Fables are classics. For some reason the idea of animals speaking, portraying societal ideals, is timelessly enchanting. It’s what Aesop will always be remembered for. I even have written a singular fable in my day, though I am no fabulist, and though I now no longer possess the original manuscript, or remember it in its entirety. I recall only that it was the tale of a rabbit who, being rather naive and entirely too trusting, managed to get himself eaten. And that it was only about a hundred words long, or perhaps a little more—not much.
HOWEVER, all that aside, the story Cat and Mouse in Partnership is a fine example of a slightly obscure fable. I would go so far as to say that it is in fact a little depressing, likened to The Wicker Man, my tale of the rabbit, or any other story which ends with the hero’s ultimate and untimely, and not in the least bit heroic, demise.
But that doesn’t keep it from making valid points, just the same. Here’s my thoughts on the story:
Cat and Mouse in Partnership is the second story in The The Complete Fairy Tales by The Brothers Grimm.
The story begins with a cat and a mouse who take up a peculiar partnership, and agree to live together and keep house together. A curious thing, I know, since cats are best known for their love of mice as a primary course, or a light snack.
The cat, being wise in its own way, suggests that they should store up a pot of fat so that they do not go hungry in the winter, and goes on to suggest that they keep it in the church, as no one would ever consider stealing from the church. The mouse agrees.
It is also important to note that the cat also suggests that the mouse stay at home and not go out, lest she be caught in a trap.
It isn’t long before the cat becomes greedy, thinking of that pot of fat in the church, and she tells the mouse that she has been asked to stand godmother for her cousin’s new-born kitten, and hold him over the font at the christening. (Another interesting thing to note is that the cat quite clearly uses the kitten’s color and markings as an excuse for why she simply MUST stand as godmother.) So, while the mouse is at home keeping house, the cat steals away to the church and licks the top off the fat. Then she stays away, and comes home at night. The mouse asks what the child was called, and the cat replies, “Top-off.” The mouse is at once suspicious.
Soon the cat becomes greedy again, and, using the same lie, steals away to the church and eats half the pot. Then she stays away, and comes home at night. The mouse again asks about the child’s name, and the cat replies, “Half-done.” Again the mouse is suspicious.
It happens again, and this time the child is called “All-gone.”
Later in the winter, when food has run short, and mouse suggests that they go to the church to claim their pot of fat. The Cat agrees, but when they get to the church, the pot is empty, and the mouse, realizing what she suspected all along, accuses the cat. In return the cat grows angry and eats her (it was bound to happen, right?). The story concludes with this line: “Verily, that is the way of the world.”
I would like to first take a look at the cat.
Obviously the cat’s motives were greedy and selfish, and it shows her true character, not only by her sneaky deception, but also by her willingness to eat her friend. Anyone is susceptible to the use of deception and lies, but it takes a true villain to turn on their friends as the cat did. Now as I re-read the story again and again, I’m struck by the malicious intent in every word the cat says, such as telling the mouse to stay home, and suggesting that the mouse doesn’t understand because she is at home all the time. Even if the cat did not at first plan to eat the pot of fat and the mouse, she did have deceptive intentions right from the start.
We as humans are all tainted by greed and selfishness. We all have the capability to become a villain. It’s the goodness within us that holds back our inner darkness. We have to fight in every day, or it will consume us. The cat is the embodiment of this darkness; or you might say she already has given into it.
And it’s this struggle that is the basis for all the conflict in fiction, too. Somehow we have to come to terms with our own conflicting natures, and as a writer I must say fiction is the portal to understanding it. That’s why we have stories like this…
Now, about the mouse…
If the cat is the representation of our own Shadow, the mouse is the Light that fights it. And on that note, this is a very dark tale, as I said earlier! In a happier fairytale, the mouse would have won out in the end, which would be as much as to say that good virtues are the building blocks of victory.
But the interesting thing about the mouse is that she was not naive. When the cat returned to say that the first child was called “Top-off”, the mouse was suspicious. Her suspicion only grew with each turn, and by the end of the story she knew well enough what she would find at the church. This then begs the question, why did she go? Knowing the cat’s deceptive nature, surely she must have realized it would be better to stay away.
The reason for this, I think, is that it was her duty (so to speak) to martyr herself. As the force of good, there really was only one option for her: confront her enemy, and take the adventure, even if it meant death. Dark and Light don’t mix. They can try to work together, but in the end they must always come to conflict, just as the mouse and the cat did. The problem was that when the conflict came, the mouse was not the stronger.
Remember when I said that we must always fight our darker nature or it will consume us? That’s why the mouse was eaten. She knew, and she did nothing. She didn’t fight. She chose instead to lay down her arms. She gave up. When the Grimms ended the story with “Verily, that is the way of the world” they were saying not only that often it seems like the Shadow is winning, but also that good people get lost along the way, and sometimes you have to enter that dark valley in order to see the other side; sometimes you never come out again. It’s a war; get up and fight, or lay down and down—maybe for the sake of her friendship with the cat, or perhaps because she was in denial, but the mouse chose to lay down.
and that IS the way of the world.