Mole and Rat meet the horned god Pan in British Library summer exhibition

Wind in the Willows – and forgotten chapter The Piper at the Gates of Dawn – in Cultural Olympiad exploration of landscape

If you can't remember the bit in The Wind in the Willows when Mole and Rat go searching for a missing baby otter, only to find him asleep in the hooves of the muscular, horned god Pan, then you're not alone. "It is the chapter that everyone forgets about it," said Jamie Andrews of the British Library. "For most editions it's left out."

Kenneth Grahame's handwritten version of the chapter, together with illustrations by Arthur Rackham, will though be part of a summer exhibition at the library called Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands, details of which were announced on Tuesday.

The chapter – The Piper at the Gates of Dawn – is normally dropped because it jars, seems so strange compared to all the others and, to some, is vaguely homo-erotic. Grahame thought it essential.

The library said The Wind in the Willows would be one of more than 150 literary works to feature in a show that aims to explore how writers in Britain, from Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare to Angela Carter and Hanif Kureishi, have been inspired by and helped shape our understanding of landscape and place.

Curators have delved into the library's vast collection and chosen exhibits that include one of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Lake District notebooks; the poetic/photographic celebration of the Calder Valley by Ted Hughes and Fay Godwin; and Laurie Lee's handwritten manuscript of Cider with Rosie, his autobiographical account of growing up in Slad, Gloucestershire.

The show will reveal some unlikely connections, for example between the very different writers JG Ballard and GK Chesterton who both explored London gated communities and the potential for violence therein with works a century apart (Ballard's 2003 novel Millennium People and Chesterton's 1908 work The Man Who Was Thursday).

Andrews, the show's lead curator and head of English and drama at the library, said: "We think that every item here will connect to another in some way and the best thing is, sometimes the connections will be obvious – Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath to the Brontes say – and sometimes they won't, like Ballard and Chesterton.

"We'd like to think everyone can have an individual experience navigating their own connections."

Andrews conceded they were choosing from millions of things. "We know we're leaving things out. We're trying to choose things we know that, on their own, are redolent and exciting but they also add up to a larger whole – they spark these connections."

Because the library can only paint a partial picture it will launch an online initiative inviting people to make their own contributions – whether that is saying who wrote the definitive novel for Milton Keynes, or who created the great ode to Didcot. "We want to create this literary map of Britain, where every space and place is in some way linked to a literary text. We can't do that but we believe it must be possible to do."

The exhibition will span 1,000 years of creative writing and include sound recordings, letters, photographs, drawings and song lyrics as well as yet to be revealed contributions from contemporary writers.

The show will be part of the Cultural Olympiad and the London 2012 Festival and will run from 11 May - 25 September.


Mark Brown, arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
British Library explores changing attitudes to gay love in exhibition
Show includes original marks 50th anniversary of decriminalisation of homosexuality

Nadia Khomami

01, Jun, 2017 @2:58 PM

Article image
British Library seeks £300,000 damages from book vandal

Iranian academic stole hundreds of items from libraries and major collections

Sandra Laville, crime correspondent

17, Jan, 2009 @12:01 AM

Article image
British Library stages UK's biggest comics exhibition

Superheroes feature but show focuses on the importance of British talent to what some perceive as a very American genre

Mark Brown, arts correspondent

01, May, 2014 @5:32 PM

Article image
Living by the pen: British Library explores history of writing
Angry telegram by playwright John Osborne and 2,000-year-old homework among exhibits

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

24, Apr, 2019 @12:23 PM

Article image
Green light given for huge British Library extension
Community-focused £500m scheme will build new galleries, a learning centre, green spaces and a home for the Alan Turing Institute of data science

Sarah Shaffi

03, Feb, 2023 @2:56 PM

Article image
Rare Leonardo da Vinci notebook to go on show at British Library
Bill Gates to lend notebook for 2019 show marking 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

04, Dec, 2018 @3:18 PM

Article image
Domesday book lent to British Library for Anglo-Saxon exhibition
Survey of England commissioned by William the Conqueror in 1085 to go on rare display

Mark Brown

02, Mar, 2018 @12:01 AM

Article image
British Library explores 20th century maps in new exhibition
A Soviet plan for Brighton, Tolkien’s Middle-earth and a Guardian spoof at Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

03, Nov, 2016 @7:22 PM

Article image
British Library will lend world's oldest bible to British Museum
British Museum exhibition, Egypt after the pharaohs, will feature the Codex Sinaiticus, one of the most important books in the world

Mark Brown

27, Aug, 2015 @6:01 AM

Article image
Hanif Kureishi's archive acquired by British Library

Documents include diaries author wrote as a teenager as well as drafts of past work and forthcoming novel

Mark Brown, arts correspondent

22, Jan, 2014 @5:01 PM