FORGOTTEN BOOK: THE COACHMAN RAT by David Henry Wilson, 1989
This is the 84th in my series of Forgotten Books.
I must confess that I have had this book for more than 20 years and never quite got around to reading it though I had heard great things about it. Seems that is frequently the case when you have thousands of books and your “To Be Read” stack fills more than one bookcase.
But I am glad that I finally got around to this one. I was looking for something to read for this week’s column and this one literally fell off the shelf and landed at my feet. And, since my forgotten film this week featured a character named Mouse, it is only fitting that the forgotten book should feature a rat.
This is a retelling of multiple fairy tales, the most prominent being that of Cinderella. Robert, our hero, is a rat roaming around an unnamed town who finds himself fascinated by Man and his traps. He learns how to avoid the traps until he is ready to study them. He finds himself at the home of Amadea, a beautiful young serving girl and he decides she would not hurt him and allows himself to be trapped.
That evening, she is visited by the “Woman of Light” who turns him into a coachman while six white mice become horses and a pumpkin is turned into a golden coach. He is given intelligence and finds himself talking with the footmen while Amadea is dancing and enjoying the party. Suddenly the clock strikes midnight and he finds himself changing back into a rat, the coach becomes a pumpkin and the horses return to their mousey forms.
The pumpkin is smashed and the white mice are killed, but Robert manages to escape. He returns home but finds that his family no longer accepts him. He thinks like a man and he speaks like a man. He eventually makes his way back to Amadea’s house but she is no longer there. He hears her step-sisters talking about how if they had only cut off their toes the slipper might have fit and they would be with the prince rather than her.
Robert makes the acquaintance of Mr. Biggs, who imprisons him and has him speak at the local trade fairs where he makes money. Robert is eventually sold to Dr. Richter who wants to know more about the rat and his condition. He is convinced that Robert believes what he says but Dr. Richter cannot believe in Magic so there must be another explanation. Robert merely wants to talk with Amadea to ask her to bring back the ‘Woman of Light’ so he can be a man again. Eventually he meets up with Devlin, who arranges for a meeting with the Princess Amadea.
Unfortunately she cannot contact the Woman but promises to pass along his request when she does meet her again. Robert is ecstatic and so is Devlin, but for entirely different reasons.
At this point I am not going to summarize more because crucial plot points occur here and I would rather not do the spoilers because they are clever and worth finding on your own. Let’s just say that Robert does eventually assume human form but at a high cost. He discovers good and evil and does both.
This was a very good and clever book which I really enjoyed. Many people have played with revisions to fairy tales over the years and this is one of the better retellings. I can recommend this one highly.
The book is readily available at the usual internet locations for a minimal price if you are so interested. And you should be.
Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.