Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Two Roman Mice by Horace; illustrated by Marilynne K. Roach 1975) and The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse by Paul Galdone (1971)

It's interesting that these two were published at approximately the same time, because in style and content they couldn't be more different.  Quite frankly, the Roach version seems more like a vanity publication than Galdone's. It's in black and white,and each page includes some piece of Roman history attached to it - Roman food, art, extinct dogs... mildly interesting.  Roach translate directly from a poem by Horace about Urbanus Mus and Rusticus Mus - the town mouse and country mouse.  I was confused, as I thought this was an Aesop story.  The ending is the same (in all three versions I've read so far).  In the Roach/Horace ending, the extinct dogs chase them off, and Rusticus Mus heads back to the countryside, but not before saying "Better seeds in the woods than feast in a trap."

Two Roman MiceTwo Roman Mice by Marilynne K. Roach
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Apparently Roach translated Horace's poem from Latin to English, and illustrated the story as well.  Rusticus Mus and Urbanus Mus are in an ancient Roman setting this time, and Roach decorates her little book with plenty of nods to the time of Horace.  In addition to mice, each page includes something Roman from that time - a plant, a mosaic, even extinct Roman dogs that chase the mice away at the end.  It's only mildly interesting; the premise is far more interesting than the book itself.

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I like Galdone's version better, although it's certainly not the best of this prolific author's works.  He has a genius of distilling down fairy tales, folktales, legends, and fables into their purest, simplest essence - generally.  The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse wasn't quite as sharp as some of his others.  Roach has Roman mice; Galdone has medieval mice (who end up on a very modern looking table, which bugged me a bit).  Like all the stories, County talks smack on the life of the city, in Galdone saying (quite long windly for Galdone):  "If your fine living is interrupted constantly with fears and dangers, let me return to my plain food and my peaceful cottage.  For what good is elegance without ease, or plenty with an aching heart?'

The Town Mouse and the Country MouseThe Town Mouse and the Country Mouse by Paul Galdone
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Galdone usually can distill a folktale down to simplicity, but this is the rare one that misses the mark.  His illustrations are still bright and fun.  But the story was stilted and a little flat.  I also thought the moral at the end was long winded, particular for Galdone, who is the master of simple retelling. While certainly not a failure, there are probably better, more interesting versions of this classic fable out there.

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(Barbara McClintock's Regency era mice say: "Better beans and bacon in peace than cakes and ale in fear." I wonder if every version ends with the same moral told in a different, catchy way?).

I'm definitely going to do a bit more research on this fable - is is Latin or Greek?

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