The Nature of Power and the Power of Nature in Mouse Bird Snake Wolf by David Almond and Dave McKean

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Hello, Fats here.

I believe that books magically find their way into a reader’s hands, and that a book appears when you most need it. That being said, I was glad when I found my copy of Mouse Bird Snake Wolf on top of my book tote. Still celebrating our theme on Monsters, Beasts, and Chimeras: Spooks and Spectres, I decided to feature this beautiful, recent collaboration between David Almond and Dave McKean.

Cover design and jacket illustrations by Dave McKean. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

Cover design and jacket illustrations by Dave McKean. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

The gods have created a world – they’ve made mountains, forests, and seas; people and beasts – and now their days are fat with tea and cake, mutual admiration, and long naps in the clouds. But the world has curious gaps in it, and Harry, Sue, and Little Ben set out to fill them. They conjure a twisty thing, a chirpy thing, and a twisty, legless thing. As each creature takes its place in the living world, the children’s ideas grow bolder until the power of their visions proves greater and more dangerous than they, or the gods, could ever have imagined. (Taken from the front jacket flap of the book)

A sample page from the book. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

A sample page from the book. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

Stories that involve the old gods have always fascinated me, especially those that begin with, “Long ago and far away, in a world rather like this one, and with people in it rather like us…” Mouse Bird Snake Wolf was one of the books I bought on impulse. I saw it at Barnes & Noble in San Diego the week it was released. The names David Almond and Dave McKean were enough reason for me to grab the book.

I read it as soon as I got home, and finished it before I had to go to work that night. The story sounds familiar, despite being an original tale by David Almond. In it you will meet gods that have created an incomplete albeit beautiful world. Three children, bless their hearts, have decided to fill the gaps that the gods have left behind.

I tried to search the Internet for a creation story that would most resemble the book. I came across this website that provides links for Creation Stories across the globe. A friend mentioned the story of Fenrir, the beast from Norse mythology which might resemble the “wolfy” thing in the story. I bet there are other websites that contain creation stories or myths such as these but I find it rather tedious to go over every single one of them to find the one closest to Mouse Bird Snake Wolf. When I do, however, I will make sure to post it in the comments box below. Perhaps you know of one?

The wolfy thing. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

The wolfy thing. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

Little Ben sighed. “Have you ever looked into an empty space?” he asked his friends.

“Of course we have,” they said.

“Sometimes,” Little Ben continued, “when you look into an empty space, you kind of see something in it.”

All the children wanted to do was to fill the empty spaces in their beautiful, marvelous world. When Harry and Sue witnessed what Little Ben could do by looking deep into an empty space, they decided to create their own “thing.” Little Ben created a mouse, Sue created a bird, and Harry created a snake. I took delight in seeing these children become creators through their imagination.

“Necessity is the mother of invention.” — Plato

When I read the story again, I came to realize that the children have somehow become like the gods. The only difference was that they didn’t want to stop. Although their intention was good, their minds were filled with visions that prompted them to create more. How far will they go? Perhaps the “wolfy” thing will provide the answer that you seek. Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely (Lord Acton). If you see the looks on Harry’s and Sue’s faces, then you will understand.

Beautiful, sinewy artwork by Dave McKean. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

Beautiful, sinewy artwork by Dave McKean. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

The wolf in the story was pretty scary. I didn’t expect it to do what it did in the book. The “unmaking” was quite dramatic, or maybe it was just me. While I was glad about the outcome of the situation, I could not help but be left with feelings of unease. Man is part of nature and nature is part of man. The new and marvellous beast would soon find its way out into the world again.

Here is a short video featuring an exhibition of Dave McKean’s art in Mouse Bird Snake Wolf with Beethoven’s Fur Elise as musical background.

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Read-a-Latte Challenge Update: 200 (150)

  1. I’ve seen a copy of this book in the library but haven’t had a chance to borrow it yet. Sounds perfectly eerie and disturbing as per Almond-McKean collab. 🙂

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    1. It seems like your library has all kinds of books imaginable! Haha! Eerie and disturbing are a way to describe it, indeed. You will enjoy the repetitive nature of its storytelling, much like some of the Philippine folktales we’ve heard of from our parents and grandparents. Hope you get to read it soon! =)

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  2. Really interesting piece on a really interesting book, thanks! I have such love for David Almond & Dave McKean.

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    1. Hello nobodyjones! Thank you for your kind words. While I have not read Slog’s Dad or The Savage, I am a fan of the dynamic duo. Mouse Bird Snake Wolf is definitely a favorite in my shelf. I look forward to more collaborations from them. =)

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  3. The video was nice. I liked the music. 🙂 This book seems great! 😀

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