Wednesday, October 16, 2013

City Mouse, Country Mouse

It happened a week ago. 

Richard and I were enjoying our Saturday morning pancakes, when he saw it.

A mouse. Scurrying across the kitchen floor.

A mouse in my house. The shock. The horror.

So naturally I have launched an all-out offensive that would make Sun Tzu proud. Milton (yes, I named the mouse) has met his match! I do not want a mouse in my house.

A mouse, mocking me

But mice in stories are another matter. Who wouldn't love those Einsteins of the furry-footed, The Rats of NIMH? Or brave Reepicheep in The Chronicles of Narnia? Or those shape-shifting mice that turn into horses to draw Cinderella’s carriage? Or a dashing explorer like Livingstone Mouse (Pamela Duncan Edwards)? Or Frederick (Leo Leonni), a poet mouse who stores away colors for the dreary winter months.

Arthur Rackham, illus for The City Mouse and the Country Mouse

One of my favorite mythic mice is Timmy Willie, from Beatrix Potter’s story, The Tale of Johnny Town Mouse—probably a variation on one of Aesop’s fables, The City Mouse and the Country Mouse.

As so many adventures do, it all began with a mistake. 

Timmy Willie, a country mouse, had fallen asleep in a wicker hamper someone set by the garden gate. The next thing he knew, "he awoke in a fright" as the hamper was lifted into a cart. Then he heard the cloppety-clop of horse’s hooves as the cart went up the lane and down the road to town. 

The cart was unloaded in a house where dogs barked, boys whistled, the cook cackled, and a canary trilled. Rather raucous when you are used to life in a peaceful country garden.

Fleeing from the screaming cook, Timmy Willie ducked into a hole and landed in the middle of a mouse dinner party. 

The town mice invited Timmy to join them, and he was treated to eight gourmet courses, but each course was rather small. The food was good, and the mice were polite, but the strange noises and the perils of town life put a damper on his enthusiasm. Timmy longed for his home and soon returned in the outgoing vegetable hamper.

Then Johnny Town Mouse came to visit Timmy’s country home. “Whatever is that fearful racket?” asked Johnny. 

"Only the lawnmower” replied Timmy. 

Only the lawnmower? Imagine how a lawnmower looks and sounds when you have the size and disposition of a mouse! And Johnny found other strange things in country life—like oozing mud and cud-chewing monsters called cows. Timmy was quite sure that Johnny would want to move to the country--but instead, Johnny couldn’t wait to catch the five o'clock hamper back to town.

For, as Beatrix Potter concludes, “One places suits one person, another place suits another.” Beatrix had lived in both the town and the country, but she decided that country life was more to her liking.
Hilltop Farm, Beatrix Potter's country home

Now here’s a simple personality test, with just one question. City mouse or country mouse—which one are you?

I loved the years we lived in the country, where if you hear honking, it's probably geese. Where a traffic jam is a cow in the road. Where you can watch the sun rise and set over open fields. Where soy fields turn to burnished bronze in the fall. Where a zillion sparkling stars come out at night. Where you can be the first to make footprints in the snow. 

But there are many delights and conveniences to living in or near the city as well. Libraries. Museums. Shopping. Movies. Restaurants. Meetings with friends. A city skyline reflected on the river. A city decked out for the holidays.

Unlike Johnny and Timmy, I have a harder time deciding between city and country--and I wonder what that says about me. Hey, I only said country-mouse/city-mouse was a good personality test. I didn't say I had any idea what it means.

If you get a chance, leave a comment and tell me what kind of mouse you are--city or country--and why.

Oh, and if you happen to see Milton, tell him he's going down. (Wait--do I hear snickering from somewhere behind the stove?)


  1. Me? City Mousie all the way! JJH

  2. I'm with you--I've lived in both places, and I can't decide! ...At least that means I'm in good company. ;)

  3. I've definitely become a country mouse! No more city for me - if anything, I think I'd move further into the hills! But the city is a nice place to visit...

  4. Country mouse and by the way - I don't like any stories with mice!! Tolerated the Mouse and the Motorcycle for the boy's sake - but it was hard.