Leonard Wibberly,
The Mouse That Roared
(1955; Four Walls Eight Windows, 2003)

I remember my father sitting me down to watch The Mouse That Roared with Peter Sellers in three separate roles, including one in drag as the ruler of the duchy of Grand Fenwick, a tiny country in the middle of nowhere Europe. What I didn't know at the time was that it was based on a book published in the 1950s. The novel took on the Cold War and the arrogance of large nations in a deft and funny way.

Thanks to Four Walls, Eight Windows, Leonard Wibberly's novel is back in print, and not only is it as pertinent today as it was 50 years ago, it is also a touch chilling.

The duchy of Grand Fenwick has one principal product on which its economy rests: a very fine Pinot wine. But the profits from the wine are limited, so the Privy Council hits on the ideal scheme: declare war on the United States, lose and collect reparations funds.

But what the council didn't count on was that Tully Bascomb , the man selected to lead the invading forces, and his 40 longbow men would actually capture New York City and win the war. That nearly the entire population was participating in an extended and extensive air raid drill probably has something to do with the duchy's victory. Still, Bascomb raises the flag of the duchy and gathers a handful of prisoners of war, including the brilliant Dr. Kokintz and his invention, the Q-bomb. The latest in "weapons too terrible to use," the Q-bomb will devastate life worldwide if detonated. Grand Fenwick is now the most powerful country on Earth, and they plan to put the larger nations in their places.

Although there are a handful of references that date the narrative a bit, such as a comment regarding "the 48 states," most of The Mouse That Roared is topical today. Any astute reader will understand and appreciate the off-kilter and understated humor of the story, but at the same time, there are contemporary haunting overtones. It's hard not to flinch at the thought of any country invading the United States via New York City, no matter how ludicrous the army.

The Mouse That Roared is a satire with teeth, but one that nibbles steadily and gently rather than savaging the reader. For all that, its bite still stings.

- Rambles
written by Donna Scanlon
published 20 September 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.