Thoughts on “The Mouse, the Bird, and the Sausage”
If there’s a lesson to be gleaned from “The Mouse, the Bird, and the Sausage,” a fable-like tale similar to “The Companionship of the Cat and Mouse,” it’s that one ought to be content with what one has, especially when one’s situation is working well. But, as the line in this morbid tale goes, “those who lead the good life are always looking for ways to make it even better.” And according to this fable, that search can only end in disaster.
Because this isn’t a very well-known tale, here’s a brief summary:
A mouse, a bird, and a sausage live a good life together. The bird flies into the forest to get wood for the fire, the mouse lights the fire and brings water for the soup, and the sausage does the cooking, seasoning the food by ‘sliding’ through the soup just before mealtime. But one day, the bird meets another bird who, upon hearing about this well-organized arrangement, tells the first bird that he’s a dupe for doing the hardest task each day. The bird, incensed by this, demands that he and his fellows switch jobs. The sausage sets out to gather wood, the bird is charged to fetch water, and the mouse becomes responsible for the cooking and seasoning of the dish. As you may have guessed already, this new plan doesn’t go well. The sausage, having left the home to fetch wood, is eaten by a dog (who, when interrogated by the bird, claims he had every right to eat the sausage, as he’d found forged letters on the sausage’s person). The bird and the mouse intend to carry on, but after the fire is going and the water is boiling, the mouse tries to slide through the soup the way the sausage did, and is boiled alive. The bird, in his distraction, allows the fire to grow too hot, and when he goes to get more water to put out the flames, he drowns.
Philip Pullman points out that, unlike the Cat and Mouse, these companions “are not fundamentally ill-matched.” If it had not been for the bird’s sudden dissatisfaction, they could have continued to get along very well. And so the story intimates that this dissatisfaction can lead to ruin. A slightly more troubling read suggests that in order to avoid catastrophe, one should know one’s place, and not seek to change it.