Robin Redbreast

Robin Redbreast
Birds can represent the fluttering, darting thoughts of intuition. This is why little birds helped Cinderella help herself.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Cinderella's Rat, #102 (1997)

Written and illustrated
by Susan Meddaugh

Once upon a time, in a garden somewhere, a rat was born.  Here is his story:
"I was born a rat.  I expected to stay a rat.  But life is full of surprises." This young rat and his sister, Ruth, worked up quite an appetite in scrambling around the garden. One day, they caught the scent of some delicious cheese and went to investigate.  Alas! The cheese was in a trap, and they were caught.  Fortunately, somebody opened the trap door and they were able to run out. Unfortunately, the person who opened it was a fairy, and both little rats were zapped by her wand. Ruth managed to get away, but her brother...got turned into a human boy! Next thing he knew, "An old woman spoke sternly to me. 'Take this girl to the castle." she said, so he did. As soon as the girl in the fancy dress had gotten out of his coach, the rat-boy went to get something to eat.  He was still hungry!  "Kitchen smells drew [him] like a magnet. 'Make yourself useful, boy.' Said the cook. 'Bring me some flour from the larder.' Rat heaven!"  When he got to the larder, he dove head first into a bag of wheat and started eating it. That's when he heard a voice. "You must be really hungry!" it said. Then,"It tastes better like this." said a real human boy, handing the rat a piece of bread. "Suddenly, the boy leaped to his feet. 'A RAT!' he shouted. 'KILL IT!" The rat-boy thought, of course, that the real boy had discovered his secret.  Then he got a look at the rat running past. "Stop! That's my sister!" yelled the rat-boy. Now he was sure the human boy knew he was really a rat.  Neither one of them said anything for a long time.  Finally, the human boy spoke. "That must have been some powerful magic to turn your sister into a rat. Come.  What we need is a wizard."  So he took the rat-boy and the little rat along to the local wizard's cottage.  The boy told him that the problem was an enchanted girl who needed to be turned back into herself.  Little did the wizard — or the boy— know that it was really the rat-boy who wanted to revert to rattiness. So the wizard tried a spell. " Eye of newt and tooth of bat, magic brighter than a pearl, Take away this loathsome rat and give us back a pretty...CAT?" The spell seemed to have gone wrong.  The rat's — or should I say cat's? — brother groaned to himself.   Then he yelled,"Changer her back!' 'Surely a cat is better than a rat?' said the boy. 'Not where I come from,' [the rat-boy] said." So the wizard gave it another go. "Eye of bat and tooth of newt, magic beebleberry root, Now I give my wand a twirl...Give us please a lovely...GIRL!" And there was a pretty little girl, with a pointed nose and a green skirt. "MEOW!" she said.  "The wizard prepared another potion. 'Forty feather of a quail, magic salamander tail, wing of bee and toe of gnat, take away the voice of this cat.' 'WOOF!" said the girl. The wizard rolled his eyes and scratched his head.  Then he told them to come the next day and he would try again. So the boy, the rat-boy, and his sister, the rat-cat-girl, all went back to the palace.  Just then, the clock struck twelve, and the girl in the fancy party dress ran down the stairs.  Suddenly, she was wearing rags.  And the coach turned into a pumpkin.  And the rat-boy turned into a rat! Boy, was he happy! The last page of his journal tells it best: "Now I live in a cottage with my family.  Food is plentiful, and cats are scarce." That, of course, is because his sister still looks like a girl but barks like a dog! "Life is full of surprises,' muses the rat, 'So you may as well get used to it."
From Cinderella's Rat, by Meddaugh, S. (1997) Boston: Houghton Mifflin 
Notes: This is a good story for little boys, since the story is told through the eyes of a boy rat.  It does a nice job of sticking to the traditional story but showing it from a different perspective.  Here, Cinderella herself only appears briefly.  Notice that the wizard's spells include "eye of newt", and "magic salamander" parts. These animals are, of course, amphibians, not reptiles as lizards are. But this is an illustration of the connection that lizards in fairy tales have with magic. One of the earliest examples of this occurs in Giambattista Basile's 1637 story cycle, Il Pentamerone. This chronicles a marathon story telling session said to have taken place in Naples, Italy.  Reprinted in 1927, it contains a reference to magical lizards on page 64, being the Eighth Diversion of the First Day, the story of Goat-Face. It begins, "There once lived a peasant who had twelve daughers..." and goes on to say "that it so chanced that one day, [the man] was digging at the foot of a mountain, whose summit reached the clouds...and at the further side thereof was a grotto so darksome and fearsome that no sunrays ever entered there.  And from this cave came a large, green lizard as big as a crocodile, and the poor peasant was sore frighted, and stood open-,mouthed, expecting the end of his days from that hideous animal. But the lizard came near him and said, 'Be not afraid, my good man, I came not here to do thee hurt, I came only to do thee service." Hearing the animal speak, the peasant knelt and said, "My lady, what is thy name?" This affirms the historic tradition of helpful crocodiles as both female and magical, as deep earth and water spirits who offer help. This one offers that if the man will give him his youngest child, she will, "bring her up as my own child and will hold her dear as my own life."
Montessori Connection: Crocodiles, Dragons and Lizards of Literature Age 6-9: Three Tales of My Father's Dragon
1. Read this story and pay attention to the ingredients of the spell. 
2. Research the history of magic spells.

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