Wednesday, March 8, 2017
A dozen literary rodents
The Broke and the Bookish have offered a freebie Top Ten Tuesday, so I'll take it, although I've extended mine to a dozen.
Today's list is a request. I've done dogs, cats and even bigger cats, so my younger son challenged me to write a blog post about literary rodents, especially since we've been plagued by an influx of mice recently. Well, we've caught nine. My husband has been moving things around in the garage, and they've been slipping beneath the door which separates it from the house. I haven't seen any for a few days, but I'm still creeping around on eggshells, because I hate having my personal space invaded by such unwelcome visitors that make my skin crawl. Especially when I see them dart out suddenly.
But here's a true story to show that maybe my phobia is a bit superficial. Once I was feeding possums with my family, at the bottom of Umpherston Sinkhole, Mt Gambier, and noticed that one was quite a lot smaller than the others, but just as eager for food. He had a little twitchy nose and whiskers, although his face was slightly pointier than his friends', and he kept trying to edge his way to the front. I said, 'That one must be a baby. Look how cute he is.' Then suddenly he turned, and I saw a long, hairless, whip-like tail behind him. Instantly I realised that I wasn't looking at a baby possum, but a very large rat!
I tell you, it changed the game for me in a flash! Imagine reverting from, 'How adorable,' to 'How hideous' in a second. But my husband and kids said, 'Hey, he hasn't changed from who he was just a second ago when you were loving him. You're rejecting him now, just because you have some extra information about him. That's not fair, is it?' I had to admit there may be a glimmer of truth in that. Perhaps making this list may be a therapeutic thing to do, to prove there are some rodents I can stand.
1) Remy from Ratatouille
This classy gastronome has faced discrimination and prejudice. He instinctively understands fine food and would love to be an award-winning chef but can't get into the industry for one reason alone, he's a rat. Prospective employers don't just politely turn him away, but forcefully chase him out of their kitchens and treat like a filthy menace! Remy ends up befriending a young apprentice chef, Linguini, and creates wonderful dishes by directing the youth from beneath his puffy chef's hat. Hey, if others won't accept you for who you are, you do what you can, even if the credit goes to someone else.
2) Stuart Little
Eleanor and Frederick Little wish to adopt a child. They return from the orphanage with a talking mouse named Stuart. I totally get why their son George would insist, 'He's not my brother!' I'd react the same way in his shoes. Since when have orphanages become pet shops? But Stuart can talk, and he's pretty smart and resourceful, with cute, wistful, beady eyes. No doubt his Michael J Fox charm would rub off on me in the end too.
He's the plucky, brave-hearted little mouse from the tale that bears his name. Far more interested in reading books than chewing them up like his family members, he learns about history and stops a dirty rat's conspiracy to harm the princess.
4) Rat, from Fantastic Mr Fox
He's the security guard of Farmer Bean, one of the locals whose poultry and produce Mr Fox and his friends like to raid. The poor fellow dies of electrocution after being pushed into a generator by Mr Fox, but has a few poignant lines indicating how hard it is to be a rat.
5) Rat in a Hat
Fellow Australians who watched children's TV in the nineties will surely remember this guy from Bananas in Pyjamas, who ran the local shop in Cuddles Avenue. The bananas and teddies all considered him a good friend, although he tended to play sneaky, greedy tricks on them. They were always gullible enough to fall for his line, 'Trust me, I'm a rat!' long after they should have wised up. You may also remember his catch cry, 'Cheese and Whiskers.'
6) Scabbers from Harry Potter
All through the first two books, we think he's simply the anxious, long-lived pet of the Weasley family, handed down through the brothers until poor Ron ends up with him. Near the end of 'The Prisoner of Azkaban' his true identity as traitor and turncoat animagus Peter Pettigrew is revealed. He was the former friend responsible for betraying James and Lily Potter, and has lived in disguise, in fear of retribution. With the return of the Dark Lord, his nasty ways come to the fore again. Despicable and cowardly all through, he pleads with Ron, 'Wasn't I a good pet?' and Sirius Black retorts, 'I wouldn't boast about being a better rat than a human, Peter.'
7) Mr Ratburn, from the Arthur TV series
He's on my list of best teachers ever, where I've given him a good wrap-up. Anyone was lucky who found themselves in his class.
8) Ratty from Wind in the Willows
He's actually a water vole who loves spending his days on the river, and taking his friend Mole for rides in his boat. 'If you believe me, my young friend, there is simply nothing half so worth doing as simply messing about in boats,' he says. What a life for a rat.
9) Mickey Mouse
This Disney mascot has been hanging out with his other anthropomorphic friends for several decades. He's been the star of movies, ranging from black and white to colour, TV series, and more recently, video games. I believe kids from the 50s and 60s idolised him to the extent of wearing black, round look-alike ears and becoming members of a special Mickey Mouse Club.
He made cameo appearances in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women stories. Jo March used to enjoy writing stories in the garret, with a pail of apples to munch. She always fed the cores to her friend Scrabble, the resident rat. He started off wild, but came to consider her a good friend, and no wonder. I would have set traps long before getting personally acquainted.
This little yellow Pokemon wouldn't have occurred to me, but while I was trying to draw this list out to 12, my son reminded me that he is actually a thunder mouse. Being Ash Ketchum's original Pokemon, he always holds a special place in his heart. I've sometimes been surprised to see young fans loving Pikachu plush toys even when they're not familiar with Pokemon and don't have a clue who he is. I suppose it's his friendly, lovable appearance and little pink cheeks that wins them over.
And now for my favourite
Lovers of C.S. Lewis know him as one of Narnia's most fearless warriors. The chief of the mouse army, he is always ready to move in and attack the enemy, even when bigger men falter. Sometimes others laugh at his super-confidence and try to protect him from his own good intentions.
One of my favourite rodent scenes in literature takes place at the end of 'Prince Caspian.' The brave Reepicheep has been brought back from the brink of death with the aid of Queen Lucy's healing cordial, but laments the loss of his long tail, which has been completely severed. Since it's the honour and glory of a Mouse, he's terribly upset. Aslan believes Reepicheep thinks too much of his honour, but then the rest of the mice draw their swords and prepare to cut theirs off too, rather than bear a privilege denied to their chief.
'You've conquered me,' roars Aslan. 'You have great hearts. Not for the sake of your dignity, Reepicheep, but for the love between you and your people, and the kindness your people showed me long ago on the Stone Table, you shall have your tail again.'
So although real ones still make me cringe, I grudgingly admit literary rodents do have a way of stealing my heart. They convict me for making snap judgements about people I don't even know because of their background (or in their case, species). And they show me that everyone might have admirable features if we're prepared to delve deeply enough. It's not so difficult in their case, since story rodents are generally intended to be cute and lovable. Scabbers is probably the worst on the list, and even he shows us not to underestimate the people we think we know.
Be honest, what do you think of mice and rats?