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This slim chapter-book is probably E.B. White’s most recognizable title, alongside Charlotte’s Web, thanks in part to the two successful live-action films based on it. But I wonder how many of you would really recognize it if you read the book. I read it thinking I had read it before, and found out not only that it didn’t stir any memories (other than what the movies put in my head), but in fact, it surpassed my expectations.
To put it in a nutshell, if you think you know the story because you saw the recent motion pictures, think again. Read the book and you’ll see it’s quite different.
Of course it does begin where the movies take us, in the New York home of Mr. and Mrs. Frederick C. Little, their son George, and their cat Snowbell. Their second son, Stuart, turns out (for reasons never explained) to look exactly like a mouse, two inches tall. And the first part of the book is about the amazing ways a mouse-sized person copes with life in a human-sized house. Also, there is an exciting adventure on a miniature schooner sailing on a pond in Central Park.
Then Stuart befriends a bird named Margalo, and they save each other’s lives. When Margalo is frightened off by a death threat from a stray cat, Stuart gets wanderlust and goes out searching for her. Along the way he acquires a miniature motorcar (which, by the way, can become invisible), and later a canoe, with which he tries to woo a two-inch-tall girl from a small town. Things don’t always turn out very well for Stuart, and in the end, the story leaves him still searching for Margalo.
Coming to the end of this book is like waking from a fanciful, lovely, and slightly sad dream. Not at all like what the films would lead you to expect. It is not a flawlessly structured story. In fact, it is really a series of connected episodes that fade out in an indefinite, but hopeful, sort of way. But it has a modest twinkle of good-natured silliness, a soft-spoken streak of poetry, and a way of speaking to every little person finding his way in a big, big world — things that simply cannot be captured with digital effects and a blockbuster script.
And remember: “It is almost impossible to catch a speedy invisible model automobile even when one is a skillful dentist.”