Open a book this minute and start reading. Don’t move until you’ve reached page fifty. Until you’ve buried your thoughts in print. Cover yourself with words. Wash yourself away. Dissolve. Carol Shields Republic of Love

Margery Sharp’s The Rescuers (1959; 1977)

When I was a girl, I was too afraid to watch the part of the Disney movie in which Penny is lowered into the darkness in a bucket.

Sharp The RescuersIf I had actually read the stories on my bookshelf, I would have had great sympathy for the mice in the Prisoner’s Aid Society. They spend much of their time being afraid.

Then again, they are afraid of cats who are many times larger than they. Or jailers who’d think nothing of squashing them with a boot. Or, they fear drowning.

And not *all* of them are afraid of those things either. Bernard, for instance: he wears the Tybalt Star, For Gallantry in the face of Cats. (He defended his sister-in-law, who was nursing six baby mice at the time.)

Miss Bianca isn’t afraid of cats either. But she should be. The only reason she’s not is that she has led such a sheltered life; in the company of her Boy, she has a cat companion, who wouldn’t think to harm the resident of the Porcelain Pagoda in the Boy’s room.

When Miss Bianca is called into service to rescue a prisoner, she comes to understand that her experience of cats isn’t the norm (and a few other layers of her mouse-privilege).

However, she does still use her feminine mouse-wiles to charm the four-legged threat, who is so entertained by her behaviour that he misses his chance to gobble her up.

“I’m sure he wants to meet me again, if only from dishonourable motives. Let me engage him in conversation, and guide it into the right channels, and what may I not learn, to our advantage?”

Because Miss Bianca is quite the lady. Margery Sharp puts her female mice on centre stage. Madame Chairperson in the Prisoner’s Aid Society dares to speak out of turn, in order to have the case of a particular prisoner heard. (She is a direct-line descendant of the Three Blind Mice and has exceptional whiskers.)

And she does not hesitate to recommend Miss Bianca for the rescue of this esteemed Norwegian poet, being held captive in the Black Castle, despite the rumours of her pampered existence.

“You should be protected and cherished and loved and honoured, and I for my part ask nothing better than to lie down and let you walk on me!” exclaims Bernard, when he accepts the duty of requesting Miss Bianca’s intervention on the poet’s behalf (she has ready access to air travel which the other mice do not).

Miss Bianca has “perfect manners and unfailing savoir faire” which “would have soothed the tempers of tigers” and she does get out of the habit of fainting, only uttering the occasional “piercing shriek of dismay”.

In time, Bernard and Miss Bianca (and Nils, the Norwegian mouse-on-the-ground, so to speak) gain all the intelligence they require to enact their mission. “They began to plan in detail what had never been planned before – or, if planned, had never succeeded: the liberation of a prisoner from the Black Castle.”

In some ways, Miss Bianca is a mouse of the 1950s. She recognises that “there is nothing like housework for calming the nerves”. But in other ways, she is quite the revolutionary.

Had Margery Sharp written the story just a couple of decades earlier, she would have had Miss Bianca holding the rope while Bernard and Nils did the heavy lifting.

This is the first volume of Miss Bianca’s adventures (the second in the series, named for our heroine, is the source of more of the events in the Disney film, although the original little girl was ‘Patience’, not ‘Penny’) and there are nine books in the series.

The Rescuers has been lingering, unread, on my shelves since I was seven years old. Jane’s celebration of Margery Sharp’s birthday landed the series on my stacks at long last.

Thanks, Jane. And happy birthday, Margery!

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13 comments to Margery Sharp’s The Rescuers (1959; 1977)

  • I remember the film, but I don’t ever remember seeing Margery Sharp’s books for children ‘in real life’. This sounds as if it has the same spirit as her books for adults and I’m so pleased you decided to read it for Margery Sharp Day.

  • Well I have learnt something today. I remember the Disney film of course, but had no idea it was originally written by Margery Sharp. Thank you for reminding me off this lovely story.

    • And apparently she originally wrote it for adults, which I don’t quite understand, but I suppose the idea of animal-populated fables was once in vogue (e.g. Watership Down) and only later became more about being directed towards children? That interests me, but I couldn’t find out very much about it….

  • I had no idea that Margery Sharp wrote The Rescuers! And to have it around unread since you were 7! I hope it was well worth the wait. 🙂
    This is a Disney movie my kids haven’t seen. I can no longer remember much about it. I remember that Penny’s captors were terrifying and I remember how much I wanted to ride around in a leaf boat with a dragonfly motor. Is Evinrude in the book? And do you have the others?

    • They *were* terrifying, weren’t they? Their menacing behaviour was something else! But, yes, there were so many delightful bits, and I wanted to ride in that boat too! So far (I’m in book three, and I only have the first four – they used to be a box-set but the case got damaged when I was still a girl – so if I want to read on, I’ll have to ILL them) I haven’t met any interesting dragonflies, but there was a bit of canal action in the first book! Did you know that Dodie Smith wrote 101 Dalmations as well? These well-known middle-brow women writers giving Disney so many good characters for children’s films!

  • Thats a long time for a book to be waiting to be read….

    • It’s embarrassing, but along with my list of books-I’ve-gotten-stuck-in, I’m also slowly reading through a bunch of books which I’ve had since I was a girl/teenager/student and which I’ve avoided for more than two decades. Some Susan Cooper novels and Joan Aiken novels yet remain, along with some classics (for kids and adults) and a few contemporary international titles which I gathered when I first began collecting for my own shelves as a young working person detemined to read some literary things and unsure where to begin. What’s the longest a book on your shelf has sat unread?

  • Wow! I had no idea the film was based off of a book. I remember watching that film as a child. I think it’s always a good idea to revisit old childhood favorites as well as read books that have been sitting on your shelf for a long time (I can definitely relate). 🙂

    • As a kid, I was always yearning for the novelizations of movies I watched, even though the paged versions were usually disappointing (unless they had photographs inserted, in which case I loved them). In this case, the book came first and was more charming than the film by far (but I did miss Evenrude, a little).

  • I’m with the others, NO IDEA that this was based off a book. The more you know

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