A Grimm Project

242 fairy tales, 242 writing prompts.

Tag: Companionship of Cat and Mouse

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.

Read my freewrite response to this tale here, and read the Grimms’ original, translated by D. L. Ashliman, here.

Illustration by Walter Crane

Illustration by Walter Crane

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002. The Companionship of the Cat & the Mouse

*This post is part of A Grimm Project, a series of short fiction pieces using each of the Brothers Grimms’ Nursery and Household Tales as writing prompts. For more information about the project, click here. For more about the story which inspired this freewrite, click here.*

Becky liked to tell me about the world. I’d stand behind the counter, in front of the pies and the metal milkshake machine that you had to keep a good grip on, or it’d scrape the sides of the cup and make a terrific screeching noise. And Becky would wait as I mixed milkshakes for other customers, but as soon as the machine was done with its noise, she’d start again as though her sentence had never been interrupted.

He was stealing it the whole time, she’d say. I’ve been working since I was a kid, and I’m not a big spender, that’s for sure. Turned out, he’d faked my name on a paper that said he has equal rights to the account, was bleeding me dry.

Mm-hmm, I’d say, placing her banana cream pie down on the counter. By the time Becky died, left town, or at least stopped showing up every Wednesday and Friday night for pie, I think I’d heard it about two hundred times. Her boyfriend, the father of her three kids, had racked up a bunch of debt in her name and spent her savings on a truck, a near lifetime’s supply of weed, and a few hourly hotel rooms here and there. It was a story so clichéd that by the time she’d told me twice, I’d heard it too many times.

I didn’t know what brought Becky to the diner every Wednesday and Friday, but I figured she was the support group type. The coffee-and-donuts and anonymity type. She never asked about me, or what I did when I wasn’t working overnights serving omelets and disco fries. Sometimes I held that against her. When she’d end her story, always the same way, with her self-assured, woebegone insistence that everything was okay because “that’s just the way of the world,” I really wished I could shut her up. Not my world, I wanted to say. I’m in college, I’d have told her. I read books about tragedies way worse than yours every single day. I’m pretty sure the whole world isn’t reflected in your hick boyfriend’s problems with infidelity and theft. That, and the world isn’t forcing you to just shrug it off, either—that’s all you. But I didn’t care to hear what would follow that tirade. And to be fair, maybe when the world has shit on you, you deserve to be able to tell others what that shit smelled like. Some people don’t have much else going for them, I guess.

Cate Fricke
August 2013

Thoughts on “The Companionship of the Cat & the Mouse”

“The Companionship of the Cat and the Mouse” is a great example of a fairy tale that might be mistaken for trying to “teach” us something. It’s a simple, bleak story that seems to be offering a moral at the end but, like most fairy tales, isn’t moralizing in the slightest.

In the tale, a cat and a mouse decide to “set up a common household” as a couple, and from there it becomes exactly what you’d expect. The cat, of course, is a complete rogue. But what you might not expect is  that after the cat has royally screwed over his mouse-wife, the mouse-wife doesn’t even get to have any witty come-uppance, as would seem to be her due. She’s simply eaten.

Enter the narrator, to tell us that “that’s just the way of the world.”

Comforting, eh? And infuriating, too. The idea behind the story of the cat and mouse is so old that it’s a pretty solid given that the cat won’t make it to the end without a tail hanging between his teeth. Yet a smart reader also knows that just because this story is familiar, it doesn’t mean that the story’s closing point is gospel truth. It’s like talking to an elderly neighbor about a scam that one of their bridge partners recently fell for: “And you know—he never was a Nigerian prince! But that’s how everyone is these days.”

Yes, you know how the story goes, but you also know that not everything that’s true is truth.

But then, just to play the narrator’s advocate here—”truth” is also a relative concept. And maybe those who might turn up their nose at such a generalized view of the world are just as bad. Write a response, and let’s find out.

So if you were rewriting this story, how would you complicate that generalized “moral”? Read my writing response here, and feel free to add your own freewrite in the comments. And read the full tale as translated by Margaret Hunt in 1884, available at Pitt.edu.

Illustration by Walter Crane

Illustration by Walter Crane