WIND IN THE WILLOWS
Even though I am familiar with the story I thought it would be helpful in terms of designing to read up about the story and the characters.
At the start of the book, it is spring time: the weather is fine, and good-natured Mole loses patience with spring cleaning. He flees his underground home, heading up to take in the air. He ends up at the river, which he has never seen before. Here he meets Ratty (awater rat), who at this time of year spends all his days in, on and close by the river. Rat takes Mole for a ride in his rowing boat. They get along well and spend many more days boating, with Rat teaching Mole the ways of the river.
One summer day shortly thereafter, Rat and Mole find themselves near the grand Toad Hall and pay a visit to Toad. Toad is rich (having inherited wealth from his father): jovial, friendly and kind-hearted but aimless and conceited, he regularly becomes obsessed with current fads, only to abandon them as quickly as he took them up. Having only recently given up boating, Toad's current craze is his horse-drawn caravan. In fact, he is about to go on a trip, and persuades the reluctant Rat and willing Mole to join him. The following day (after Toad has already tired of the realities of camp life and sleeps-in to avoid chores), a passing motor car scares the horse, causing the caravan to overturn into a ditch. Rat does a war dance and threatens to have the law on the motor car drivers, but this marks the immediate end of Toad's craze for caravan travel, to be replaced with an obsession for motor cars. When the three animals get to the nearest town, they have Toad go to the police station to make a complaint against the vandals and their motor car and thence to ablacksmith to retrieve and mend the caravan. Toad - in thrall to the experience of his encounter - refuses. Rat and Mole find an inn from where they organise the necessary steps and, exhausted, return home by train. Meanwhile, Toad makes no effort to help, instead deciding to order himself a motor car.
Mole wants to meet the respected but elusive Badger, who lives deep in the Wild Wood, but Rat - knowing that Badger does not appreciate visits - refuses to take him, telling Mole to be patient and wait and Badger will pay them a visit himself. Nevertheless, on a snowy winter's day, whilst the seasonally somnolent Ratty dozes unaware, Mole impulsively goes to the Wild Wood to explore, hoping to meet Badger. He gets lost in the woods, sees many "evil faces" among the wood's less-welcoming denizens, succumbs to fright and panic and hides, trying to stay warm, amongst the sheltering roots of a tree. Rat, upon awakening and finding Mole gone, guesses his mission from the direction of Mole's tracks and, equipping himself with a pistol and a stout stick, goes in search, finding him as snow begins to fall in earnest. Attempting to find their way home, Rat and Mole quite literally stumble across Badger's home — Mole barks his shin upon the boot scraper on Badger's doorstep. Rat finds it and a doormat, knowing they are an obvious sign of hope, but Mole thinks Rat has gone crazy, only to believe him when the digging reveals a door. Badger - en route to bed in his dressing-gown and slippers - nonetheless warmly welcomes Rat and Mole to his large and cosy underground home and hastens to give them hot food and dry clothes. Badger learns from his visitors that Toad has crashed six cars, has been hospitalised three times, and has spent a fortune on fines. Though nothing can be done at the moment (it being winter), they resolve that once spring arrives they will make a plan to protect Toad from himself; they are, after all, his friends and are worried for his well-being.
With the arrival of spring, Badger visits Mole and Rat to do something about Toad's self-destructive obsession. The three of them go to visit Toad, and Badger tries talking him out of his behaviour, to no avail. They decide to put Toad under house arrest, with themselves as the guards, until Toad changes his mind. Feigning illness, Toad bamboozles the Water Rat (who is on guard duty at the time) and escapes. He steals a car, drives it recklessly and is caught by the police. He is sent to prison on a twenty-year sentence.
Badger and Mole are cross with Rat for his gullibility, but draw comfort from the fact that they need no longer waste their summer guarding Toad. However, Badger and Mole continue to live in Toad Hall in the hope that Toad may return. Meanwhile in prison, Toad gains the sympathy of the Jailer's Daughter who helps him to escape disguised as a washerwoman. Though free again, Toad is without money or possessions other than the clothes upon his back, and is being pursued by the police. Still disguised as a washerwoman, and after hitchhiking a lift on a train, Toad comes across a horse-drawn barge. The Barge's Owner offers him a lift in exchange for Toad's services as a "washer woman". After botching the wash, Toad gets into a fight with the barge-woman, who deliberately tosses him into the canal. After making off with the barge horse, which he then sells to a gypsy, Toad flags down a passing car, which happens to be the very one which he stole earlier. The car owners, not recognizing Toad disguised as a washerwoman, permit him to drive their car. Once behind the wheel, he is repossessed by his former passion and drives furiously, declaring his true identity to the outraged passengers who try to seize him. This leads to an accident, after which Toad flees once more. Pursued by police, he runs accidentally into a river, which carries him by sheer chance to the house of the Water Rat.
Toad now hears from Rat that Toad Hall has been taken over by weasels, stoats and ferrets from the Wild Wood, who have driven out its former custodians, Mole and Badger. Although upset at the loss of his house, Toad realises what good friends he has and how badly he has behaved. Badger then arrives and announces that he knows of a secret tunnel into Toad Hall through which the enemies may be attacked. Armed to the teeth, Rat, Mole and Toad enter via the tunnel and pounce upon the unsuspecting weasels who are holding a party in honour of their leader. Having driven away the intruders, Toad holds a banquet to mark his return, during which (for a change) he behaves both quietly and humbly. He makes up for his earlier wrongdoings by seeking out and compensating those he has wronged, and the four friends live out their lives happily ever after.
In addition to the main narrative, the book contains several independent short-stories featuring Rat and Mole. These appear for the most part between the chapters chronicling Toad's adventures, and are often omitted from abridgements and dramatizations. The chapter Dulce Domum describes Mole's return to his home, accompanied by Rat, in which, despite finding it in a terrible mess, after his abortive spring clean he rediscovers, with Rat's help, a familiar comfort. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn tells how Mole and Rat go in search of Otter's missing son Portly, whom they find in the care of the god Pan. (Pan removes their memories of this meeting "lest the awful remembrance should remain and grow, and overshadow mirth and pleasure".) Finally in Wayfarers All, Ratty shows a restless side to his character when he is sorely tempted to join a Sea Rat on his travelling adventures.
- Mole – A mild-mannered, home-loving animal, and the first character to be introduced. Fed up with spring cleaning in his secluded home, he ventures into the outside world. Originally overawed by the hustle and bustle of the riverbank, he eventually adapts.
- Ratty – Ratty (actually a water vole) is cultured, relaxed and friendly, with literary pretentions and a life of leisure. Ratty loves the river and takes Mole under his wing. He is implied to be occasionally mischievous and can be stubborn when it comes to doing things outside of his riverside lifestyle.
- Mr. Toad – The wealthy scion of Toad Hall. Good-natured, kind-hearted and not without intelligence, Toad inherited his wealth from his late father. Spoiled, conceited, and impulsive, he is prone to obsessions and crazes (such as punting, houseboats, and horse-drawn caravans), each of which in turn he becomes bored with and drops. His motoring craze eventually sees him imprisoned for theft, dangerous driving and gross impertinence to the rural police. Several chapters of the book chronicle his daring escape from prison.
- Mr. Badger – Gruff and solitary, who "simply hates society", Badger embodies the "wise hermit" figure. A friend of Toad's late father, he is uncompromising with the disappointing Toad yet remains optimistic his good qualities will prevail. He lives in a vast underground sett, part of which incorporates the remains of a buried Roman settlement. A brave and a skilled fighter, Badger helped clear the Wild Wooders from Toad Hall with his large cudgel.
- Otter and Portly – A friend of Ratty with a stereotypical "Cockney costermonger" character, the extrovert Otter is tough and self-sufficient. Portly is his young son.
- The Gaoler's Daughter – The only major human character; a "clever, wise, good girl", she helps Toad escape from prison.
- The Chief Weasel – The story's antagonist. He and his band of weasels, stoats, and ferrets from the Wild Wood plot to take over Toad Hall.
- Inhabitants of the Wild Wood – Weasels, stoats, ferrets, foxes and others, who are described by Ratty thus: "all right in a way... but... well, you can't really trust them".
- Pan – A god who makes a single, anomalous appearance in Chapter 7, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.
- The Wayfarer – A vagabond seafaring rat, who also makes a single appearance. Ratty briefly considers following his example, before Mole manages to persuade him otherwise.
- Squirrels and rabbits, who are generally good (although rabbits are described as "a mixed lot").