a little princess, alice in wonderland, bugs bunny, C.S Lewis, frances hodgson burnett, goodnight moon, If you give a mouse a cookie, jan brett, Joyce dunbar, Laura Joffe Numeroff, Lewis Carroll, ludwig bemelmans, madeline, margaret wise brown, mickey mouse, Prince Caspian, tell me something happy before I go to sleep, teri windling, the mitten, The Voyage of the Dawntreader
Hopefully, we all know this scene from the Wizard of Oz. The line is now famous: “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”. The title of this blog post comes from that quote in the Wizard of Oz movie, if you’ve never watched it.
In Children’s Literature, I’ve noticed that quite a lot of animals are present in either an anthropomorphic way, or as pets. I’ll be taking some information that I researched in Cultural Studies last year to present my new slogan: “Bunny rabbits and mice, oh my!”
Before we get onto books, let’s talk nursery rhymes. There are several nursery rhymes featuring mice as the main character. In “Hickory Dickory Dock” the mouse keeps running up and down the clock as it strikes on the hour. “Three Blind Mice” shows mice as victims; their tails are cut off by a farmer’s wife, and it is shocking. Nursery rhymes are introduced before books to children, it is interesting that the characters they are asked to sympathize with is a mouse, considering the way that they take on quite a different meaning to adults.
Adults view mice as intruders in their home and a nuisance. They may try several ways to get rid of mice in their home, including getting a cat to hunt the mice, and setting mousetraps to catch them. It is quite odd then, how mice are consistently featured in children’s books, as well as movies, and given human-like qualities.
Mickey Mouse not only speaks, walks, and has feelings, he also has several friends and a family. Children are able to identify with him as they are exposed to him constantly on film, in pictures, and recognize him as a symbol for Disney-the happiest place on earth. So what happens? Why is it that this loveable mouse does not persuade people to love mice as they mature, but squeal over them? It’s simple. As people grow older, they learn to recognize the difference between fantasy and reality- they may identify with Mickey- but he is not a “real mouse”- he is only a creation from the Walt Disney Company used to promote the corporation.
In Madeline the main character has to be made unique to make her deserving of having her story told: she has been singled out of a group of twelve girls, they are dressed like her, go to school with her, and live with her. As it is nearly impossible to tell them apart by looking at them, the actions of Madeline have to be told and shown to make her the focus of the story. She is unlike the other characters in the book, and one thing which makes her stand out is that “she was not afraid of mice.” (Bemelmans, 15). She is made an individual from the other girls in the school, as she is the smallest, likes mice although the others do not, and faces the tiger in the zoo bravely when the others are scared.
In A Little Princess Sara has to deal with a change of fortune. She loses not only her father, her money, and her status as the most popular girl in school, but she also loses her friends. The only friends that she is permitted after her change from a “princess” to a servant, is Becky, the other servant girl, and a mouse who lives in her attic. The mouse cannot talk, but Sara still has conversations with him. “I dare say it is rather hard to be a rat…Nobody likes you. People jump and run away and scream out, ‘Oh, a horrid rat!’ I shouldn’t like people to scream and jump and say, ‘Oh a horrid Sara!’ the moment they saw me.” (Burnett, 116-117). She cares for him, and makes sure that he has enough food. “As the days had gone on and, with the aid of scraps brought up from the kitchen, her curious friendship had developed, she had gradually forgotten that the timid creature she was becoming familiar with was a mere rat.” (Burnett, 120). Using the power of her imagination, Sara allows herself to emphasize with the rat and create a connection between them. She treats him as human, showing that even though her luck has fallen, she still behaves the way she did when she was rich. She can still have friends as a servant, even if they are different from her former friends. She humanizes the rat, naming him Melchisedec, and explaining to a student at the school that “He is a person….He gets hungry and frightened, just as we do; and he is married and has children. How do we know he doesn’t think things, just as we do? His eyes look as if he was a person. That was why I gave him a name” (Burnett, 121-122). This chapter explains a theme in the story: it’s what’s on the inside (her attitude and kindness,) that counts; not her money. She treats everyone as human, even if they are despised. Every creature has feelings and thoughts; just because they are not explicitly stated does not mean they are nonexistent.
The Chronicles of Narnia has many animals. The mice are one of the most important species. They are loyal to Narnia, and the mice try to do the best they can to help with the kingdom. Their size does not matter, it is their willingness to fight which helps them to defend Narnia. Reepicheep “wore a tiny little rapier at his side and twirled his long whiskers as if they were a moustache. ‘There are twelve of us, Sire,’ he said, with a dashing and graceful bow, ‘and I place all the resources of my people unreservedly at your Majesty’s disposal.’ Caspian… couldn’t help thinking that Reepicheep and all his people could very easily be put in a washing basket and carried home on one’s back.” (Prince Caspian, Lewis, 73). They believe in what they are fighting for, and are the most anxious to start battling. They are laughed at for how they perceive themselves as warriors even though they can hardly even be seen, and others find them amusing because they are so eager to fight. “‘Hurrah!; said a very shrill and small voice from somewhere at the Doctor’s feet. ‘Let them come! All I ask is that the King will put me and my people in the front.’ ‘What on earth?’ said Doctor Cornelius…Then after stooping down and peering carefully through his spectacles he broke into a laugh. ‘By the Lion,’ he swore, ‘it’s a mouse. Signior Mouse, I desire your better acquaintance. I am honoured by meeting so valiant a beast.'” (Prince Caspian, Lewis, 80). He is not what people expect when they think of a warrior, and so they are often surprised when they meet him and admire his enthusiasm for battle. The doctor responded to Reepicheep as if he were not serious. He was approached like a child, and he is often treated as one. ‘”Sire,’ said Reepicheep. ‘My life is ever at your command, but my honour is my own. Sire, I have among my people the only trumpeter in your Majesty’s army. I had thought, perhaps, we might have been sent with the challenge. Sire, my people are grieved. Perhaps if it were your pleasure that I should be a marshal of the lists, it would content them’ …’I’m afraid it would not do,’ said Peter very gravely. ‘Some humans are afraid of mice.'” (Prince Caspian, Lewis, 159). Peter tries to shelter and protect Reepicheep, much like parents try to keep their children safe. It is unsuccessful, and Reepicheep ignores Peter’s suggestion, deciding to do what is best for him. “‘Come back Reepicheep, you little ass!’ shouted Peter. ‘You’ll only be killed. This is no place for mice.’ But the ridiculous little creatures were dancing in and out among the feet of both armies, jabbing with their swords. Many a Telmarine warrior that day felt his foot suddenly pierced as if by a dozen skewers, hopped on one leg cursing the pain, and fell as often as not. If he fell, the mice finished him off; if he did not, someone else did.” (Prince Caspian, Lewis, 167) He managed to fight, and he was useful. He did a better job because of his size- people not being able to see him was an asset, they did not know he was going to attack their feet, and by being snuck up on, the Telemarines were shocked and unable to battle as they wanted to. In the Voyage of the Dawntreader, Eustace, Lucy and Edmund’s cousin, is rude, selfish, and spoiled. He detests Narnia, and he complains “That little brute has half killed me. I insist on it being kept under control. I could bring an action against you Caspian. I could order you to have it destroyed.” (The Voyage of the Dawntreader, Lewis, 28). He is spoiled, and tries to control the way that the animals and humans interact with each other. He treats Reepicheep as a child, because the concept of animals and humans being equal is foreign to him. He is forgiven when he is turned into an animal himself after guarding a dragon’s treasure chest. He is ignored and shunned by nearly everyone except Reepicheep.
“Reepicheep was [Eustace’s] most constant comforter. The noble Mouse would creep away from the merry circle at the camp fire and sit down by the dragon’s head…There he would explain that what had happened to Eustace was a striking illustration of the turn of Fortune’s wheel, and that if he had Eustace at his own house in Narnia…he could show him more than a hundred examples of emperors, kings, dukes, knights, poets, lovers, astronomers, philosophers, and magicians, who had fallen from prosperity into the most distressing circumstances, and of whom many had recovered and lived happily ever afterwards. It did not, perhaps, seem so very comforting at the time, but it was kindly meant and Eustace never forgot it.” (The Voyage of the Dawntreader, Lewis, 81-82). Reepicheep tries his best to comfort Eustace, and tries to be his friend when no one else will. He declines being with the others because he knows Eustace needs him more. Mice are seen as strong even though they are small- and the paralell that children have with mice in this book is enough to empathize with them, even though they are not drawn in an anthropomorphic way.
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie is about a mouse who keeps asking for things. He definitely has some negative traits, as some humans do as well. He takes advantage of someone who tries to feed him, and has more outrageous demands which he is given. “When you give him the milk, he’ll probably ask you for a straw. When he’s finished, he’ll ask you for a napkin.” (Numeroff, 3-5). He is essentially an unwanted houseguest, much like how society views mice as a species. He is humanized through his clothes and facial expressions, and is instead changed into a humorous characterization of a visitor; not a typical mouse. He is liked because he seems human- even though he does what mice do, and takes food from the boy’s house. The way the story is written as a never ending list, also gives the impression that his demands could go on forever, so it is satisfying when it wraps up with “he’s going to want a cookie to go with it.” (Numeroff, 28). The tone of the story is exaggerated, which mirrors the depiction of the mouse. A mouse may have some human qualities, such as being able to feel hunger, but it can’t actually ask for food, or a drink, or clean a house. It makes mice in reality seem as less of a nuisance when compared to this story.
The Mitten is a story about several animals who climb into a mitten to keep warm. The mouse, being the smallest, comes in last. “Along came a meadow mouse, no bigger than an acorn. She wriggled into the one space left, and made herself comfortable.” (Brett, 21). She causes the bear to react, and again is put into the role of a nuisance. She is disruptive, whether she meant to be or not. This story is different as it exposes children to a more adult view of animals, while still being imaginative.
“The lesson taught by exposing children to mice through literature is that even small creatures deserve to be treated humanely. We learn that mice can be intelligent, outsmarting their opponents, and friendly, making friends with other mice, or humans. They are very caring for their family, and the bestiary says that “when their parents are old, they feed them with remarkable affection.” (bestiary.ca) Mice are able to care for their family, and they do all they can to provide for them.” (Previous essay) This being said, I think part of the reason why mice are so present in children’s literature and given human traits is due to the cult of the child. The cult of the child held the belief that children are an investment for the parents, and so they should identify with mice, follow their example of taking care of their family.
Rabbits and Hares are very popular animals in children’s stories. They are so heavy with symbolic meaning that they are used repeatedly in Children’s Literature, in several different ways.
Rabbits are often used in bedtime stories. They have a strong association with the moon, among other things. “Numerous folk tales tell…of old women revealed as witches when they are wounded in their animal shape.” (Windling). The little old lady whispering hush, could be threatening. Through looking at the rabbit symbolically, it is no longer a calm story, but a terrifying one. Bedtime can be seen as a scary process which children can relate to, and at the same time the rhyming and mentions of the objects and colours in the room can make Goodnight Moon comforting.
Tell me something happy before I go to sleep, is another bedtime story, this time with rabbits who interact with each other much more easily than the little old lady and the child rabbit. The little rabbit raises the issue of her anxiety in going to bed, and her brother has to calm her down. Her brother shows her happy things- and decides to show Willa the kitchen. “I see bread and honey and oats and milk and apples,” (Dunbar, 12) is her discovery when her brother opens the pantry door. Milk is given to newborns to drink, as they cannot eat. This may refer to the act of getting pregnant and hoping to conceive a child. The apple is a universal symbol of fertility, used in the Bible, and seen as forbidden. However rabbits are also connected with fertility; and the two rabbits; one male and one female represents the stages of the night. This bedtime story then, is an allegory for sex, not a simple bedtime story as first thought. “In Asian folklore, a rabbit is believed to become pregnant by looking at a full moon.” (Windling). This offers a rather grown up interpretation if read between the lines. ‘When the morning comes and wakes me up, will you still be here?’ asked Willa. ‘I’ll still be here,’ said Willoughby. ‘Good,’ said Willa. ‘That’s the happiest thing of all!’ ‘Good night, Willa.’ But Willa didn’t answer. She was sound asleep.” (Dunbar, 26). It is no longer about an insomniac bunny, but about sexual pleasure.
In Jan Brett’s tale, the rabbit is the second animal to find the mitten and climb into it. “A snowshoe rabbit came hopping by. He stopped for a moment to admire his winter coat. It was then that he saw the mitten, and he wiggled in, feet first. The mole didn’t think there was room for both of them, but when he saw the rabbit’s big kickers he moved over.” (Brett, 10) He is both vain, and lucky, which are widely accepted beliefs about rabbits. His feet stopped him from being sent away. The animals are therefore, acknowledging human beliefs about them as correct.
Bugs Bunny is another well known cartoon character. Unlike Mickey, he is not a symbol, he is an archetype of the trickster figure. He has several companions who he plays tricks on; Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, Marvin the Martian, and the most infamous: Elmer Fudd.
He is not bad or good. He just creates trouble in a way which is funny. Most of the time, the reactions of those he plays tricks on are out of proportion to what he has done. He exists to upset normal time and turn things on it’s head. It introduces comedic value because the two characters are so separate in their emotions, with Bugs being extremely calm, and Elmer furious.
In Alice in Wonderland, the White Rabbit is introduced as the immediate conflict- the first character whom is Alice’s connection with Wonderland. “A rabbit crossing one’s path in the morning was an indication of trouble ahead.” (Windling). The white rabbit serves as a warning of what is in store for Alice- confusion, mistaken identity, frustration, and a reversal of what she knows. The rabbit is seen to Alice however, as “nothing so very remarkable in that; nor did Alice think it so very much out of the way to hear the Rabbit say to itself ‘Oh dear! Oh Dear! I shall be too late!’ (when she thought it over afterwards it occurred to her that she ought to have wondered at this, but at the time it seemed quite natural); but, when the Rabbit actually took a watch out of its waistcoat-pocket, and looked at it, and the hurried on, Alice started to her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it, and burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge” (Carroll, 2). The notion of the rabbit owning human objects such as a watch, and a waistcoat startle Alice. When he notices her, he gets angry at her: “Very soon the Rabbit noticed Alice, as she went hunting about, and called out to her in an angry tone, ‘Why Mary Ann, what are you doing out here? Run home this moment, and fetch me a pair of gloves and a fan! Quick, now!’ And Alice was so much frightened that she ran off at once in the direction it pointed to, without trying to explain the mistake it had made. ‘He took me for his housemaid,’ she said to herself as she ran. ‘How surprised he’ll be when he finds out who I am! But I’d better take him his fan and gloves- that is, if I can find them.’ As she said this, she came upon a neat little house…She went in without knocking and hurried upstairs, in great fear lest she should meet the real Mary Ann, and be turned out of the house before she had found the fan and gloves. ‘How queer it seems,’ Alice said to herself, ‘to be going messages for a rabbit!” (Carroll, 24-25).
It strikes her as odd that he can order her about in Wonderland, and she does what he wants her to do. He is in a position in the court which gives him power, and he lives as a gentleman would in the normal world, with a house of his own and servants. He is very busy in the novel, and takes his job very seriously, often fretting about being late. “Near the King was the White Rabbit, with a trumpet in one hand, and a scroll of parchment in the other.” (Carroll, 89) He is one of the only characters that takes things seriously in the book, despite the chaos around him.
The March Hare, on the other hand, is a foil to the White Rabbit. As busy as the White Rabbit is, the March Hare is idle. He is known to be mad, and Alice decides to look for him when given a choice, as she thinks “the March Hare will be much the most interesting, and perhaps, as this is May, it won’t be raving mad-at least not so mad as it was in March.” (Carroll, 51). He also has to keep moving as the White Rabbit does, but not because he is important. He follows the Mad Hatter, who has been accused of “murdering the time…ever since that he won’t do a thing I ask! It’s always six-o-clock now.” (Carroll, 57) He is not important to the society in Wonderland. He is a foil to the White Rabbit, and does not appear to be an independent animal. He is trapped in his situation, and is unable to escape it. “It’s always tea-time, and we’ve no time to wash the things between whiles.” (Carroll, 57).
He relies on the Mad Hatter and the Dormouse, and fills his days with useless tea drinking. His only purpose in the story is to serve as a companion for the Mad Hatter, and confuse Alice by asking unanswerable riddles. “The hare is a timid beast” (bestiary.ca), which means that he is not very confident in himself. He relies on the Mad Hatter to tell him what to do, such as when he has to switch seats. He has no agency, unlike the White Rabbit, and is an outcast in Wonderland.
IMAGES (in order of appearance, everything else in alphabetical order):
- Bemelmans, Ludwig. Madeline. [New York]: Puffin, 1977. Print.
- Brett, Jan. The Mitten: A Ukrainian Folktale. New York: Putnam, 1989. Print.
- Burnett, Frances Hodgson. A Little Princess. Mahwah, NJ: Watermill, 1981. Print.
- Carroll, Lewis Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass. New York: Bantam Dell, 2006
- Dunbar, Joyce, and Debi Gliori. Tell Me Something Happy before I Go to Sleep. San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1998. Print.
- Lewis, C. S., and Pauline Baynes. Prince Caspian. Vol. 4. London: Fontana Lions, 1980. Print. The Chronicles of Narnia.
- Lewis, C. S., and Pauline Baynes. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Vol 5. London: Fontana Lions, 1980. Print. The Chronicles of Narnia.
- Numeroff, Laura Joffe., and Felicia Bond. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. New York: Harper & Row, 1985. Print.
- Darakat. “Achetypes with the Trickster | Brain of Sap.” Brain of Sap. WordPress, 29 Oct. 2012. Web. 02 Mar. 2013.
- Stace, Lynley. “Anthropomorphism vs Personification” Lynley Stace. WordPress 03 October 2011. Web. 05 April, 2013
- Windling, Teri. “The Symbolism of Rabbits and Hares.” The Symbolism of Rabbits and Hares. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Mar. 2013. <http://homepages.uwp.edu/martinm0/Spring2007/167/symbolism_of_rabbits_and_har.htm>
- Goodnight Moon-Story in High Quality. By Margaret W. Brown. Perf. Susan Sarandon.YouTube. Prod. ThePartyAnimalVideos, 09 Dec. 2011. Web. 02 Mar. 2013.
“Medieval Bestiary : Hare.” Medieval Bestiary : Hare. Medieval Bestiary, 15 Jan. 2011. Web. 02 Mar. 2013.
- “Medieval Bestiary : Mouse.” Medieval Bestiary : Mouse. The Medieval Bestiary, 15 Jan. 2011. Web. 24 Apr. 2012.
- Power, Jennifer. “Of Mice and Children?” Unpublished essay. Tuesday, April, 24, 2012.