Of Rats and Men –
A familiar fable by Æsop, rewritten for The Cunning Rustic.
There is that old Æsop fable about Country Mouse and City Mouse, whereupon City mouse goes to the country and is offered a meager meal, and so returns to his metropolitan home with his rural cousin and offers him the promise of a king’s feast. The feast is interrupted by two dogs, forcing both rodents to scurry away hungry and
unfulfilled. Country Mouse returns to his home, secure in the knowledge that his poor plate fills the belly better than a fantastic meal devoured by a dog.
It’s the sort of fable that makes you come away feeling as though Country Mouse may lack courage, giving away a chance at riches for the want of daring. Perhaps we should praise City Mouse for his winning of many a fine meal and that his rural cousin simply came on a bad day. Obviously City Mouse had benefited from a certain degree of opulence, but we are to believe that Country Mouse should be happy with a meager lot. Perhaps if Æsop himself actually wrote this, that we should not be surprised that it comes from a sort of slave mentality, as Æsop was himself a slave to the city loving Greeks. Maybe this story was his own justification for being content with his lot! If City Mouse feels the risk is worth the reward, then good on him, but I think the true story here is lacking, so I propose a rewritten version of the story, something for the cunning rustic.
One winter, City Mouse goes to visit his cousin, Country Mouse and the two sit at dinner together. Country Mouse offers his cousin the finest of his harvest, fresh grains, old cheese and a good cider to wash it down with. They relax and converse by the fire for the evening, and early the following day, City Mouse returns to his home, because he has a very important meeting to attend. Some weeks later (after City Mouse clears his schedule) Country Mouse comes to visit, with the intention of spending a few days as he has much leisure time before the spring planting.
While in the city, the two cousins are mugged by a gang of cats, accosted by two weasels selling cheese insurance, and given a lecture on proper rodent behavior by a rat, who insisted on being referred to as ‘non-taxonomically specific member of the superfamily Muroidea’. After finding that their reservation at the fine-dining restaurant ‘Le Roach’ had been double booked they were forced to eat a meager meal from ‘McPink Sludge’ fast food. After a few days of this, Country Mouse returned home to his favorite chair, and recanted the tales to his wife and family with much merriment.
Of course, would it be that the story would end there! The natural conclusion would be that City Mouse returns to his rural cousin, happy to escape the city. Soon though, he hears a knock at the door. Two insurance weasels had come to inspect the cheese stock, to make sure that it is in compliance with their new contract. While there, the Weasels heard the children talking about the joys of mouse life, and so they call their friend the ‘non-taxonomically specific member of the superfamily Muroidea’ who begins a program in the local school to reeducate them as to why mice are no different than rats. Finding that the homemade cheese is not in compliance with current regulations, the cheese is confiscated (although rumor has it some ended up on the table at ‘Le Roach’) and the fine grains were taken as back taxes. Now, having nothing to feed the children, Country Mouse starts hitting the cider too hard and his wife has applied for a job at the new ‘McPink Sludge’ that has opened at the major intersection recently built through their farm.
A friend of mine who holds some more ‘progressive’ views was talking recently about how torn he was between moving to a place where his values were embraced, versus staying put and making things ‘better’. I have always said that the big difference between Country Mouse and City Mouse is that when Country Mouse experiences the City, he doesn’t like it and so he goes home. When City Mouse experiences the country, he doesn’t like it and so begins to build a city. Perhaps old Æsop was right, and we should learn to be content with our lot, or find ways to improve it by honest means. Perhaps Aesop never really experienced the country at all, and that’s why his animals all talked