By Matthew Claridge–

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I finally got around to reading The Wind in the Willows for the first time a couple summers ago. Needless to say, I was absolutely enchanted. And I mean that in the fullest sense of the word. The book is atmospheric, almost haunting. Rarely can it be said that my cynicism and technocratic autonomy as a modern reader—enmeshed as I am in my own very modern concerns with paychecks, bottom-lines, and the results of the next election—is able to be neutralized by the intoxicating prose and symbolism of a literary work. Oh, how we need these antidotes. It is refreshing to be reminded that we live in a mysterious world, engulfed in a reality that can be felt but never fully explained. Wind in the Willows is a prime example of coaxing us to look along the beam rather stand aloof gazing at it (Lewis’ “Meditations in a Toolshed”).

Although the whole book is infused with the numinous, clearly the first and especially the seventh and ninth chapters (entitled, “Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” and “Wayfarers All”) are its epicenters. One comes away from those chapters, or at least should come away, with a profound sense of the sublime or what Lewis called “joy”—that fleeting sense of profound longing, a longing for the transcendent that no tidy bit of molecular chemistry or DOW Jones averages can quite erase. In this post I want to linger a bit on the significance of the seventh chapter, “Piper at the Gates of the Dawn.”

I’m really flying blind here, I can only comment on my impressions. I would really love to get a hold of more information about Kenneth Grahame and his theological/ philosophical background. Yet based on what little I know of English literary history, Pan was often used as a type of Christ. Pan’s divine presence, I believe, both in person and channeled through the “Wind,” is meant to be the structural ground that holds the whole book together.

Curiously, but not unsurprisingly, in abridgements of the book that I have encountered (by no means exhaustive) the chapter in which Pan appears is excised. Indeed, according to Wikipedia, Pan’s appearance in the book is an “anomaly.” To a certain extent, this is understandable. The story doesn’t entirely conform to what we would call a modern novel. Yes, there is a  plot that runs through the story—the introduction of the main characters and the misadventures of Mr. Toad—but peppered throughout are these seemingly non-plot related chapters, especially the ones involving Pan and the “wayfarer” river rat from Byzantium. As such, the impulse to set aside this odd and anomalous chapter for the excitement and frivolity of Mr. Toad is typically Modern. These chapters are not fast-paced enough and, indeed, not shallow enough. The modern reader, like Mr. Toad, is not willing to slow down and drink deeply from the enchanted river. He would much rather, again like the Mr. Toad, climb aboard a fast moving vehicle, casting bystanders and caution to the wind (lowercase).

According to a quote by Christopher Milne found on the Wiki, the story contains two disparate portions; and his father (of Winnie the Pooh fame) actually wrote a play to fill out the story of Mr. Toad and leave the other, “haunting” portion aside. If anything, what I find in the book is not two disparate stories but one in which Grahame uses Mr. Toad’s adventures as a foil for his critique of modernism. What Milne thought were the best parts worthy of a story in its own right is actually Grahame’s extended critique of everything that is wrong with modern sensibilities.

The real substance of the story occurs in the slowest chapters, particularly the chapter in which Pan appears. As Mole and Rat conduct their night-time search for the lost son of Otter, they become aware of a haunting melody carried on the Wind. They are irresistibly drawn by the tune to a patch of earth over which a sense of dread, wonder, and majesty hangs. Here, in this sacred grove, they encounter a beautific vision of Pan. Transfixed, enraptured, and unutterably at peace, they bow in worship. And just as quickly, the vision disappears and their memory with it.

Pan’s gift to Mole and Rat is both a fleeting glimpse of Himself and a veil of forgetfulness so that they would not linger on that experience to the neglect of everything else. Having experienced the undiluted beauty and glory of God, how could they easily go back to “messing about in boats”? So Greene reminds us:

“For this is the last best gift that the kindly demi-god is careful to bestow on those to whom he has revealed himself in their helping: the gift of forgetfulness. Lest the awful remembrance should remain and grow, and overshadow mirth and pleasure, and the great haunting memory should spoil all the after-lives of little animals helped out of difficulties, in order that they should be happy and light-hearted as before.”

The whole episode fills one with that ancient, now long obsolescent feeling of “dread.” It’s a terrible and wonderful sensation.

There is a great deal here that a biblical Christian should appreciate and even accept—Christ is indeed the Lord of the Jubilee, the “Friend and Helper” of little creatures such as sparrows, flowers and frail men, the Lion of Judah and Lamb that was slain. There is definite truth in the fact that when we finally behold Christ, his blinding beauty, glory, and irresistible power will instantly transform and beautify our souls, purging it of all lesser loves (Rom. 8.1; 1Jn. 3.1ff). Indeed, like Pan’s song which is carried along the Wind, a song that creates and upholds the world, so we live in a world infused with the Spirit of Christ performing the same unconscious, untraceable functions (Jn. 3.8; 16.7ff.).

But Christ’s one, greatest gift is not the “gift of forgetfulness.” Perhaps we can say He grants us the gift of  sins forgotten, but not the gift of forgetting Himself. Christ does not first reveal something truly and effectively to us, only to take it away again. For the Christian, our grasp of Christ in faith should not produce despair nor a sluggish indifference to the present world in which we are placed. It should not produce an unquenchable, debilitating longing because we know that Christ—through his incarnation, atonement, resurrection, and ascension—does not transcend our earthly joys of “mirth and pleasure” but rather embraces them, redeems them, and will one day perfect them. Here below, we do ache with longing to embrace the tangible Christ, but we do so with memories aflame with praise and hope. All lesser loves become complete loves, and our lives in the world become full and free, instead of frantic and discontented (like Mr. Toad’s).

Matthew Claridge (M.Div. Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Th.M.  Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is an editor with Credo Magazine and the senior pastor of Mt. Idaho Baptist church in Grangeville, Idaho. He is married to Cassandra and has two children.



  • Beautiful!!! Thank you so much for sharing this great interpretation. I was also struck how Pan is depicted as smiling and looking upon the trembling rodents with “humor”. Graham seems to be conveying the words of God repeated so many times in the bible, “Be not afraid”.

  • This is a terrible review. How can you say that any representation of Pan is actually a representation of Christ? That is calling the devil good. The Biblical Christian should not accept this book but flee from it. The wind in the Willows is rife Pantheism and is best left alone. It idsidiously weaves neo paganism into a cute world of animals and thus deceives the reader.

  • Well done on the review. The insights on the book’s structure–the role of Toad in the critique of modern life, that is something I somehow missed, and am grateful to be getting. My students like toad, and I’m afraid we are all too modern, the slow parts are nearly unbearable. Pan as Christ? I’m conservative, and I can appreciate that.

  • This appearance of PAN is nothing to do with Christ. It’s the god of so many evils, just ask the greeks if they thought of PAN as a good guy. PAN is a homo sexual, pan sexual predator of children, is it any co incidence that otter’s child is missing and is found with PAN, a.k.a Mr tumnus of narnia. Something evil happened, which is why in both stories there is a lapse of memory and in willows it’s to prevent “Lest the awful remembrance should remain and grow”

    This is child rape hidden in a child’s book put there by an occult witch. I say this with full confidence that this is so, the god of witchcraft and wicca is none other than the horned hunter god and goddess. Which is PAN and numerous other incarnations of horned gods that pagans worship, also known as nimrod the hunter.

    I would not be surprised to find that the author is a gardinian wicca, a member of the O.T.O, or a student of Aleister Crowley, he is after all ex bank of England and most likely also a member of the craft (freemasonry) just as gardner was.

    This is what wicca is, evil hidden in innocence, wind in the willows is PAN’s spiritual wind played through his pipes, the pied piper leading the children away. Disgusting story which is why it was taken out of later editions and oddly vanished from people’s memory, just like PAN does to the characters.

  • John’s entire comment above is spot on. Pan is never a Christ figure. He is, though, as anyone who reads their Bible knows, an imitator and would-be usurper of Christ. Christians have no business reading this to their children.

  • Just what I needed. Thank you. I didn’t know Pan was used a Christ-type. That actually helps me with seeing The Findhorn Garden in a better light, which God truly used in my search.

    • Ok now I read what others said.. he is called a Demi-God which I didn’t get.. why call him anything? I see both sides but I am more in favor of the author here. I think of Shakespeare’ saying the madman sees more devils than vast hell can hold.. We Christian’s tend to be over sensational and so like the sellers outside the temple court barre the would be curious of who our God is. Satan doesn’t create. All Satan uses was God’s first.. everything! The one thing that surprised me was that the author of this article was Baptist.

  • Ok now I read what others said.. he is called a Demi-God which I didn’t get.. why call him anything? I see both sides but I am more in favor of the author here. I think of Shakespeare’ saying the madman sees more devils than vast hell can hold.. We Christian’s tend to be over sensational and so like the sellers outside the temple court barre the would be curious of who our God is. Satan doesn’t create. All Satan uses was God’s first.. everything! The one thing that surprised me was that the author of this article was Baptist.

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