The Rescuers is a delectable story, full of humor and linguistic wit. The story’s purpose is neither to provide moral instruction nor to explore serious philosophical themes, but instead to delight readers with the comical notion of a heroic quest carried out by mice. This situation, along with a melodramatic plot, Byronic settings, and bursts of purple prose, parodies the conventions of popular romantic literature.
The variety and descriptions of the settings suggest romantic parody: The rescuers travel from the Moot-House of the Prisoners’ Aid Society to Norway, where Miss Bianca’s task is to “simply seek out the bravest mouse in Norway”; back across the stormy North Sea and the English Channel to the Moot-House; and finally to the “country of great gloomy mountains, enormous deserts, [and] rivers like strangled seas” where the Black Castle stands. In contrast to the sweeping drama of these scenes, the cage in which Miss Bianca lives as a pet of the ambassador’s son strikes a note of overdecorated whimsy, with its golden wires, painted flowers, Venetian glass fountain, and flowery name, the Porcelain Pagoda.
Parody is also evident in the characterization of Miss Bianca, with her “small . . . perfect figure” that suggests “a powdered beauty of the court of Louis the Fifteenth”; her “low, sweet voice”; and her affected upper-class mannerisms and diction. She is given to such pseudo-poetic exclamations as “My poor playfellow! Ah me!” and writes terrible poetry: “Though timid beats the female heart,/...
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The Rescuers is part of a strong tradition of miniaturism in children’s literature. Like other classics of this subgenre, such as Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726), E. B. White’s Stuart Little (1945), and Mary Norton’s The Borrowers (1952), The Rescuers sympathetically reflects children’s physically and psychologically weaker position in relationship to adults. Like Norton’s stories of elflike people who live in the hidden crannies of a human’s mansion, it expresses a purely concrete fascination with the material aspects of a small creature’s life: the lovingly decorated mouse holes and large objects ingeniously converted for small folks’ use. Unlike the great classics of miniaturism, however, The Rescuers eschews biting social satire and philosophical reflections on issues such as the nature of existence and the meaning of life, remaining primarily a comedy of manners and a literary parody.
Initially published as an adult title, The Rescuers quickly came to be regarded as a family classic, winning a commendation from the British Library Association in 1959. Margery Sharp continued the adventures of the Prisoners’ Aid Society in equally imaginative and witty sequels. Miss Bianca and Bernard remain the protagonists throughout the series, and various other characters are introduced as assistants on each new rescue mission. The Walt Disney films The Rescuers (1977) and The Rescuers Down Under (1991) are based on the characters and ideas found in the series, but they do not replicate Sharp’s stories.