The Mouse That Roared, by Leonard Wibberley

When Leonard Wibberley's The Mouse That Roared first appeared as a serialized story in the 1950s, I'm sure the idea of the United States being invaded by a tiny nation armed with ridiculously inadequate weapons was just too precious. Unfortunately, in a post-9/11, box-cutter-filled world, some of the central jokes in this story hit pretty close to home, so if you want to get into the spirit of this book I strongly suggest that you just put on your mental blinders and pretend that you've never had your eyelash curler confiscated at an airport. That's right: just don't think about it! Or if you must, pull a Scarlet O'Hara and think about it tomorrow! I promise you: The Mouse That Roared is worth the effort of turning off your critical thought processes for a few hours.

The Mouse That Roared is the story of a tiny European country named Grand Fenwick that has honorably supported its people for centuries through the sale of their single export: Pinot Grand Fenwick, treasured by wine connoisseurs worldwide. When the financial needs of the Fenwickian population outstrip the sales of the wine, the desperate leaders of Grand Fenwick come up with a daring plan: they will declare war on the United States, promptly surrender, and then wait for foreign aid money to come pouring in. (As a sop to their consciences, they do have an official reason for war: there's a Californian knockoff called "Pinot Grand Enwick" that has been cutting into their profits. Awesomely, one of the alternate titles for the book was The Wrath of the Grapes.) Through a series of equally amusing and improbable events, the Grand Fenwickians end up accidentally capturing the terrifying "Q-Bomb", inadvertently winning the war and becoming--much to their horror--the most powerful nation in the world.

In 1959, The Mouse That Roared was made into a movie featuring Peter Sellers. Sellers played a variety of roles, including the story's hero, the Fenwickian army commander Tully Bascomb, and (in drag) Gloriana XII, the Duchess of Fenwick. Since these two characters fall in love in the book, some serious plot rearrangement was necessary. The Duchess was thereby aged fifty years (and given a serious dope habit, judging by Sellers's performance) and a new love interest was written in--the shrill American daughter of the inventor of the Q-Bomb. (It seems like an awful lot of work just to snicker over the sight of Sellers in a dress, but then, I'm not British. Maybe it's funnier over there.) But whether you'd prefer non-screechy girl characters (read the book) or you just can't get enough of that hilarious Monty Python-style drag action (rent the movie), you should definitely pick up a copy of The Mouse That Roared. Just remember to keep those mental blinders handy--this is one of those times when too much thinking will only spoil your fun.

Posted by: Julia, Last edit by: Julianka


07 Nov, 2004 12:38 AM @ version 0

I read this book a while ago. It was absolutely hillarious! One thing not mentioned in this Wordcandy review that I really enjoyed is that the entire Fenwickian army (composed of about twenty people, if I remember correctly) have absolutely NO modern weapons -- they wander around in chainmail and are expert archers. HA! The people of New York think they're Martians. Hearing that alone would have been enough to get me to read the book.

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