Best known for the well-loved children's fiction 'The Wind in the Willows', Kenneth Grahame was hugely influential on the development of fantasy writing in Britain.
Born in Edinburgh in 1859, his early childhood was spent in the Western Highlands. On the death of his mother he was sent to live with his grandmother in Cookham Dene, the village which later formed the main setting of the The Wind in the Willows, and he spent happy years exploring the River Thames, rowing along its upper reaches.
Denied the Oxford education that he had always dreamed of, he went to work at The Bank of England for many years and it was there that he began writing light fiction, selling stories and articles to The Yellow Book, St. James Gazette and National Observer. Surprisingly, this venerable institution not only tolerated such eccentricity but seemed to encourage it. He became fascinated by the paganism that was currently fashionable, and took great delight in the ideas about the rural deity Pan.
A collection of his sketches from these papers was published in 1895 as The Golden Age, reprinting some of the stories of orphaned children that had appeared in the largely ignored Pagan Papers of two years before. The Golden Age was a huge popular success.
In 1898 this was followed by Dream Days which includes one of his most popular, and most inventive stories: The Reluctant Dragon, a tale of a rather friendly dragon who wants to be left in peace, though the local villagers have rather more violent ideas about his destiny.
After this, he stopped writing for about eight years and only started again when he began to tell bedtime stories to his son, Alastair. On the night of Alastair's fourth birthday, Grahame records, the child
"had a bad crying fit...and I had to tell him stories about moles and giraffes and water-rats."
thus starting the tale of The Wind in the Willows which took shape over the next four years.
The book was finally published in 1908, and Grahame retired from his position at The Bank of England. Initially, it was not a major success, but sales grew steadily over the years and was endlessly reprinted.
The Wind in the Willows was adapted as a play, Toad of Toad Hall by A. A. Milne, and performed in London in 1930, and performed almost every Christmas for many years, contributing to its central position in children's fiction.
The most famous edition is the 1931 version, illustrated by E. H. Shepard, though Grahame himself was wary of any illustrations at all.
Grahame's son, Alastair, had died young (he was still an undergraduate), and after this Grahame became rather hermit-like and eccentric, spending most of his time walking and reading, and ignoring the local villagers who thought him peculiar.
Kenneth Grahame died suddenly of a brain haemorrhage in 1932.