Friday, July 17, 2009
I know this is a Disney movie as well, but -- as with most books upon which Disney movies are based -- the book is simply charming and delightful and if you haven't read it, you should go get it RIGHT NOW. Well, maybe not right now. But you should get it, if only to read to a favorite child. I think it's actually very different from the movie.
I adore this book. It's a charming and also rather breathtaking adventure of three mice (dispatched from the Prisoner's Aid Society) who make their way to the perilous Black Castle to rescue a Norwegian poet. How can three small mice rescue a man from an impenetrable prison?
The adventure is edge-of-your-seat exciting, while at the same time the writing is so wonderful and the illustrations so perfect -- it's really a great reading experience. I remember being curled up under our redwood tree on a rainy day, sheltered from the rain by the giant tree, wrapped in blankets and reading this book for hours it seemed (at around age 8 or 9). I was right outside our dining-room window and I remember looking up to see if my mom was checking on me. She didn't (that I saw), and it made me feel independent and brave, to be out in the rain, reading about such wild adventures.
The three mice in the adventure are Nils, Bernard, and of course Miss Bianca.
Bernard is a humble pantry-mouse, but brave and stouthearted. He is charged with the task of convincing the elegant and pampered Miss Bianca to find 'the bravest mouse in Norway' when, as the favorite pet of the son of an Embassador, she travels to Norway.
Although finely-bred, truly lovely and very sheltered, Miss Bianca finds an inner longing to do something of real worth (although she finds her service to the Boy worthy as well -- and well she should, as all of us pet-owners agree). She agrees to do her part.
Once she gets to Norway, she encounters Nils, a seaworthy swarthy brave Norwegian mouse, who at once agrees to the perilous journey. From Norway, they make their way back to Miss Bianca's (unnamed) country, where they collect Bernard and set off to the Black Castle, where they encounter the most forbidding prison known to man or mouse... and Mamelouk, the warden's famed cat.
The writing is wonderful. Here is the passage where Bernard is attempting to sway Miss Bianca to help out when she goes to Norway (also the blooming of a very sweet and tender romance between the two):
"Greatly daring, Bernard caught both her hands and pressed them between his own. The action seemed to steady her. She stopped trembling.
"Dear, dearest Miss Bianca," said Bernard fervently, "if I could take your place, do you think I wouldn't? To spare you the least inconvenience, I'd walk into cat-baskets! But I can't travel by Diplomatic Bag, I can't get to Norway in twenty-four hours. Nor can anyone else. You, and you alone, can be this poor chap's savior... you'll have to go into some pretty rough quarters. I tell you my blood boils when I think of it --"
"Why?" whispered Miss Bianca. "Why does your blood boil?"
"Because you're so beautiful!" cried Bernard recklessly. "It's not fair to ask you to be brave as well! You should be protected and cherished and loved and honored, and I for my part ask nothing better than to lie down and let you walk on me!"
Miss Bianca rested her head lightly against his shoulder.
"You give me such a good opinion of myself, " she said softly, "perhaps I could be brave as well..."
And the illustrations, by Garth Williams. I now realize, as I pore over these lovely drawings, what I am always trying to achieve in my own little drawings. So much expression and sweetness in these simple line drawings. I just love them. I wish I could find them online to post here -- but if you find a copy of this book, you ought to look at it just to see the sweet drawings. Not precious or cutesy in anyway -- but just how a young person might imagine a real mouse, if a real mouse could go adventuring.
Anyway. Not for the fainthearted (definitely not a piece of fluff), this is a daring adventure that is pretty inspiring, even if the rescuers are small, but brave, mice.
Posted by Daphne at 7/17/2009