Advent, My Way #14

mousehole-cat-cover

A Christmas story with all the ingredients to make a reader like me happy:

Drama in the form of a good human, willing to sacrifice all to save his friends.

A setting in a place familiar to us, and beloved.

A storm at sea.

An heroic cat who saves the day.

And a happy ending at Christmastide.

Put it all together in a book with beautiful illustrations and it becomes the story of The Mousehole Cat, by Antonia Barber and illustrations by Nicola Bayley.

This is another book I put out at Christmas when I remember, and I am always glad when I remember, to take time to re-read this beautiful book and enjoy it. It’s a children’s book and yet . . .

The book is set in southwest England, in Cornwall, in the tiny village called Mousehole. That’s pronounced “Mowzle,” unless you’re an uninformed American tourist (don’t ask me how I know this. I just do.) This is a beautiful region; we’ve been there, to see the tiny harbor at Mousehole and the wild sea beyond the harbor wall.

As the story goes, old Tom, a fisherman, and his cat Mowzer live in the town. They live alone together, their families long grown and gone.

A fishing village, Mousehole flourishes until one year at Christmas when a great storm rages for days. Mowzer knows it’s the Great Storm-Cat brewing.

The fishing boats of Mousehole cannot leave the harbor and, as Christmas approaches, the people, not to mention the village cats, are starving.

tom-and-mowzer

Tom tells Mowzer:

Mowzer, my handsome, it will soon be Christmas, and no man can stand by at Christmas and see children starve.

Someone must go fishing come what may, and I think it must be me. It cannot be the young men, for they have wives and children and mothers to weep for them if they do not return. But my wife and parents are dead long since and my children are grown and gone.

Because it was the same for Mowzer, and because, if old Tom did not come back, she would not care to carry on without him, Mowzer decides to join old Tom on his boat.

Mowzer and Tom set off and the Great Storm-Cat toys with them, plays with them, batters them, as a cat with a mouse, swatting the small boat around, threatening them . . . and enjoying the game.

storm-cat

At the critical moment, though, when the Great Storm-Cat comes in for the kill, Mowzer starts to feel “a sudden, strange sadness for him” in his loneliness, and sings to him, and purrs.

mousehole-cat-drawing

And her purring rose like a hymn to home above the noise of the Great Storm-Cat’s howling . . .

Puzzled, he paused in his howling, bending his ear to catch the strange sound. It seemed to him that he had once heard such a song long before, when he was no more than a Storm-Kitten . . .

Then the Great Storm-Cat began to purr with Mowzer, and as the soft sound grew, the winds waned and the waves weakened.

Night fell and the little boat sailed back across a slackening sea . . .

Mowzer and old Tom return to their village and find all the people and cats keeping vigil for them.

storm-cat-and-harbor

They come back with a hold full of fish. On the night before Christmas Eve, the townspeople cook and fry the fish and bake half a hundred star-gazy pies.

“Then, people and cats, they feasted together, until the hunger was no more than a memory.”

happy-ending

Sigh. I love a happy ending. And a sensitive, sweet cat who uses her purr to good effect.

This isn’t a traditional Christmas story. No Christ child, no manger, no Santa, no snow, no red-nosed reindeer.

But it still honors the best of humans (and cats!) at Christmas–community, compassion for the less fortunate, sacrifice, peace, plenty, and thanksgiving.

Do you know a more beautiful book for this time of year?

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56 thoughts on “Advent, My Way #14

  1. I knew of this book, but I have never read it and I don’t have a copy… something I think I must rectify. I’m a bit of a sucker for John Masefield’s ‘The Box of Delights’ at Christmas… I have the BBC adaptation on dvd and do love it.

  2. I had forgotten all about this book – and here I am now living in Cornwall! My daughter adored it as a child. I have ordered a beautiful hardback copy – ready for my grandsons’ arrival 🙂

  3. That is a beautiful book to bring out for this festival. The story is so sweet (you retold it beautifully) and the illustrations are simply superb! I’ve not heard of this book before, there’s so many books still to find out about!

    • The book is beautiful–on so many levels and I like that it isn’t really a Christmas book but set at that time of year when we all seem to be more open to the idea of loving our fellows, etc., etc.

  4. I think Starry Gazey pie involves EELS, but I could be wrong. This is a really lovely story. Other than the Littlest Snowman, which I mentioned in another comment, I also like Walter: the Story of a Rat, by Barbara Wersba. Fab illustrations by Donna Diamond. About a rat and a writer at Christmas…

  5. I’m another one who has never seen this story, it is lovely and purrfect for the time of year. I haven’t been leaving a comment but wait for each installment and enjoy each day. Thank you for your beautiful words.

  6. I collect Christmas books, especially ones with cats.I’m writing one set in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. It’s part of my ZuZu series (she’s a little tabby) and am enjoying the whole process. This sounds like a book I would really like and I thank you for this lovely post.

  7. Now I am missing having a household of children to read to…I know, I can read children’s books myself ( and I will, and I do!). Love stories that reflect human (and animal) spirit for the greater good. I still put out a few favorite children’s books of mine as well during the holiday. Thanks for sharing this one!

  8. Such a lovely story. I don’t think I have a special Christmas book but The Snow Goose is a story I will happily listen to, or read, at any time of the year. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/dec/19/winter-reads-snow-goose-paul-gallico Reading this link I came to know that the original illustrator, Peter Scott, was the only child of Robert Falcon Scott and Kathleen Bruce, both of whom were important figures in Christchurch history.

    • Those little connections make something like a book all the more special. I know that I especially love The Mousehole Cat because I have been to Mousehole and can envision the harbor wall, etc.

  9. I had forgotten about this beautiful story. Thank you for the reminder. Like you, I had to go to Mousehole when I was in Cornwall to see where the story took place!

    • It’s such a sweet town–sort of self-consciously so at this point but I love seeing that harbor wall and imagining old Tome and Mowzer heading out in their small boat.

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