Sunday, January 5, 2014


Everyone’s heard the nursery rhyme, The Three Blind Mice. It’s a short and simple rhyming verse about three blind mice who get their tails chopped off by a farmer’s wife. But, did you ever wonder what might have happened to the mice that caused them to be blind in the first place, or what might have happened to them after that bloody incident?

Well, wonder no more. Catherine Lewis answers these, and many other questions, in a whimsical, imaginative and very informative way, all the while teaching readers about literary concepts. She takes the story of The Three Blind Mice to a whole new level by creating an abundance of story matter about these three little rodents and their plight to explain such concepts as allegory, structure and red herring. She also includes some terms and concepts I had never heard of, like leitmotif and bildungsroman. Do you know what those terms mean? I do now, thanks to this delightful and informative book.

For instance, to explain the concept of “story”, Lewis writes simply: “Three blind mice ran after the farmer’s wife. She cut off their tales with a carving knife.” At the bottom of the page, in a section called “Snip of the Tale,” she adds: “On the most basic level, a sequence of events.” Of course, many of the terms and concepts in the book require much longer explanations than this, but regardless, all are very entertaining. She even writes her own “fairy tale” and “parable” to illustrate each of those concepts.

To explain the term “leitmotif” she writes: “Matilda Bethoon chop/chop/chops/ slender parsnips. She wields her Ginsu knife with precision, a steal at $19.95. It’s razor sharp, but neither it nor other kitchen toys – bamboo steamer, Teflon spoons – can assuage her agitation. She clenches a bunch of carrots and whacks of their green tops. Chop. Chopchop. Chopchopchop. An orange chip slaps the floor. Matilda stoops to pick it up. Yikes! Three mice charge her, trailing their dirty wigglers. ‘Hiyah’ //”/ She explains in the Snip of the Tale: “Something that reoccurs in a work (an image, object, action, word, phrase, etc.) that tends to unify the work and establish a theme.” NOTE: She has named the farmer’s wife Matilda Bethoon and the mice are named Pee Wee, Oscar and Mary.

Lewis also includes an Appendix at the end with each term explained in greater detail.

This is one of the most entertaining, imaginative, and yet very informative books about writing that I have ever read. I loved it! The writing is lively, and the chapters are short, so I was able to finish it at one sitting. However, I intend to keep a copy of it handy in my office to refer to when I have a question about a particular literary term.

If you're a writer, run to your nearest library and pick up a copy of this wonderful book. After you read it, you will probably want your own copy, like I do.