a stylistic deviation from the broader, more care-free jaunts of other chapters, it does align with the novel's overall themes.

For the most part, Grahame depicts the Greek demigod Pan quite closely to his classical archetype. Pan is a a protector of forest creatures, and a graceful faun with curving horns, who plays a pan flute. He also has the power to manipulate minds, making the animals forget what they saw. In Grahame’s description (as well as in the song that Rat remembers), Pan knows that seeing a demigod can have lasting effects on mortal creatures. Because his presence is so powerful, he changes the animals’ memory so that their subsequent lives are not overshadowed by this chance meeting. All in all, he is a benevolent creature who cares deeply for the safety of animals.

In this way, he is a personification of nature, which is naturally kind but also carries dangers. It is too powerful to be easily understood or controlled, and those who benefit most from it are those subservient to its power (unlike humans, who tend to think they can control nature). In this way, Pan offers another articulation of Grahame's ideas on nature, which he communicates in various ways throughout the novel.

Grahame takes this understanding of Pan straight from classical literature. As early as in Aesop’s fables, fauns help those that are lost in the woods. The most famous instance comes from “The Satyr and the Traveller,” wherein a faun takes pity on a man who is wandering through the forest during the winter. The faun invites the man to his house, and offers him food and drink to bolster his strength. In the fable, the man confuses the faun, and the faun sees the man’s contradictory words as a blight to his hospitality. Offended, he throws the man out. The idea is clear: nature can help us if we act as its guest. It wants to help us, to tie us to our natural strength, but we must admit that it is more powerful than we are, lest it otherwise defeat us.

This chapter also provides more insight into Rat’s character. He and Mole both feel compelled to search for Portly, which is unsurprising considering their kindness. However, it is telling that Rat first hears Pan's song, and that he is the one capable of recalling its lyrics. To some extent, this is merely a reflection of Rat's interest in poetry - nearly every chapter features him working on a song or poem. A more poignant explanation, however, lies in his connection to nature. He has always been more attuned to the power of the natural world - this is largely what draws Mole to him - and thus is he able to recognize Pan's presence more quickly.

Rat’s sensitivity to Pan’s music can also be traced by to a tale originating in 14th century Germany: the tale of the Pied Piper. In this story, the Pied Piper uses his pan flute music to lure rats away from a city. When he is later insulted by the town, he uses his music to lure away its children as punishment. Grahame often makes allusions like this, to other children's stories, in order to make the work more literary and more educational for readers. While the stories do not present perfect parallels, the connections help to underscore Grahame's point: we must consider ourselves subservient to the power of nature (or music/art), lest it otherwise wield its superiority over us. Ultimately, Chapter 7 is indeed a departure from the form of the rest of the novel, but it aligns quite closely with Grahame's interests at other points of the story.

While Chapter 7 offers more of a metaphysical rumination, Chapter 8 returns to Toad's more cartoonish antics. While Toad initially seems penitent, his monologues make it clear that his feelings are largely unchanged. He is only sorry that he got caught. In other words, jail does not improve Toad’s selfishness and immaturity. In fact, he quickly works to take the easy way out. First, he refuses to eat, a rather childish tactic. And even when he finds a friend in the gaoler’s daughter, he acts superior, insulting her aunt (the jail's washerwoman) and exploiting that friendship for his own gain.

One of the reasons that Toad is so rude to the gaoler's daughter is that he sees her family as socially inferior. Rather than embracing her friendship, he arrogantly assumes she is attracted to him, and laments that she belongs to another social class (he would never marry someone 'beneath' him). Grahame makes a subtle comment on the rigid class system here - Toad at first refuses to dress as a washerwoman, since it would lower his class standing, even though that proves to be his salvation. The idea is that holding too firmly to class distinctions often works against our best interest.

However, Toad remains most of all a classic trickster character. Once he accepts the washerwoman disguise, he uses it to great effect, demanding pity and help from everyone. He plays the part well, although Grahame would never entirely support such behavior. In fact, the truth does catch up to him, in the form of the second train. It is here that Toad has to rely on the truth, and the engine driver takes actual pity on him, allowing him to escape. Grahame suggests that children tricksterism only gets us so far before the world catches up; eventually, our best tactics are to rely on honesty and kindness.