Character Connection 43
Remember when Thursday was "Character Connection Day" around here? The Introverted Reader hasn't revived this meme, but I feel like reliving the good old days with a post about one of the most wonderful characters I've ever encountered. It helps that she also carries the potential for great controversy. ;-)
Now if only Saturday were still "Locus Focus Day" . . .
Yeah, we can dream!
Yeah, we can dream!
by Margery Sharp
. . . "I dare say you'll have to go into pretty rough quarters. I tell you my blood boils when I think of it--"
"Why?" whispered Miss Bianca. "Why does your blood boil?"
"Because you're so beautiful!" cried Bernard recklessly. "It's not fair to ask you to be brave as well! You should be protected and cherished and loved and honoured, and I for my part ask nothing better than to lie down and let you walk on me."
Miss Bianca rested her head lightly against his shoulder.
"You give me such a good opinion of myself," she said softly, "perhaps I could be brave as well."
When pantry mouse Bernard first explains to the very spoiled, but very charming nursery pet Miss Bianca that she is being asked to leave her porcelain pagoda (You read that right) and to take part in a rescue mission to one of the most awful prisons in the world, she faints at his feet. Not from excitement, either, but from sheer horror. She is finally persuaded to help--and she does have a good heart--but as you read in the excerpt, it is her awareness of someone's romantic adoration that makes the real difference.
I don't know if you can tell, but Margery Sharp wrote The Rescuers in the 1950s. I'm not sure what the other "Girls and Adventures" stories were like back then, but they probably weren't as scornful of refined ladies as heroines as their equivalents are today. Penelope Pitstop managed to carry the Pretty Blonde Girl flag into the 1960s, but "Pussycat" Melody was already getting second billing to Josie in the 1970s, and in the very next decade, despite the best efforts of Rainbow Brite, children's stories were starting to reach the consensus that unless girls were willing to be a tad tomboyish, they didn't deserve to have adventures. A character with Miss Bianca's aristocratic airs would be allowed along only as a foil to the real heroine.
But decades of media conditioning were no match against Sharp's littlest mouse, when I finally met her. Though I didn't fall for her as quickly as Bernard did, I was a goner after the scene in which she has to draw a very important map . . . makes a huge mess out of it because she doesn't even know what a compass is . . . and desperately sketches a lady's garden party hat on the paper just to prove that she's not that horrible an artist. I mean, ROFL!
There's a sense in which Miss Bianca is the most useless third mouse to have on a rescue mission . . . and another sense in which it doesn't matter. To her loyal companions, what is important is not what you can do, but the fact that you're willing to do it at all. If you can make life more pleasant by sculpting artificial flowers from old bread to brighten up the headquarters, that's a bonus! But while that's a wonderful way to see others, it doesn't seem a very realistic approach when stuff needs doing. Never mind that it all works out after Miss Bianca makes at least two valuable contributions that a less cossetted mouse might never have pulled off: for unlike the elegantly drawn hat and the cleverly crafted flowers, these are mostly happy accidents. And of the ex machina variety, yet!
It's clear early in the adventure that when Sharp has to choose between plausible plotting and giving Miss Bianca another moment, Miss Bianca gets the moment. LOL! And when it comes to that friction between plot and character that is supposed to lead to the latter's development? Well, we must admit that growth is hardly necessary for a character already darn near perfect. =P Or to paraphrase Bernard, our heroine is so innocently delightful that it's not fair to ask her to be practical and strategic as well!
Besides, I don't trust any criticism of The Rescuers that is also criticism of Miss Bianca! (So my inner voices can just pipe down now.) Skirting spoilers here, let's say that it wouldn't be so out of character for Miss Bianca if she were to outgrow her life as a pampered pet in a palatial home, but that this predictable progression would ignore the fact that she's actually really useful there. (How may other pets do you know who have the devotion to help their owners learn Ancient Greek and Latin by studying alongside them and the grace to assist at official diplomatic functions?) Despite our heroine's conflicting desire to be worthy of the admiration of a gallant mouse . . . and despite our own conditioning against rarefied ladies in heroic roles . . . it wouldn't be such a bad thing for her to choose the porcelain pagoda as her best possible home.
Image Source: The Rescuers by Margery Sharp