Russell Hoban: Overview

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Author: Robert Irwin
Editor: David Pringle
Date: 1996
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 1,329 words

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The Mouse and His Child has been acclaimed as a classic of children's literature. However, Hoban did not specifically write it for children and it can be and is read by adults. Indeed, while the story makes sense at a child's level of understanding, many of the book's themes, paradoxes and parodies will go over the head of even the most sophisticated child. The clockwork tin mouse-father and child constitute a single toy seemingly doomed to dance round in circles. When the story opens, they are in a toyshop together with a large doll's house, a toy elephant and a toy seal. The mouse-father and -son, however, are bought by a family and years later, when their clockwork mechanism breaks down, they are discarded. The rest of the story then concerns their quest for the paradise they lost when they were purchased. They also seek the means to become self-winding. Their quest is simultaneously a flight as Manny Rat seeks to use them as slave labour in the chain-gang of tin toys that are employed on the scrapheaps on which the rats feed. In the end, father and child are reunited with the elephant and the seal in the doll's house and an artificial family is reconstituted in the refurbished doll's house. However, despite the cosy ending, the overall stress of this bleak yet comic book has been on such matters as the predatory ruthlessness of society, the pressures of commerce, the phoneyness of much academic discourse and the problems posed by the nature of infinity.

Father-son relations are the heart of The Mouse and His Child. They also figure largely in Hoban's first novel to be written overtly for adults, The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz. In this novel, the father and son live in a world which closely parallels our own, but one in which lions are extinct. The father, who has been earning a decent living by making rather strange maps, suddenly abandons his wife and son to go...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420004006