Internet app brings Toad, Ratty & Mole into the 21st Century
An enduring classic of children's literature has been transported from the Edwardian era to the age of the Internet thanks to a Westcountry design team.
Author Kenneth Grahame's 1908 novel The Wind in the Willows presented a vision of a vanishing rural idyll through the much-loved characters Toad, Ratty, Badger and Mole.
Now a fresh generation of tech-savvy adults and youngsters can follow the three friends' adventures after the story was turned into an interactive "app" for smart phones and computers.
Bibliodome, a three-man creative team, from Chagford, in Devon, has devised the so-called book-in-a-tin.
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Novelist Sam North adapted the story, which faithfully adheres to the original in terms of both words and pictures, but can now be brought to life by a key stroke or a tap on a touch screen.
"Everyone knows what a great, well-loved tale it is and we insisted that the story must remain at the heart of the project," he said.
"I set out to capture its essence and not be seduced into overpowering the writing with special effects."
The story follows the friendship of the four animals but is seen as a nostalgic dream about English country life. Despite its widespread fame as a children's book – it is viewed as the archetype of what adults consider children's fiction to be – critics have always doubted was aimed purely at the young reader.
The original publisher Methuen presented it as a "whimsical satire" or allegory which reduced life to the simple experiences of a group of woodland and riverside creatures.
The tale centres around The River, a stretch of water thought to have been inspired by the Thames, where Grahame lived, and Fowey in Cornwall, where he spent time.
The novel made famous the phrase "messing about in boats", said by Rat to Mole as he introduced him to the delights of the river.
The latest incarnation of the story would puzzle Grahame, who feared that industrialisation would destroy the countryside.
This idea of technology encroaching on rural England produced one of the of the most famous images in the book – Toad tearing up the quiet countryside in his car, a scene which is recreated in the app's effects. The software allows the reader to control Toad as he accelerates and falls into holes, as well as dancing butterflies and partying Weasels.
The team, who describe the project as "a work of love", also includes artist Steve Dooley, who created the illustrations.
He said he was inspired by Grahame's emotional briefing to the original illustrator, whom the author told: "I love these little people so please be kind to them."
"I took that very much to heart", Mr Dooley added. "The most touching tribute for me came from a 70-year-old who said the app images were true to those he visualised as a ten-year-old."
The interactive aspects were designed by mathematical modeller Bobby Gilbert, who spent hours researching the minutiae of each and every page.
"I had to ask for more time from Steve on occasions to get it perfectly right," he explained.
"I spent a long time researching bumblebee flight to get them as beautiful and captivating as his drawings.
"We all fell under the spell of the book, the characters, the humour, the wonderful eccentric lyricism of the words – it absorbed us, we had to do justice to it."
The app can be downloaded from the Apple website.