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    A Way Back Book Review: The Mouse That Roared

    When I was a kid, my dad had mentioned a book called The Mouse That Roared and for some reason, his description of the premise – a tiny nation captures a nuclear bomb that makes it the most powerful country on Earth – stuck with me.  He must have mentioned this thirty years ago, but a few weeks ago I found myself Googling for it and finding it long out of print.  I looked on Amazon and people wanted $130 for it.  Sometimes, though, it pays to go local.  I found it at The Strand for $9.  Well, definitely had to have it.  The book was a bestseller in 1955 and spawned a movie four years later.  The author, Leonard Wibberly, seems to have had an interesting life, to say the least.

    I think part of what brought me to this rather dated piece of fiction was the recent anniversary of Fail Safe, which brought with it a bunch of remembrances of Dr. Strangelove and I guess it is interesting to look back at how art dealt with the absurdity of The Cold War.

    The Mouse That Roared is definitely an idea book.  Wibberly’s characters aren’t deep, though they are likable.  This is really farce on a page, something that’s kind of hard to find these days as such entertainments have moved over decades online, to television and to movies.  Mouse reminded me a bit of Candide another tale of ideas that works very well on stage.  Mouse would probably make a great play, too.

    So, the story – the Kingdom of Grand Fenwick, five miles long and three miles wide, faces financial catastrophe.  It had hummed along for centuries solely on the export of its local wine, Pinot Grand Fenwick, but the revenues are no longer enough to feed and clothe the growing population. The hereditary Duchess and her government decide that they will provoke a war with the United States, for the purpose of losing.  The U.S. will then, in the manner of the Marshall Plan, fund the reconstruction of the conquered nation, restoring fiscal stability and independence.

    What they don’t know is that the U.S. has developed something called the Quadium Bomb, a weapon that can destroy a continent.  The problem for the U.S. is that there really is no motive for such destruction.  The U.S. decides that Q-Bomb possession is the ultimate deterrence, but that it should never be used.  At the same time, they realize that if they developed the Q-Bomb, rivals will eventually develop it as well.  In preparation, they devise a massive underground bomb drill that will vacate all the major cities.  As they do this, Grand Fenwick invades the U.S.

    What the Grand Fenwick forces find is… an empty city.  They march to Columbia University and find the Q-Bomb inventor, with the only “live” version of the bomb.  I know, this really stretches credibility.  Wibberly has something of a 1950s science fiction view of the world where an eccentric scientist might be tinkering with a bomb that could destroy the continent and end all life on Earth in his office at Columbia University.You either have to give this kind of thing a pass or just put the book down.

    Anyway, during the course of the drill, the Grand Fenwick army (about twenty people armed with longbows) retreats with the Q-Bomb, the scientist behind it and some U.S. military men as prisoners of war.  By the end of it, Grand Fenwick has the Q-Bomb and the leverage to end the Cold War by forcing the United States, the Soviet Union, England and China to disarm.

    They form a “League of Little Nations,” including Egypt, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Kuwait, and the like.  They decide together that they will safeguard the Q-Bomb and use it to enforce a nuclear disarmament treaty on the major powers.  One naïve bit is that the U.S. president actually wants this outcome but believes the Soviet Union will never go for it.  The Soviets, for their part, seem to want this result too.  Wibberly has a pretty touching view of human nature.

    I found The Mouse That Roared a great diversion and a quick read.  I don’t gather it will ever find itself back in print.  It’s certainly a bit dated and won’t hold up as well as, say, Catch-22.  But there is something about Wibberly that recalls the lighter side of Kurt Vonnegut and I’d say that if you find a copy floating around a used bookstore or yard sale, you should definitely pick it up.  It’s an oddball curiosity and a fun few hours.


    I haven't read the book but I remember seeing the movie years ago.  We could use more of that kind of satire these days.  What's happening today is just as ridiculous but we haven't figured out how to water it down so it's just laughable and not dangerous.

    I know, I've been playing around with an idea about ISIS but I keep getting bogged down in a scene set in a brunch that never ends...

    I remember the book. It was assigned reading for my 9th grade Contemporary History class in 1963 -- the year JFK was assassinated and one year after the Cuban Missile Crisis. Its satire fell a little flat at the time.


    Hazard of doing Dag book reviews... people like Emma will say, "Oh, I read that... in middle school!"

    She wasn't the only one who read it in school in the early sixties. I thought it was a easy read compared to The Robe, Withering Heights, Tail of Two Cities and The Three Musketeers.  

    Sorry, was not trying to pull seniority on you. My point was that appreciation of satire/humor is relative to the zeitgeist when it is read.

    Oh, and there was no middle schools around here back then. Elementary 1-8; High School 9-12. That class was probably my most memorable from high school because of the events I noted. A few month into the school year The Beatles arrived and after that classes began to blur into the background. Music and dance were soooo much more fun.


    Oh, Emma... I'd never accuse you of pulling rank.  Just having superior knowledge. :)

    Sorry, but I read it in Junior High School too.   I loved the movie's silliness, with Peter Sellars playing multiple parts.   And I love the simple concept of the story.     The gentle spirit of the satire reminds me of another somewhat obscure satirist that I discovered in my youth, Will Cuppy.    As a teen, I bought a  paperback copy of Cuppy's, "The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody, " and thought it was laugh out loud funny.   Perhaps there's a blog for you to write MM on the evolution of satire.  From Mark Twain and Robert Benchley to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

    That might make a very interesting topic, MrSmith!

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