OK children what is it with these cats and mice that they can never live in peace?
For hundreds of years people have written ‘Cat and Mouse’ stories in which the mice try to find ways of tricking or escaping from their old enemy but always seem to end up being eaten anyway. Whether it is an Aesop fable or a Tom & Jerry cartoon we are fascinated by this ancient battle and I suppose we are hoping every time that the mouse might score a victory or at least get away with his whiskers intact. In this cat and mouse story Tibbalt is the fierce cat and the mice this time have got together into a ‘mousie nation’ to fight him. For a moment it seems the pious Tibbalt might have seen the error of his ways and be about to give up eating mice – but can he be trusted?
Basil Bunting (1900-1985) was a modernist British poet whose long autobiographical poem Briggflatts (1965) cemented his reputation as one of the leading writers of the twentieth century. He spent some time living in Persia and used his knowledge of the language to translate a popular children’s poem Mush u Gurba (Cat and Mouse) by Obaid–e Zakani (1300-1371) into English, calling it The Pious Cat, and setting it in Haltwhistle, in his native Northumberland. Although intended to be read primarily by children, Zakani, who has been dubbed the Persian Swift, was a highly regarded satirical poet and ‘Cat and Mouse’ has been described as a ‘thinly veiled warning on the perils of dealing with tyranny’.
John Fowler’s illustrations bring alive the never ending war which exists between cats and mice and will delight today’s children as well as raising questions for adult readers. Tibbalt, the cat in the poem, is shown as a fierce and uncompromising feline with an occasional whiff of conscience but in the end this is a cautionary tale of which Bunting himself said; “Perhaps not everything in it is true, but bits of it are very true indeed”.