October 24, 2019 | Storytelling

Kenneth Grahame and the Enchantment of Story


Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

Kenneth Grahame’s beloved story, The Wind in the Willows, opens with the Mole lamenting the tedious and time-consuming nature of spring cleaning.

But “something up above was calling [the Mole] imperiously,” so the Mole abandons his chores and climbs out of his hole into the warm, green world above. After wandering awhile, the Mole comes to the river. He has never seen a river before and is immediately struck to his core with awe.

Grahame writes,

All was a-shake and a-shiver—glints and gleams and sparkles, rustle and swirl, chatter and bubble. The Mole was bewitched, entranced, fascinated. By the side of the river he trotted as one trots, when very small, by the side of a man who holds one spellbound by exciting stories; and when tired at last, he sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea. 1

The Mole is mesmerized by this flowing “full-bodied animal,” by this internuncio of the earth’s divine stories. Grahame’s analogy here is a profound but simple reflection on the power (and magic) of good storytelling. The image and the accompanying feelings it conjures are salient; every reader can identify with the spellbound delight captivating stories bring.

Because we know a good narrative when we hear or read it. We know it immediately.

It fills the caverns of our minds and echoes down the corridors of our veins. It resounds off everything and the air brims over with it.

Like ink in water, it spreads and waltzes.

Divine glimmering shades carry on the wind through our ears and we can do nothing else but lower our bodies to the ground in quiet, shaking anticipation.

And there we sit with criss-crossed legs compelled like the Mole to simply listen, our eyes open wide in awe.

Stories call us out of dark holes, out of the business and clutter. They call us into awe. Into memory. Into delight and longing. Into peace.

When the Mole’s friend, the Water Rat, pulls out a boat and suggests they go for a trip, Grahame recalls, “the Mole’s whole heart went out to it at once, even though he did not yet fully understand its uses.” 2

There is something of eternity in stories and therein we recognize something familiar, something perhaps once lost.

Stories call us back into our true selves. Into wholeness. Stories call us home.

1 Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1994), 19-20.
2 Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows, 21.

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