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Literature / The Mouse That Roared

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"There isn't a more profitable undertaking for any country than to declare war on the United States and to be defeated."

Tully: Well, Your Grace, we're home. Actually, there's been a slight change of plan. Ah, I know it'll come as a surprise, a pleasant one I hope, but we ... sort of won.
Sir Rupert: You sort of what?
Tully: Well sir, it's a long story, but we captured the Q-Bomb, the most destructive weapon in the world. And we got some prisoners too. Ah, this is Doctor Kokintz, who invented the bomb, this is his daughter, Helen, this is General Snippet, and these are New York policemen. Oh, and, ah, this is the bomb.
Sir Rupert: Blithering idiot!

The Mouse That Roared is a 1955 novel by Irish-American author Leonard Wibberley, which was adapted into a 1959 film starring Peter Sellers, William Hartnell, and Jean Seberg.

Lodged between France and Switzerland lies the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, a tiny monarchy. The local economy is entirely dependent on the one product that Fenwick exports, its trademark Pinot Grand Fenwick wine. However, when an American company throws a copycat product on the market ("Pinot Grand Enwick"), the statelet is threatened by bankruptcy.

To prevent the worst, the Fenwickers devise an ingenious plan: To declare war on the USA, get defeated, and then allow themselves to be reimbursed by American subsidies. Soon, a troop of twenty-four longbowmen in mail armor boards a ship to New York City with the intent to surrender to the American authorities — only to run into unexpected obstacles.


Like the film Dr. Strangelove, the book (and later film) The Mouse That Roared was a farcical look at nuclear politics, though it ended on a far happier note than Kubrick's film. Wibberley wrote four sequels to the initial novel: Beware of the Mouse (1958), The Mouse on the Moon (1962), The Mouse on Wall Street (1969), and, finally, The Mouse that saved the West (1981). Each of them follows the same basic formula — the Duchy of Grand Fenwick triumphs over the powerful nations of the Earth in some improbable way.

The third novel, The Mouse on the Moon, was made into another film in 1963 and features Grand Fenwick winning The Space Race.


The novel and film of The Mouse That Roared include examples of:

  • Absent-Minded Professor: Dr. Kokintz has his moments.
  • Alliterative Name: The "Tiny Twenty".
  • Artistic License – Chemistry: The Q-Bomb.
  • Artistic License – Explosives: Everything regarding the Q-Bomb, including its ridiculous explosive potency and equally ridiculously small size.
  • Author Tract: Wibberley used the The Mouse That... series to present his views on politics and finance, most notably in The Mouse on Wall Street which decried the British-style socialism that rises up when the Labour-esque opposition party wins control of the government.
  • Credits Gag: The typical Columbia logo is replaced by a live-action model, who runs away, scared of a mouse.
  • Doomsday Device: It works in the most effective way: everyone's afraid of it going off... and it's broken.
  • Double Vision: Peter Sellers' three characters interact with each other in this fashion.
  • Driving a Desk: Numerous examples in the film.
  • Eek, a Mouse!!: The film opens with a Logo Joke featuring this gag, with the torch-bearing gal in the Columbia Pictures logo fleeing off her pedestal upon seeing a mouse.
  • Empty Quiver: Grand Fenwick manages to steal the Q-Bomb during its invasion of the USA.
  • Fun with Subtitles: At one point Tully has a "conversation" with a cheerfully garrulous Frenchman; the audience gets subtitles to learn what the man is saying, but the scene ends with one of his countrymen asking Tully what the man said, and Tully saying in English "I don't know, I don't speak French." This comment is subtitled in English.
  • Honor Before Reason: General Snippet insists on being treated as a prisoner of war (read: mistreated) by the Grand Fenwickians when they, in their confusion at what is going on and wishing to be good hosts, give all of the other people they unwillingly captured grand feasts and comfortable rooms.
  • I'm Not Hungry: General Snippet stubbornly insists on the bare minimum requirements for prisoners of war, as stated by the Geneva Convention, all while his men are wined and dined at the grand hall.
  • Invaded States of America: Sort of. Fenwick decides to invade the United States in order to have them rebuild their country after surrendering, but...
  • Loads and Loads of Roles: Peter Sellers, as was so often the case.
  • Love at First Sight: Tully towards Helen in the movie.
  • Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter: Helen Kokintz, except that her father is not mad. (It should be noted that Helen did not exist in the original novel...)
  • Luxury Prison Suite: As mentioned under "Honour before Reason," the Fenwickians treat their POW's very well, to said prisiner's consternation. This is likely a holdover from the Medieval era.
  • Micro Monarchy / Ruritania : Grand Fenwick. Exploring all the possibilities of this setting is arguably the raison d'etre of the Mouse series, making it a candidate for Trope Codifier.
  • Mistaken for Aliens: The invading Fenwickians.
  • The Noun Who Verbed: The title.
  • One Steve Limit: After "winning" against the US and gaining the Q-bomb, Grand Fenwick receives a letter of support from China. It is suggested to the Prime Minister they should avoid contact with Red China.
    Prime Minister Mountjoy: It's not from Red China, it's from the other one.
  • Placebotinum Effect: Possibly subverted at the end of the movie, as the Q-Bomb's lights flicker on after a mouse crawls out of the "dud".
  • Prequel: The second book in the series, Beware of the Mouse, takes place in Grand Fenwick during the 15th century.
  • Really Gets Around: The movie lampshades the fact that Peter Sellers is playing multiple characters by telling the viewer that, if they've noticed many Fenwickians look alike, it's because the first duke "was the father of his country, in every possible way".
  • Ridiculously Potent Explosive: The Q-Bomb is a nuclear device so powerful it can take out a continent if it goes off, small enough to be carried around like (and is "played" by) an American football with some bits glued to it.
  • Serious Business: Wine. Justified in that the American ripoff brand threatens Grand Fenwick's most important industry.
  • The Short War: America loses to Grand Fenwick in half an hour, before anyone is even fully aware that there was a war in the first place.
  • Springtime for Hitler: The original plot to lose the war. But also...
    • In one of the sequel books, The Mouse on Wall Street, Fenwick has become wealthy due to part of the settlement of the aforementioned war (and the sudden popularity of wine-flavored gum as a substitute for smokers note ). However, the Duchess feels that this newfound wealth is corrupting Fenwick's idyllic lifestyle, so she sets out to lose it all on the stock market by picking stocks at random (by throwing darts at the financial section of the paper). However, when other Wall Street traders notice Fenwick is investing heavily in a particular stock, the traders conclude the Duchess must have inside information and immediately invest themselves, driving the price of that stock higher and earning Fenwick even more money. In the end, she sells off all the stocks for cash, has the cash shipped back to Fenwick, and secretly burns it.
    • The Mouse fill-in-the-scenario film series ran on this trope. In The Mouse On The Moon. the prime Minister of the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, desperate for indoor plumbing, tries to milk aid out of the US after their main export of wine has turned explosive by asking for cash for a space program. The US, seeing a cheap way to look like they are helping to make space international without doing something as stupid as helping another nation get an advantage over them in the space race by funding someone competent, gives them a million dollars. Keen to top this, the Soviets send them an old rocket, which the PM plans to turn into a boiler for the new hot water system. The Scientist from The Mouse That Roared discovers how to make an anti-gravity mix out of the explosive wine and without telling the PM that he is really planning to go to the moon, takes off successfully.
  • Uncanny Family Resemblance: The movie opening states that if some Fenwickians seem remarkably alike (while showing the Grand Duchess Gloriana, the Prime Minister Mountjoy, and Tully Bascombe, all of whom are played by Peter Sellers, along with a statue of Grand Fenwick's founder), it is because Sir Roger Fenwick "was in every possible way, the father of his country."
  • Unintentionally Notorious Crime: Ok, declaring war on the United States of America doesn't sounds "unintentionally notorious", but Grand Fenwick had every intention to deliberately lose and scam some money for "reparations". And then the Fenwickian soldiers accidentally steal an experimental weapon of mass destruction capable of apocalyptic damage, making the Duchy a major political power (and target for all sides of the Cold War).
  • What Could Possibly Go Wrong?: Rupert and Benter agree to the "war" they know they can't win because they're planning on the post-World War habit of the United States lavishly paying to rebuild their former enemies' homelands.note  Unfortunately, their nation is so tiny the U.S. State Department barely even knows they exist, ignoring the declarations of war that Rupert sends. They planned their invasion not only during the height of baseball season, but also during a scheduled Duck and Cover drill for New York, leaving the city defenseless to a platoon of Fenwickian archers. While trying to find someone to surrender to, Tully accidentally comes across a scientist finishing work on the most dangerous weapon in the world, and smitten with the scientist's daughter decides to take them all back to Grand Fenwick.
  • Worst News Judgement Ever: At one point in the movie, a BBC announcer gives the news briefs from around the world, all concerning the US losing to Grand Fenwick... except for the US, where the big news is the latest baseball scores, mis-identified by the BBC news-reader as "The American version of football."


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