When I started the 2016 Reading Challenge, I made a rule that I would stick to books I hadn’t read before. The “book I hadn’t read since high school” category required that I re-read a book, and I broke my own rule with We, a book I knew I’d read but couldn’t remember much about.
For this Bonus Round, I looked at list of satirical books. I learned that I’ve read quite a lot of satire in my life without really thinking about it – Catch-22, Animal Farm, most Kurt Vonnegut books, and so on. I needed some satire I hadn’t read.
Something made me think of The Mouse That Roared – not the book about Disney Studios, but the 1955 novel by Leonard Wibberly, about The Duchy of Grand Fenwick, the world’s smallest nation, which, facing bankruptcy, declares war on The United States of America, knowing they’d quickly lose, but also knowing that the US tends to supply financial aid to countries it defeats. (Spoiler: Things do not go as planned.) I’d seen the movie adaptation long ago, but had never read the book.
I made up my mind that I was going to read The Mouse That Roared. Unfortunately, I learned that the book is out of print. The Seattle Public Library didn’t have a copy, and neither did Project Gutenberg. The library did have one, very old copy of the 1962 sequel – The Mouse on the Moon, also by Leonard Wibberly. So I went with that.
The Duchy of Grand Fenwick continues to struggle with finances. It lacks the budget necessary to build infrastructure which would entice French tourists to visit Grand Fenwick on their way to Switzerland. Grand Fenwick is completely without modern plumbing, and its main road is inadequate for tourism.
Meanwhile, Her Grace, Duchess Gloriana XII, is requesting a $50,000 fur coat so that she would look more like the leader of a nation. $50,000 is more than the entire annual budget of Grand Fenwick.
The Count of Mountjoy, serving as Prime Minister, holds a meeting with the rest of Grand Fenwick’s heads of government, requesting permission to ask The United States of America for a $50,000 loan in order to buy Her Grace a fur coat. The permission is granted.
A few days later, the US Secretary of State receives a letter from the Prime Minister of The Duchy of Grand Fenwick. The letter requests a loan of $5,050,000 – $5 million to launch a manned mission to the moon, and $50,000 for a fur coat.
(The Mouse on the Moon was written before Apollo 11 landed on the moon.)
The US Secretary of State is puzzled by the loan to buy a fur coat, but, being familiar with Grand Fenwick, recognizes that the $5 million request is actually to install plumbing without the embarrassment of admitting that it’s a backward country.
The Secretary and his assistant agree that helping Grand Fenwick to “join the Space Race” would make the USA popular with The United Nations. The race to the moon is supposed to be a worldwide effort, but, so far, it’s been only between two nations. The Secretary decides to make it a grant, instead of a loan, and to up the amount of the grant to $50 million.
The Count of Mountjoy had no authority to ask for the $5 million loan, and narrowly avoids impeachment. The leaders of Grand Fenwick decide that the best thing to do with the money, for the sake of international relations, is to modernize its plumbing, buy Her Grace a fur coat, and to throw the rest of the money away on pointless research toward a manned moon mission.
The Duchy of Grand Fenwick has two things which make it world famous: a wine named Pinot Grand Fenwick (an American knock-off named Pinot Grand Enwick is the source of Grand Fenwick’s financial troubles) and a brilliant physicist named Dr. Kokintz.
Dr. Kokintz discovers that Pinot Grand Fenwick makes an excellent rocket fuel, in a most unexpected way. Suddenly, the race to the moon is between The United States of America, The Soviet Union – and the tiny Duchy of Grand Fenwick.
The US believes that Grand Fenwick is modernizing its plumbing, and is using the cover story of a moon mission to save face. The Soviet Union believes that the story of Grand Fenwick entering the space race is Western propaganda, and that the tiny nation is actually just modernizing its plumbing.
The Mouse on the Moon is a brilliant and entertaining satire of politics and power. It’s a shame that it’s fading into obscurity.
- A satirical book