Friday, November 26, 2010

My Favorite Reads: THE LINNET'S TALE by Dale C. Willard

Right at the beginning let me say that I consider THE LINNET'S TALE a classic of its kind, a simply wonderful example of a book that creates a tangible link between child and adult. A book by an author who loves the English language and has loads of fun proving it. (A book that, by the way, would be great fun to read aloud to anyone within listening distance.) A book that sparkles with imagination and wit as the author spins the charming tale of a village of mice and the beautiful linnet - of the title - who comes to live among them and who narrates the tale.

I read this several years ago and still remember the delight I felt while doing so. All I have to do is think of this book and I smile. The Linnet's Tale was published in 2002 and I've always wondered why there hasn't been a sequel.

From the back cover: In the garden of an English cottage live the lovable, highly literate field mice of Tottensea Burrows - Peebles Carryforth the Mayor, Opportune Baggs, the inventor, the Fieldpea family with their three beautiful daughters, Grenadine, Almandine, and Incarnadine: the widow Proserpine Pockets and her young son Farnaby; and Merchanty Swift, the bold mouse who becomes the hero of THE LINNET'S TALE.

But if you're thinking this is just another sugary tale of cute mice doing cute things, you'd be wrong - there are no attacks of the cutesies here - author Dale C. Willard doesn't allow it.

He manages to come down, always, just this side of an overdose of cute, at least to my eyes.
The book reveals a secret world unto itself and soon enough you forget you're reading about mice and become involved in the ongoing drama of a way of life that is about to change.

Because the language in this book is so darned beguiling, I'm simply going to lift some paragraphs and post them for you to enjoy. This book, needless to say, would make a great Christmas present for any inventive, imaginative, language-loving adult or child you may know.

I am, of course, a bird. That is beyond dispute. And though some Americans will call me a house finch, I suppose, until the day they perish from the earth, I should like you to know at the beginning of things, that I refer to myself as a linnet.

Small difference, you might say. House finch. Linnet.

Perhaps. Still, would you be called a house finch if it were in your power to be known as a linnet? No, I thought not. Nevertheless, let's be good friends - whatever you may call me - and, though I did wish you to know my position, I shall not bring this matter up again.

And now to my purpose. I should like to tell you about a delightful company of field mice who once lived in a place called Tottensea Burrows and how it came to happen that they all went away...

Chapter 1 - Grenadine Learns the Language

Grenadine Fieldpea used to conjugate field mouse verbs, aloud, while sitting at the breakfast table, swinging her legs under the chair and waiting for her mother to finish boiling the oatmeal. It sounded like this:

I will eat porridge
you will eat porridge
he will eat porridge.

we will eat porridge
you will eat porridge
they will eat porridge

I will be eating porridge
you will be eating porridge
And so on.

Grenadine's sisters, Almandine and Incarnadine, would beg their mother to make her stop this and, indeed, at some point - as no one could likely parse an entire field mouse verb before breakfast! - her mother would be forced to do exactly that, saying something like "Stop conjugating Grenadine, and eat your porridge. It's getting quite cold. And besides, dear, you've got the future perfect progressive all in a muddle. It's 'I will have been eating' not 'I will have been having eaten.' "

Grenadine was, all her life, a quite linguistic mouse. But when she was little this characteristic tended toward extremes. At one point, for example, when her interest had turned a little away from conjugating verbs and more toward acquiring vocabulary, she began to run across words in the dictionary that she thought very fine and that needed to be more evident in field mouse usage. She thereupon undertook, herself, a small crusade to this end. The first method she tried was simply to quote the definition of the words to everyone, in turn giving full particulars, and at the end, an exhortation. Mr. and Mrs. Fieldpea found it pleasant enough to be accosted a few times a day by a small mouse holding a large book who would read out something like:

SIMULTANEOUS adjective: existing or occurring at the same time. See COINCIDENT.
followed by "Please use that as soon as possible." Or

SUBSEQUENT adjective: following in time, order or place. See SUCCEEDING.

"Before lunch, if you can. Thanks."

Some description later in the book pertaining to our hero, Merchanty Swift.

But if something of a tragic figure in amours, Mechanty Swift was legendary in commerce and had certain accomplishments of exchange which were repeated by others in tones almost hushed for very awe. Preeminent among these, to be sure, was the cheese thing. It requires a small book, I'm afraid, to tell it, but if one is interested the account is available in any reputable mousebook shop. SWIFT AND MODERN CHEESES may sound a dry tome but in fact I've always thought it moves rather well, if one may be forgiven for saying so oneself, and it is populated by the most colorful characters of every stripe, from the darkest brigands of mongery - smugglers and hoarders and monopolists and the like - to the fairest heroes and heroines of the mercantile arts. One might enjoy it.

He appeared to all, Merchanty Swift, a casual fellow - easily met and full of good stories. But his coworkers and a few close friends knew him to be, in fact, almost meticulous. Indeed, though I am certain that there were times when he actually worried, he had such an enormous natural talent for what he did that his work appeared easy and effortless. It wasn't, of course. It was difficult, rigorous, often tedious, and occasionally dangerous. But there was this: he had nerves of steel, Merchanty Swift.

Those who had seen him in the marketplace, toe to toe with bullies and wheedlers and flatterers and whiners - the whole panoply, in fact, of conscienceless higglers in the world - were certain that Merchanty Swift would come down in his price (or up his offer as the case may be) exactly one mousesecond before his opponent (if buying) would huff away from the table having taken irremediable umbrage or (if selling) would hurl his wares back into his valise in an ostentatious gesture of undisguised finality. Those who witnessed such bargaining events were often heard to use the word "breathtaking" in their description.

If you would like to read more about the mice of Tottensea Burrow and the strange affair that led to their going away, pick up a copy of THE LINNET'S TALE wherever you can find it. If you do, I truly hope you will love it as much as I do.

Note: Occasional light-hearted drawings in the book are by James Noel Smith.

Link to AT HOME WITH BOOKS' My Favorite Reads.


  1. I went to my Daughters blog Renee tells all and saw you are a follower, I love your header an post, Stop over and jump on as a follower, Happy Thanksgiving Yvonne

  2. Thanks for dropping by, Yvonne. I hope you had a great Thanksgiving as well. :)


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