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The Literature of Vermin
World Rat Day

The Literature of Vermin
  • Arabian Nights : Vol. 9 Volume Vol. 9 (by )
  • Fairy Tales from Hans Andersen (by )
  • The Pied Piper of Hamelin (by )
  • Peter Rabbit 
  • 1984 (by )
  • A Collection of Lovecraft (by )
  • Fables of Aesop (by )
  • The nursery rhymes of England (by )
  • The Wind in the Willows (by )
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April 4 is World Rat Day. The very thought of celebrating vermin detested the world over makes one shiver with loathing. 
Rodents, carriers of the Black Plague and other diseases, occupy a prominent place in literature, from Templeton in E. B. White’s contemporary classics Charlotte’s Web and the title character of  Stuart Little to Newbery Medal winners in the brave mice in Kate DeCamillo’s The Tale of Despereaux and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. We can add Brian Jacques’ 22-book series Redwall. Rats and mice join Richard Adam’s rabbits in Watership Down and Beatrix Potter’s naughty Peter Rabbit.

These 20th and 21st century rodents join a long and illustrious tradition of rodents in literature, from ancient Aesop’s Fables (The Frog and the Mouse and The Lion and the Mouse) to folklore and mythology (volumes 3 and 9 of John Payne’s 1001 Arabian Nights and Hans Christian Anderson’s Thumbelina), nursery rhymes (Hickory Dickory Dock and This Is the House that Jack Built) to comics (Over the Hedge, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Pearls before Swine), and plays, film, and television (The Nutcracker, Gordon the Gopher, The Secret of NIMH, and The Muppet Show).

The Guardian lists “Ten of the Best Rats in Literature,” of which several titles were written by literary greats: Beatrix Potter (The Tale of Samuel Whiskers), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire), H. P. Lovecraft, and James Herbert (The Rats). The following from that list can be obtained from the World Public Library:

Contemporary certainly authors don’t neglect verminous characters. While many of today’s readers might not recognize Aesop’s fables or Beatrix Potter’s gentle tales, they’re likely to have at least heard of Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe and Beverly Cleary’s The Mouse and the Motorcycle and can be entertained by the dark and subversive The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett.

Underscoring the idea that rats and mice don’t harbor evil, rodents occupy a prominent place in Eastern astrology. The first year in the Chinese zodiac cycle is the Year of the Rat. Those born under this sign are characterized as frugal and industrious people who work toward power, success, and pride. They’re considered energetic and observant problem solvers with good judgment. Social poise, charm, and wit add to the rat’s character traits.

While the idea of rats and mice in your house might make you squeamish, you can’t go wrong with infesting your literature with vermin.

By Karen Smith

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