Medieval Mouse Literature

Besides mysteries, my other reading this month has been mouse stories with medieval settings: Redwall by Brain Jacques and Mouse Guard by David Peterson. It’s definitely an interesting genre. It’s world-building.You have to develop a whole mouse culture!

Mouse Guard

mouse guard fall

I’ve read the first two full graphic novels. Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 and Mouse Guard: Winter 1152. The images are beautiful and evocative. They communicate a lot and I am very thankful because it means the graphic novel does not suffer from clutter. Usually, I don’t like graphic novels because they are so busy and I hardly stand it. One thing that I think Mouse Guard has on Redwall is that the mouse world is perfectly pictured. Everything is in proportion to a mouse.

I’ve also really enjoyed the story which I think improves through the second book. I thought the first story had a few holes. For example, I thought it was odd that an attack that depended on having a stolen axe proceeded without it, although I still enjoyed it. In the second book the story became more intriguing, especially as Lieam emerges as the main character. I also really enjoyed the interaction with other creatures – weasels (in abstentia), bats, hares, and owls. I am excited to read the next installment, Mouse Guard: The Black Axe.

Here is a trailer for Mouse Guard

Redwall

redwall

It took me some time to get into Redwall but in the end I found it very satisfying. My initial problem was the incongruent pictures the story created in my head. I am a very visual reader, I picture everything I read and I notice if something doesn’t seem in the right place or does something that seems impossible in the space. And here was the problem with Redwall – I couldn’t figure out if it was a mouse-sized or human sized abbey! There is certainly no mention of humans and how could mice build an abbey of human proportions? However, the rats climb trees to try to get over the walls – so the walls are as tall as trees? Are these people sized animals or are the animals regular sized and everything else much smaller? I kept coming up against problems like this, so it was not a seemless reading experience. (How can a cat and owl walk paw in wing? Is the cat walking on its hind legs?) In the end, I abandoned trying to figure it out how this world actually worked. I still don’t know.

However, I still really liked RedwallI don’t know if I will continue on with the series because I like this story as a stand alone but it was a good adventure. I liked the characters and I like the progression of the plot. I particularly enjoyed seeing Cluny the Scourge thwarted. I liked the dialects and accents. I like the anthropomorphication (is that a word?) of sparrows and shrews and foxes and other animals. It was lively and rich. It certainly kept the animal in the animal kingdom – while not as graphic (pun intended) as Mouse Guard it still had it’s fair share of injury and death. I can certainly see boys especially enjoying both these series, although females are equally represented in the characters in both. 

It looks like Redwall has been made into an animated series – this might help solve my problems… or not. Here is part one of episode one. Just from the first few minutes, they seem to have changed the story slightly. I like it though. 

Medieval Mouse Literature Themes

It’s interesting how the mouse often equates to a child in literature. The mouse is small and vulnerable; it must face dislike of others; and in its own way cute and somewhat civilized; it does sometimes live in houses. Other animals are more savage by comparison. And in these stories, the young reader (the intended audience) clearly is meant to identify with the young  mouse protaganists. Who wouldn’t want to be a mouse-warrior, learning about bravery and what it truly means, facing snakes and other enemies, coming of age, developing the wisdom of how to use their skills, going out on their own, leading others. Maybe the representation of mice in literature could be a topic for discussion sometime?  

Other books with mice (although most are not medieval):

  • Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Robert C. O’Brien
  • Stuart Little, E. B. White
  • The Tale of Desperaux, Kate DiCamillo
  • The Dark Portal, Robin Jarvis
  • Poppy, Avi
  • Mouse with a Question Mark Tail and Secrets at Sea, Richard Peck
  • The Church Mouse, Graham Oakley
  • The Tale of Two Bad Mice, Beatrix Potter
  • A Cricket in Times Square, Robert Selden
  • The Rescuers, Margery Sharpe
  • The Mouse Wife, Rumer Godden
  • The Mouse and His Child, Russell Hoban
  • Doctor DeSoto and Abel’s Island and The Real Thief, William Steig
  • Bless This Mouse, Lois Lowry
  • The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Beverly Clearly
  • The Cheshire Cheese Cat, Carmen Agra Deedy & Randall Wright
  • The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C. S. Lewis
  • The Witches, Roald Dahl
  • Basil of Baker Street, Eve Titus

And that’s enough to be going on with.