The Tale of Samuel Whiskers by Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Samuel Whiskers by Beatrix Potter was originally called The Roly-Poly Pudding and written as a Christmas present to a child. Potter’s image of the cat rolled up in dough is one of those resonant illustrations which, once seen, can never be unseen. Perhaps this image scarred you, too, as a child.

Perhaps it scars you now.

What makes an image resonant? I’ve explored that question elsewhere. In any case, I’m not surprised Potter originally used the story’s most scarring imagery as the original title, and I’m also not surprised that the title was changed. It wasn’t exactly in keeping with the rest of the Beatrix Potter books.

STORY STRUCTURE OF THE TALE OF SAMUEL WHISKERS

Reading through the Beatrix Potters is like watching a series of wildlife documentaries — watch the one about the lions and you’re rooting for the lions. Watch the one about the deer and you’re rooting for the deer, and mad at the lions for killing the deer.

The Tale of Samuel Whiskers places reader empathy firmly with the cats, in contrast to The Tale of Johnny Town-mouse, in which the cats in a big Edwardian house are positioned as horrific enemies.

Samuel Whiskers has its own version of horror, not least the ‘spatial horror‘, which needs its own entry on TV Tropes. Spatial horror is very much a part of Beatrix Potter’s oeuvre. I’d hazard a guess Beatrix did not like to be locked up in tight spaces and hated feeling giddy and disorientated. The onomatopoeic ‘roly poly’ of the pudding is in itself a type of spatial horror.

SHORTCOMING

The story of Samuel Whiskers starts off with the problem of a mother cat, who is anxious and cannot keep tabs on her kittens. You’d think her anxiety would help her to keep tabs on them, but no. This is Tabitha Twitchit, who readers will know from The Story of Miss Moppet, The Tale of Tom Kitten and so forth.

DESIRE

The kittens want to have fun; their mother wants to keep them out of mischief; the rats want to make a roly-poly pudding out of one of the kittens; John Joiner the dog wants to complete whatever job he’s charged with.

OPPONENT

Parents and children are natural opponents — the kittens want to make mischief; Tabitha wants to know where her children are.

This house is also infested with rats. Functionally, these rats are the ghosts which haunt the big house — I’m thinking of a film such as The Others. You sort of know they’re there, but you only hear them scuttling. There’s a veneer between the two worlds.

The ‘old father rat’ is the most fearsome rat of all. He has yellow teeth and is too much for the cats. He appears occasionally like a ghost. He steals the rolling pin and pats of butter.

According to the other kitten, there is also an old woman rat who steals dough.

The reader should deduce at this point that the rats are stealing supplies to make their own pudding. It’d be easier on the rats if they simply waited for the cats to make the pudding and then steal the entire thing, but perhaps they like it made a certain way?

PLAN

While their mother was searching the house, Moppet and Mittens had got into mischief.

The cupboard door was not locked, so they pushed it open and came out.

Half the time when good guys get locked in a cell, all of the equipment that they need to escape is in the cell with them.

TV Tropes, Locking Macgyver In The Store Cupboard

Tabitha goes off looking for her kittens. This is where the spatial horror is introduced:

It was an old, old house, full of cupboards and passages. Some of the walls were four feet thick, and there used to be queer noises inside them, as if there might be a little secret staircase. Certainly there were odd little jagged doorways in the wainscot, and things disappeared at night—especially cheese and bacon.

SPATIAL HORROR

As if old houses aren’t creepy in their own right, the creepier thing about them is that you can get lost in them — not just in the rooms themselves, but in the spaces between.

The Rats In The Walls, as well as Neil Gaiman’s The Wolves In The Walls encapsulate this particular fear. A Lovecraftian fear of passages, corridors and spaces in between may be more common than I realise. Jeff Kinney even makes a gag out of it in Wrecking Ball (2019). Greg can’t stand the thought of creatures poking about in the walls, so his future dream house will be made entirely of glass. The illustration shows Greg sitting downstairs, looking straight through the floors into an upstairs toilet.

Point of view switches to the kittens — stand-in children for child readers. Moppet and Mittens are all about mischief. That’s their ‘plan’. They are playing bakers, making ‘dear little muffins’ out of dough.

Point of view switches back to the adult cats. Cousin Ribby has arrived. The two adult cats lament the mischief made by kittens. It is revealed that Thomas has gone missing. Together the lady cats search.

Now there’s another sequence of spatial horror, with Tom Kitten stuck in the chimney of an old house, ‘where a person does not know his way, and where there are enormous rats.  [Cats are not people, but we are not supposed to think about that.]

It was most confusing in the dark. One flue seemed to lead into another.

There was less smoke, but Tom Kitten felt quite lost.

Eventually, John Joiner the dog is brought in to sniff Tom Kitten out.

BIG STRUGGLE

The Battle between Tom Kitten and the rats culminates in that horribly memorable image of the kitten inside the dough. The build up is reminiscent of fairy tales such as Jack and the Beanstalk, where a formidable male creature orders his wife to make him a very particular sort of meal — one which includes our main character:

“Anna Maria,” said the old man rat (whose name was Samuel Whiskers),—”Anna Maria, make me a kitten dumpling roly-poly pudding for my dinner.”

“It requires dough and a pat of butter, and a rolling-pin,” said Anna Maria, considering Tom Kitten with her head on one side.

ANAGNORISIS

There is no anagnorisis, unless you count the fact that Samuel Whiskers and Anna Maria have realised they cannot remain in the house.

The plot is resolved when John Joiner finds Tom Kitten by sniffing around and through the cracks in the floorboards. John Joiner is a dog, who has been called in by the cats to help.

This is where the most horrifying part of the story ends.

NEW SITUATION

But Potter adds a cosy addendum to the end of this story, bringing herself as narrator. She tells the reader how the carpenter dog cannot stay for tea with the cats because she herself has charged him with the task of building chicken coops.

And in a comic twist, Beatrix Potter sees the evil rats running off with her wheelbarrows. They have piled their luggage into the wheelbarrow and are moving into Farmer Potatoes’ barn (presumably because of the dog, though they haven’t been scared of the cats). They do very well in the barn and all the rats there today are descended from Samuel Whiskers and Anna Maria.

Moppet and Mittens grow up into ‘very good rat catchers’. They earn their living as such, tacking tails onto the wall as proof. This in itself is a horrifying scene to me.

But Tom Kitten is forever scared of anything bigger than a mouse.

Is Animalification A Thing?

man surrounded by rock pigeons

In literature, an object with human characteristics is called ‘personification‘.

Granting an animal human-like characteristics is called ‘anthropomorphism‘. (Anthropo = human being, as in ‘anthropology’. ‘Morph’ = change.)

Both personification and anthropomorphism are types of metaphors.

But what do you call it when it’s the other way round? i.e., when a human being is compared to an animal by virtue of animal characteristics? Reverse personification? Animalification?

Someone on Urban Dictionary notes that fantasy lovers have developed their own lexicon for these things:

ANTHRO

An animal with human-like characteristics. A human with animal-like characteristics can also be called an anthro, but technically they are not. An anthro is, technically, an animal that can: a) walk upright, b) talk, or talk somewhat (AKA has human vocal chords), c) has human features (i.e. a centaur, half human, half horse), d) has the bone structure of a human, with some of its animal counterpart (i.e. a cat-anthro that although looks like a human, can jump like a cat). These characteristics separate anthros from humans with cat ears and tail (or something like that).

It’s common in literature to give a human character animal characteristics, even when the genre is not speculative. For instance, in S.E. Hinton’s That Was Then, This Is Now, one of the main characters is depicted as a lion in preparation for his eventual fate.

We are used to animal idioms in daily life e.g.

  • picky eaters as birds
  • greedy people as pigs
  • thin people as stick insects
  • night owls

In literature, the metaphor may be short-lived e.g. a single observation.

e.g. ‘I love your dress,’ she purred. (Women as cats and birds is cliche in literature.)

As children we get used to picture books where the people are ostensibly animals — they have the heads and bodies of animals but essentially behave like humans. Often there’s no metaphorical reason for this — it’s the ‘hat on a dog’ type humour that children love. Why is Olivia a pig? I have no idea, but it gives Ian Falconer’s illustrations a childlike interest which may not otherwise be there given his limited colour palette and style.

Authors of adult work also make use of people as animals, and can continue animal metaphors across an entire story. It might be limited to a character sketch. Alternatively, character-as-animal may comprise the beef of the story and function as integral to the plot.

EXAMPLES OF PEOPLE DESCRIBED AS ANIMALS

The following examples persist throughout the story and are integral to the story as a whole:

  • The Ratcatcher” by Roald Dahl (short story)
  • Caleb by Gary Crew and Steven Woolman (horror picture book)
  • Mercy Watson Thinks Like A Pig — ironically it is the Animal Catcher who thinks like a pig. Here we have a double layer of animalification, because Francine Poulet is also described as a chicken (the big clue is in her symbolic name).
  • Mercy Watson Fights Crime — Kate diCamillo and Chris Van Dusen do enjoy designing opponents with an animal in mind — in this one the cowboy-wannabe burglar is depicted as a weasel. (I know this from listening to Kate diCamillo talk about the character design in an interview — it’s not over-the-top obvious.)
  • Mr Reginald Peacock’s Day“, a short story by Katherine Mansfield takes the vanity symbolism of the peacock and applies it to a singing teacher.

EXPANDED EXAMPLE

OLDER WOMAN COMPARED TO GREY FIELD MOUSE

Roald Dahl uses a rat in “The Ratcatcher” but mice are considered really quite different from rats. Rats are sinister; mice are more often harmless, vulnerable due to their size, cute. The idiomatic expression ‘timid as a mouse’ doesn’t represent the reality of mice — whenever I’ve had them in the house I’ve been struck by how brazen they are.

Robin Black opens her short story “Tableau Vivant” with real mice, which have come into a house. She then focuses on one (actual) bolshy mouse who won’t leave the house even though it’s no longer winter. Next, we get a thumbnail sketch of the woman who lives in this house. The focus is on her physical resemblance:

Jean Kurek looked a bit like a field mouse herself, with her close-cut gray hair, in her shapeless gray dress—no zippers, no buttons. Stroke clothes. Her appearance was no more or less distinguished than it had been all her sixty-eight years, the most likely description of her a string of negatives. Not really tall or short, you wouldn’t say she’s heavy but she isn’t particularly thin, not ugly, not at all, but not pretty either, her hair is that color that isn’t blond or brown. Arguably, her most striking feature was the absence of any striking feature—though her hair had finally claimed a color, gray.

“Tableau Vivant” a short story by Robin Black from If I Loved You I Would Tell You This

But Black doesn’t stop at the physical resemblance:

Jean had spent a lifetime trying to be inconspicuous, appreciating that nature had given her a good start. As she stepped out from the kitchen now and crunched her way over the garden’s gravel pathways, even the briskness of her pace seemed designed to make her presence as little disruptive as possible, and the arm hanging loose by her side, like something she would soon remember to gather up. [She has lost the use of one arm due to a stroke.]

“Tableau Vivant” a short story by Robin Black from If I Loved You I Would Tell You This

Note that not every aspect of the human character needs to resemble the chosen animal. Mice don’t ‘crunch’ when they walk across gravel, for instance, but they do walk like that, just in their miniature way.

Header photo by Caitlyn Wilson 

The Pied Piper of Hamelin: Legend Or Fairytale?

A version of The Pied Piper cover by Monico Chavez

The Pied Piper is not technically a fairytale. It is at least part legend. Hamelin was a real place, and it is believed that once, in this German town, all of the children really did disappear in a short space of time.

The street in Hamelin, where the children were last seen, is today called Bungelosenstrasse, translated to ‘street without drums’. No one is allowed to dance or play music there. This street is now a tourist attraction — alternatively, you can check it out on Google Earth, though it appears the Google street car has yet to traverse the area.

Any cultural image in which children follow an adult playing music is likely to conjure images of the Pied Piper. https://youtu.be/yWCcLW08dsU

SETTING OF THE PIED PIPER

Hamelin is a town in Lower Saxony, Germany. June 26, 1284, is when 130 children left Hamelin. This information comes from a stained glass window created for the church of Hamelin, which dates to around 1300 AD. The window no longer exists — it was destroyed in 1660. It’s been written down in chronicles (in Latin language) that June 26 is when the children ‘left’. (Left, not ‘died’ or ‘were taken’.) Nothing else was written down — was it too painful to write more? Even today no one is quite sure why the children of Hamelin disappeared. There are a number of theories.

THEORIES ABOUT THE HISTORY OF THE PIED PIPER

THE BLACK DEATH THEORY

The story of the Pied Piper suggests that the children were ‘taken’ away by the black death or similar, personified in the tale by a man in a pied (colourful) suit. The problem with this theory is that if the children were taken away by the Black Death or similar, surely it would have been recorded somewhere. Mass deaths due to Black Death were recorded elsewhere. In Black Death days, those with literacy skills generally wrote to other towns nearby to warn them of it.

According to Marina Warner, in No Go The BogeymanThe Pied Piper legend warns that the fey and the pied, the eldritch and the elf, are dangerous to humans in their capriciousness. They personify the unpredictable mischief making of fate. The Pied Piper story is dated to 1240 when Hamelin is known to have suffered a similar plague and in several ways its hero prefigured many spectres who come to haunt Germany. Though not devilish or otherwise monstrous the piper appears in the motley sometimes worn by the devil and even more by the fool who mocks truth while the mountain, which uncannily opens when he plays in order to swallow the children, is the familiar habitat of elves and deserves and giants and other messengers from the dark side.

THE PIED PIPER INVENTION AS COGNITIVE BIAS

It’s perfectly reasonable to think there was no human figure leading the children away, that it’s all metaphor. Throughout history there is evidence a persistent cognitive bias — humans have a tendency to find meaning in the universe by imputing agency to events that might as plausibly or more plausibly  be due to chance.

A better documented historical example are the French famines. Under the old regime, the population could never accept that nature was solely responsible for the dearth. The general assumption was that people were hoarding grains somewhere, driving the prices up. The actual cause, we are sure now, was a bad harvest. This particular conspiracy theory is known today as the Pacte de Famine.

THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADES THEORY

However, there may have been a person involved. Another theory involves children taken away for The Children’s Crusades. In this story, dating from the Middle Ages, young, charismatic cult leaders convinced children to take Holy vows with the aim of ridding the land of Muslims. They needed kids to do it because they had ‘not yet sinned’. However, there’s no evidence of any children ever reaching the Holy Land. We don’t know how much of this legend is true. The crusades were almost certainly much smaller than legend has it. There remains no evidence that Nicholas the Crusader ever came to Hamelin to recruit.

THE CULT RECRUITMENT THEORY

It is possible the children of Hamelin became part of a Pagan cult. Germanic Paganism was in its death throes in 1284, so they may have become victim to some cult leaders who were desperate to revive the pagan way of thinking. The summer solstice is celebrated around that time of year, though a bit earlier those days (around June 20-22).

THE DANCING PLAGUE THEORY

Others have suggested it was a ‘dancing plague’. For more on that look up Choreomania.  There are plenty of stories of dancing mania in Germany at this time. One group of people even managed to break a bridge after too many were dancing on it at the same time. Injuries were sustained. Holland and France also has reports of choreomania.

THE ABDUCTION THEORY

But there may be another reason an entire generation of children disappeared at once — the town may have been ransacked, with the children taken away as indentured slaves or married off elsewhere. This is not unheard of in history, and the Chibok schoolgirls were kidnapped in Nigeria overnight in April 2014. The Pied Piper could be a based on a terrible news story similar to that one.

THE RAT PLOT

In early, 1400s versions of the Pied Piper tale there was no mention of rats. Of course, by the time Robert Browning turned it into a poem, rats seemed vital to make the story work.

Why and when did the rats come into the story? Rats were a problem in every town and city throughout the history of cities. They’re still a problem today. Rats have often represented the worst of humanity since they thrive in urban environments we’ve come to associate rats with other urban ills such as crime and overcrowding and disease.

The Ratcatcher is a fairytale in its own right. The Brothers Grimm recorded The Ratcatcher (in 1839) which is separate from The Pied Piper, also collected. There are no disappearing children in this fairytale. Instead, it is much more concerned with a magician who can charm rats. A Danish version of the tale similarly elevates the role of the ratcatcher to an almost godlike status. In the Grimm version of The Pied Piper, the children are taken through a portal into Transylvania (a spooky country where vampires live). At this point in history Transylvania lay dormant. Good land was going to waste. Other places such as Germany were overpopulated and starving. This leads us to another theory: Many Germans settled in places such as Transylvania during this time. They would drum up volunteers to go with them. Is it possible that the children of Hamelin disappeared because they were taken by fellow townspeople migrating? By people who needed young, healthy workers? Perhaps the parents even sold the children, or at least gave them permission to leave, knowing that starvation was the other option. They may have been led away by a persuasive, military march. Perhaps people joined this march without too much in the way of thought. Hunger is a strong motivator.

It looks like the fairytale of The Ratcatcher (as collected by the Grimms) combined over time with the real story of the missing children of Hamelin and now we have a fairytale/legend hybrid. This seemed to happen in the 15th century. By the mid 16th century they seem permanently intertwined. The first written version of The Pied Piper was penned by a guy with the wonderfully fairytale name of Count Froben Christoph von Zimmern, and that included the rats.

After it was re-written in German a couple of times (including by the Grimm Brothers of course) Robert Browning wrote a considerably more cheerful version. By the mid 1800s, the disappearance of the children of Hamelin is truly mythic.

ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE PIED PIPER

Below: You probably recognise whose these illustrations are by. Arthur Rackham.

classic illustration of the pied piper street scene

Illustrator Errol Le Cain chose a similarly limited, warm palette.

The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Errol Le Cain
Pied Piper illustration by Errol Le Cain

STORY STRUCTURE OF “THE PIED PIPER OF HAMELIN”

Robert Browning’s version, and similar adaptations. This is the version you probably know. This is the one I grew up with.

I have realised in the writing of this blog that I have a harder time working out the ‘main character’ of fairytales than I do of modern stories.  Every now and then in a modern story you find the ‘main character’ is actually an ensemble cast a la Little Miss Sunshine or Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants or Winnie-the-Pooh, in which each member of the cast represents a different facet of human nature. Fairytales are like that, I think. Normally we can ask ourselves: Which is the character who changes the most? That is your main character. But what if, as in this legend, an entire town changes forever?

In this case, unusually, The Town is the main character, but the town is personified by the men who run it.

SHORTCOMING

The town is overrun with rats. This surface level problem will highlight the inadequacies of the town.

DESIRE

The town wants to get rid of the rats. But then the desire shifts. For the second part of the story, the men who run the town don’t want the town to fall into poverty by paying what they promised.

OPPONENT

Well, there are the rats of course. But these rats are not the slightest bit anthropomorphised, so let’s treat them like any other natural phenomenon such as a tsunami, earthquake or flood.

The Opponent is the embodiment of all that is wrong with the town council. (Some see the Pied Piper as the personification of death.) He appears in the form of a piper in a long, brightly coloured gown. It’s significant that it’s ‘pied’, because this means he’s pieced it together out of bits of rag. In an era where clothes were clear signifiers of wealth (due to the expense of clothing), the ragtag clothing suggests someone wearing a mask — a duplicitous person who pretended to be more important than he was.

The Pied Piper is the subcategory of False Ally Opponent because at first he helps the town. However, his motives are revealed to be entirely selfish. He is just as morally lacking as the town council who refuse to pay him. He sacrifices the lives of an entire town’s worth of children, collateral damage.

Or is he? Do you come down on one side or the other? The tale of The Pied Piper endures partly because it asks us to think about the nature of altruism. Is the Pied Piper an altruist?

To be genuinely altruistic an action has to satisfy two conditions:

  1. Proactive not reactive
  2. Anonymous (not clear cut when God comes into it, because in some cases the agent believes God is watching)

The Pied Piper was proactive. He wasn’t asked to save the town — he offered. However, he is a businessman. He’s doing it for money. So he is quasi-proactive.

He’s not anonymous. He could have simply gotten rid of the rats without telling anyone, expecting nothing in return.

But what if the Pied Piper was starving and needed payment in order to eat? Does that change our calculation of his altruism? The modern leftie view is that all people deserve a living wage, and the modern right-wing view is that people who contribute a lot to a society deserve a very large living wage. So according to any point along the modern political spectrum, the Pied Piper should garner some sympathy.

DEPICTIONS OF THE PIED PIPER

The Pied Piper is depicted by illustrators in a number of different ways, largely dependent on the era. The unifying feature is of course his clothing, but we can group his body type into a few distinct categories.

GOOD-LOOKING PIPERS

Most recently we have ‘hot’ pipers.

The Pied Piper of Hamelin play El Flautista de Hamelin
SKELETAL PIPERS

But he’s more traditionally very skinny, with pointed feet, nose and hat, and long fingers. See Errol Le Cain’s version (above), which may have influenced character design in Shrek.

Why all the skinny, pointed representations? I suggest the illustrators see the Pied Piper as a symbol of death — whereas he does have skin, he is nevertheless a skeletal/skeleton figure, not so different from many depictions of the grim reaper.

the Pied Piper from Shrek
from the Shrek franchise
ANDROGYNOUS PIPERS

Eleanor F. Brickendale (who died in 1945) even made him slightly androgynous — he could almost pass for an old woman.

The Pied Piper old woman

PLAN

Promise to pay the piper and then not pay him. We don’t know if this is because the town can’t pay him or they won’t. It is implied they simply will not, but if the town has suffered famine for an enduring period, it’s also likely they cannot pay him.

Would you have lied to the piper in order to save your town? This is similar to the moral dilemma posed by philosophers: If you were dying and a drug company possessed a drug that would keep you alive — but they charged so much you couldn’t afford to buy it — would you steal it?

BIG STRUGGLE

In the Robert Browning poem, the Battle is dramatised with the scenes between the Pied Piper and the council.

The death big struggle takes place off the stage, when the piper drowns all of the children.

ANAGNORISIS

Oh. We should have honoured our promise. (Audience: honour your promises. Retribution is often way out of whack with your original misdemeanour.)

The mid 1800s were an era which favoured retributive justice, so Browning would have written his poem influenced by this idea: That if someone does not honour their promise, you are fully justified in meting out retribution. However, he would have been influenced by the ‘eye for an eye’ idea. That phrase is often mistaken today to mean, “If someone takes your eye, feel free to take theirs.” It’s actually an expression urging moderation — “If someone takes your eye, do not take both of theirs — you may take only one in return.” (In other words, don’t go batshit when dishing out punishment.)

So the Pied Piper’s actions, killing all the children, will have been seen by the 1800s audience — as they are today — as completely over the top evil.

NEW SITUATION

A town with no children. The town of Hamelin is no longer on the map — the children are a community’s future.

MORE ON “THE PIED PIPER”

FURTHER READING

I wrote a re-visioning of The Pied Piper. It’s called “The Magic Pipe“. I wondered when, exactly, children became immune to the music. Did it happen overnight? Adolescence takes a while. There must have been a group of adolescents or young adults who heard it but faintly, sufficiently conscious of the draw of the music to perhaps resist it. What would that story look like?

Strat and Chatto by Jan Mark and David Hughes

Strat and Chatto is a picture book created by Jan Mark and David Hughes. Jan Mark was a British children’s book author who died about 10 years ago in 2006. She wrote for the picture book and chapter book age range. Her subject matter was mostly ordinary kids in ordinary settings. She also wrote plays and collections of short stories.

NOTES ON THE ILLUSTRATION OF STRAT AND CHATTO

David Hughes describes himself as “a graphic designer who happens to illustrate” which sounds suspiciously to me like he’s actively avoiding the condescension experienced by creators of children’s books. The truth is, though, that he hasn’t really illustrated many picture books compared to all the other work he has done. He also writes children’s books.

His background/forte in graphic design shines through on these pages, which are all double page spreads, with the action flowing beautifully across the page. (I haven’t scanned any of the double page spreads — the hard copy is necessary to enjoy those.)

White space is preserved, and busyness minimised, with the technique of filling some objects with colour and leaving others as outlines.

Another standout feature of these illustrations are the disgustingness of the creatures. Hughes achieves this by creating skeletal, long-fingered hands, spiny tails and wavy antennae.

SETTING OF “STRAT AND CHATTO”

Strat and Chatto is a story set in London, with a strong Cockney influence coming through in the rat. This rat is an animal version of the Rag and Bone man of yesteryear — a white, working class guy who gambles, drinks and plays darts at the pub when he’s not at work.

Like any ancient city, London is in a state of constant change — out with the old, in with the new. This cycle is emulated at the micro level in this story about the rotation of animals inclined to infest urban dwellings: cockroaches, rats, silverfish and also bats.

dominoes

STORY STRUCTURE OF “STRAT AND CHATTO”

SHORTCOMING

Our viewpoint character is the put-upon cat. The cat is presented as somewhat cuter than the other characters, though lacking in drive. This is his downfall.

chatto

DESIRE

All Chatto wants is this one rat out of his house.

OPPONENT

The original (off-stage) opponent may be the rat throwing lentils onto his head, but this story begins with a far stronger opponent coming along.

See here for why rats are the baddies and mice are the goodies of children’s literature.

Readers do love tricksters, and the rat is an example of that archetype.

PLAN

We don’t see the rat’s plan for a while, though we’re encouraged to guess.

This part of the story is very similar to Julia Donaldson’s A Squash and a Squeeze, in that a small dwelling becomes unbearably overcrowded with creatures, upsetting the original inhabitant. Donaldson’s story is created more like a modern fable with a message about not complaining about the size of your house, but this is a purely comic tale in which the reader is invited to guess at what the wily rat is up to.

piano-scene
I suspect the illustrator is not a huge fan of Nana Mouskouri.
bats
Possibly the only instance of camel toe I have seen in a children’s book.

BIG STRUGGLE

The climax is a busy scene where all the invaders come together.

Then Strat climbed in at the cat flap and yelled, “EVERYBODY OUT!”

And out of the cat flap came the bats and the cockroaches and the silverfish.

READER SELF-REVELATION

We realise the rat’s plan. We’ve been wondering all along why he’s been moving all his friends and acquaintances into the cat’s house — it’s because he wants to move in himself, since his own house is about to be demolished.

NEW SITUATION

We realise now that this is a very clever circular story. The original rat probably weasled his way into the cat’s apartment by similar means.

Notice the tails here, intertwined, but in a stranglehold.

The long, bulbous fingers which have been emphasised throughout the book are framed for attention here. Long fingers indicate a long reach, and we find them creepy. I’m sure that’s why depictions of grey aliens feature similar hands.

tails-wound