Although I was too scared to read it as a girl, I’ve read Margery Sharp’s The Rescuers (1959) twice now. Once to celebrate Margery Sharp’s birthday, in an event Jane hosted. And once to reacquaint myself with the characters before completing the series.
The first volume opens with a meeting of the Mouse Prisoner’s Aid Society, which you may have heard of already, because there is a branch for every prison, even as far away as Constantinople. So quite likely there is a branch operating in the city in which you reside, where mice meet regularly in order to coordinate the comfort and/or rescue of confined souls.
Margery Sharp’s stories, however, chronicle the events surrounding one particular branch of the P.A.S. where Bernard and Miss Bianca play key roles in the adventuring and bravery require to carry out the group’s major assignments.
Miss Bianca is a writer and a poet, rumoured to live a life of luxury and idleness but now volunteering to face danger and rescue a prisoner held in the Black Castle, where there is a cat who is twice the natural size of a cat and four times as fierce.
It’s unknown, at this time, whether Miss Bianca simply has nerve or whether she possesses true courage; in either case, she is recruited because of her access to unusual methods of transportation (via her connection with a human family on diplomatic assignment).
Bernard is as curious as everyone else about Miss Bianca’s story. There have been rumours of the silver chain around her neck (immediately observed to be true), pink silk sheets, and cream cheese served in her home, a pagoda fashioned from porcelain. The walls of the pagoda are painted with small flowers, violets and primroses and lilies-of-the-valley, and it has its own pleasure-ground, which is fenced and roofed, and has swings and see-saws to play on, with a six-inch-high fountain of pink and green Venetian glass.
Miss Bianca is immediately impressive, with her perfect figure and silvery white coat like ermine, and her eyes being not red (which is common for white mice) but brown. Much is made of this, but more is made of her character; she proves to be an able and willing adventurer in Norway, although she does have to borrow a pair of galoshes. She is even willing to sleep on potato peelings when at sea and, indeed, doesn’t think it worth commenting on.
Here, the villain of note is Mamelouk who is “big and black as a thundercloud” but no match for Miss Bianca and Bernard, who willingly do their duty and execute their orders.
In the second volume, the villain is the Grand Duchess, who is as “gaunt as a gallows” and her face is permanently marked by arrogance, selfishness and cruelty. She also has mechanical Ladies-In-Waiting, which are truly unsettling. (Yikes.)
Miss Bianca (1962) is the story upon which the Disney film is most closely based (although it bears little resemblance to the book, even changing the prisoner’s name from Patience to Penny).
Patience has been brought to bring a human touch to the care for The Grand Duchess. There is also a pair or energetic bloodhounds and a desperate servant, the Major Domo, who fears the Duchess because she has evidence of a crime he committed.
None of this deters Miss Bianca, from the moment we hear her silvery voice as Chairwoman at the meeting of the Prisoners’ Aid Society (now there are multiple prisoners; in the first book the noun was singular), we know that she will be capable of rescuing Penny.
But Miss Bianca is also eager to build the confidence of the Ladies’ Guild (P.A.S.L.G.) and they make notable contributions to this effort as well. Soon, however, her rescuing duties begin to overshadow her poetic duties.
In many instances, while adventuring, she does manage to scribble down some lines of verse but she often observes that it is necessarily hasty work.
(Bernard admires all her creations equally, but Miss Bianca has high expectations of herself.)
How will Miss Bianca balance the needs of her literary (and not-so-literary) admirers with the desperation of needy captives?
Stay tuned for talk of The Turret and the remaining books in the series.