Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Original Toy Story

The Mouse and His Child
by Russell Hoban

Out of print until 2001, Russell Hoban's novel for children is not something for everyone. While the themes presented are universal, the manner in which they are presented is often too dark for the intended audience. I certainly appreciate authors who don't over-simplify their writing for child audiences, but I really feel that this particular work is better appreciated by the adults reading to the children.

The basic premise concerns a pair of clockwork mice. When wound, the father lifts the child mouse in his arms and twirls him about. Things go well for the mice for only the first chapter, at which point they are sold, and later broken, resulting in their placement in the trash. From there, the novel keeps a generally gloomy tone while the mice enter the employment of Manny Rat, who they are able to escape but who remains trailing them for the majority of the book, hoping to destroy them.

Along their travels, the mice encounter many interesting characters, including an oracular frog; an experimental theatre troupe consisting of two crows, a parrot, and a rabbit; a philosophical turtle; and several fellow broken toys from the same shop. However, this being a plot-driven novel, the space of a chapter is used to introduce the next group of characters or setting that will aid the two mice in their journey toward freedom and self-winding. Thus, very little time is devoted to character development. I should have liked to have spent more time with the characters, even if it meant being introduced to fewer of them, should it have meant that I'd have a better understanding of those characters. The majority of the characters are very one-dimensional, with the exception of Manny Rat, who I feel is the only dynamic character in the work.

While an enjoyable read for adults, I think children might be bored by this work. That's not to say that it's slow or that nothing happens; quite the contrary is true. However, much of the humour and the philosophy would simply go over children's heads.

Despite its flaws, I am glad that The Mouse and His Child is back in print, and I hope that it will find its audience.

Grade: B

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