I haven't read this classic, but Salon's Gary Kamiya's tribute to it makes me want to read it, then I can finally understand Mr. Toad's Wild ride at Disneyland:
...and if Mole and Rat are idealized reflections of the grown-up author and his grown-up problems, then Toad is its major key, its glittering color, its childish heart. The combination is audacious and bizarre, but the book's two facets somehow complement each other perfectly. Mole and Rat learn from their mistakes, grasp the meaning of friendship, come to understand their limitations. That's all well and good, but rather grown-up. The antidote to this seriousness is someone who never learns anything, who never understands anything, who never regrets anything, who lives for the moment. The antidote is Toad.
Toad was present at the creation -- in fact, he was the creation. "The Wind in the Willows" started out as bedtime stories Grahame told to his son, Alastair, and the first version was probably only about Toad, according to Green. Toad's story is the one everyone remembers. How could you not? His picaresque adventures, from his unhappy career as a motor-car thief, fraudulent washerwoman and horse trader to the mock-Homeric "Return of Ulysses" chapter in which he and his friends creep through a secret tunnel to surprise the weasels who have usurped his house, appeal to the universal desire to humbug everybody and get away with it, to rise straight to heaven on the gas of one's own ego.
Toad is one of the great comic characters in all of literature, a descendant of the braggart soldiers of Roman literature and the pompous cuckolds of commedia del'arte, the little blowhard brother of Falstaff and Don Quixote. Armed with invincible vanity, a complete lack of impulse control and a remarkably empty head, Toad is the consummate scenery-gobbler, a baked ham on legs who seizes the stage and never lets another character get a word in edgewise. Like cartoon characters who spring magically back to life after they have been folded, spindled and mutilated, Toad's delicious appeal is that he always comes back, as gloriously stupid and lovable as ever: He cannot be anything but Toad. As Grahame told someone who inquired if Toad ever really changed, "Of course Toad never really reformed; he was by nature incapable of it."