Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Mice and Rats

Mice are often found in fantasy, very frequently as Talking Animals inhabiting Wainscots, like the mice in Margery Sharp's Miss Bianca series or the eponymous scholar in Dick King-Smith's The Schoolmouse (1994). Beast Fables – like Russell Hoban's The Mouse and his Child (1967), the movie An American Tail (1986), and the Graphic Novel Maus (graph 1987) by Art Spiegelman (1948-    ) – often feature Everyman mice. They are popular faithful wee Companions, like the mice who nibble at the ropes binding Aslan in C S Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950). At least two sequences – the Redwall books by Brian Jacques and the Deptford Mice books by Robin Jarvis – describe entire mouse societies. They are perhaps the most common animal to be found in Animated Movies. Mickey Mouse is only one of many cartoon mice.

Perhaps because of their size and potential dangerousness, rats in fantasy contexts tend to occupy more ambiguous roles. The eponymous narrator of William Kotzwinkle's Doctor Rat (1976), for instance, is a figure of both pathos and menace; and Cinderella's coachman, whose story is told in The Coachman Rat (1985) by David Henry Wilson, is a similarly ominous personage – much different from the singing mice in Disney's Cinderella (1950) The venal, greedy cellar-rat of John Masefield's The Midnight Folk (1927), though helpful, has to be bribed. Rats can be the Villains of mouse worlds, as with Warren T. Rat in the animated movies An American Tail and Ratigan in The Great Mouse Detective (1986). A plague of devouring rats is often recognized as unstoppable without supernatural intervention, as in the story of the Pied Piper, Richard Garnett's "Alexander the Rat-Catcher" (1897) and Fritz Leiber's The Swords of Lankhmar (1968). Robert Southey's poem "Bishop Hatto" commemorates German Legends of oppressive rulers whose punishment is to be eaten by swarming mice or rats.

Rats also come into their own in Supernatural Fiction or Dark Fantasy, where they tend to represent invasive Evil, insatiate appetite – as in H P Lovecraft's "The Rats in the Walls" (1924) – Decadence or obscene submission to the Devil. A sequence like James Herbert's Rats would have had rather less effect had its opening title been «The Mice». The connection between Dracula and plagues of rats is made particularly explicit in Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979; > Dracula Movies). Only occasionally do hordes of mice appear, as in Roald Dahl's The Witches (1983), filmed as The Witches (1989). [JC]

Entry should mention E T A Hoffmann's "Nussknacker unde Mausekönig" and L Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900).

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.