Thursday, February 14, 2008


The Book: E. B. White, STUART LITTLE. HarperTrophy paperback reprint, 1999. Very good condition; pages are slightly age-browned.
First read: 1972 (best guess)
Owned since: 2000 (this copy)

Mom read Stuart Little to Kathy and me when we had chicken pox. We were six or seven years old, and she read us Charlotte's Web first and then this book, which she said she liked better.

Stuart Little is a mouse born to a human family in New York City. His family adapts very well to his presence, and Stuart is resourceful enough to figure out how to operate in a human-sized world. Kathy and I were fascinated by the descriptions of how Stuart turned on faucets and brushed his teeth and slept in a bed made of clothespins.

It was not until much later that I realized that Stuart Little is one of the great doomed love stories of all time. Stuart falls in love with Margalo, a wall-eyed vireo (or possibly a wren) the Little family rescues. A neighbor's cat plans to attack Margalo, and it's springtime anyway, so she flies away -- and Stuart runs away from home to find her.

"North" is the best advice he can get for where she might be, so he heads north, and has some adventures along the way. The book ends with him continuing his journey, and beginning to realize that finding Margalo might not be as important as the search itself. Stuart meets a telephone repairman who talks about the virtue of heading north, in general:

"There's something about north," he said, "something that sets it apart from all other directions. A person who is heading north is not making any mistake, in my opinion."

"That's the way I look at it," said Stuart. "I rather expect that from now on I shall be traveling north to the end of my days."

Happy Valentine's Day to all, from the frozen north.


norby said...

For some reason, I thought I read Stuart Little as a kid, but I guess not. I must have been thinking of Ralph and the Motorcycle.

Charlotte's Web however, that book I adored. The recent movie was great too. Especially watching my mom be afraid of the spider up on the screen. Five year olds were not scared of this thing, my mom got freaked out by it.

AnswerGirl said...

I didn't see the latest film version of "Charlotte's Web," but the movie "Stuart Little" doesn't have much to do with the book.

Anonymous said...

Lovely post.

Wonderful quote, by the way. I enjoy posts with such elegant, resonant pieces of the original.

Personally, I've always preferred Charlotte's Web. Not that I don't love Stuart Little, but there was always something about his world that felt out-of-whack to me. I know it's a made-up story, an invention, so there should be no reason to want a logical explanation for the mouse being the child of the parents. But I could never get my mind wrapped around it as a kid, and still, at some level, it just doesn't make "sense."

But also, Charlotte's Web is so beautiful and clear and inviting. Re-reading it recently, I was reminded of how incredibly well-written the book is. Few books are so satisfying to me in their utter precision and grace. I forgot how sad the book is, though. Not in a contrived way, nor in a sentimental way. Just part of the story.