Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Thursday, June 1, 2023


 The Mouse on Wall Street by Leonard Wibberley  (1969)

If it existed, the Duchy of Grand Fenwick would be an amazing tourist destination.  A mere fifteen square miles in area with a population of some 6000, the pre-industrial Duchy is nestled somewhere in the Northern Alps, abutting both Switzerland and France.  It has three valleys, a river, and a mountain, as well as a large (for a country as small as Grand Fenwick, that is) forest of some five hundred acres.  It has only two resourses:  wine and wool.  The wine, Pinot Grand Fenwick, is revered by connoisseurs throughout the world, and each harvest produces only enough for some 5000 bottles.  The wool, from the wild mountain sheep of the Duchy, and carefully washed in its icy streams, produces a much-prized wool of a delicate shade of cream.  Mail is delivered by a lone postman -- a truculent, fiercely patriotic Frenchman, who drops it off at the Duchy's border when he sees fit.  There are no telephones, no electricity, and no automobiles, but the populace remains relatively happy with their lot.  The economy of the Duchy is amazingly stable; there is no inflation, and income and outgo is carefully balanced.

The kingdom is ruled by the Duchess Gloriana XII, who is not very au courant in understanding the modern world.  She is backed by two Houses of Parliament.  The Upper House is comparible to England's House of Lords, and is seldom mentioned (or consulted).  The Lower House is the democratically-elected House of Freemen.  The two political parties are the Dilutionists (the Loyal Opposition, or the Liberals) and the Anti-Dilutionists -- the parties get their name from their positions on diluting the wine exported.  Although each party holds power at various times, the one most often in power is the Anti-Dilutionists,, lead by Count Mountjoy, the Prime Minister (usually) (and usually called "Bobo'').  The Dilutionists are led by David Bentner.

Grand Fenwick's standing army consists of 20 bowmen and three men-at-arms.  The bowmen carry longbows, being constitutionally restricted to using no weapon more modernn than these.  The men-at-arms are allowed to carry spear and mace.  They all are clad in mail.

In the first book in the series, The Mouse That Roared, Grand Fenwick declares war on the United States and invades New York, knowing that they will be defeated and then receive American foreign aid.  Things don't work out that way because things never work out the way the Duchy plans.  The Fenwickian army does, however, take some prisoners back to Grand Fenwick; one of whom was the physicist Dr. Kokintz, the discoverer of the element quadium and the developer of that most potent atomic weapon, the Q-bomb.  The only working Q-bomb in existence is now resting on a pile of hay in the cellars of the Duchy's castle.  Kokintz, who has a somewhat scattered brain, decided to remain in Grand Fenwick because it was a pleasant and peaceful place to perform his very scattered experiments.

The peace treaty negotiated between the United States and Grand Fenwick was a somewhat complicated one, essentially leaving the Duchy as it was before the invasion.  One minor part of the treaty, however, allowed an American chewing gum manufacturer to produce a Pinot Grand Fenwick flavored chewing gum exclusively for a period of twenty-five years, with the Duchy receiving 40% of the profits annually.  Since the gum never made any profit, the economy of Grand Fenwick remained happily balanced.  Until...

The Surgeon General of the United Stated began to issue dire warnings about the hazards of amoking.  Cigarette sales fell sharply.  To compensate, smokers began chewing gum in large quantities.  Suddenly, Grand Fenwick received a check for one million dollars as their part of the year's profits of the Pinot Grand Fenxick gum.  The citizens of Grand Fenwick went on an unchecked buying spree, purchasing electronic items such as washing machines, without having any electricity or central watrer system -- those things then had to be installed...and paid for.  Inflation ran rampart.  The demands of labor increased.  The cost of living rose drastically, and the average citizen ended up owing what would take three years to pay off.  The entire economy of Grand Fenwick went into a tailspin.

The following year, another check arrived.  For ten million dollars!  Something had to be done to get rid of that unwanted money.  The House of Freemen decided to give the money to Gloriana XII. -- let her sit on it, or get rid of it in such a manner that it would not effect the country's economy.  For news of the outside world, the Duchy received just one copy of the London Times, shared by various government officials and usually arriving three days late (or later, if the French postman was in a snit).  So it happened that Gloriana was browsing through the newspaper when she came to the financial section and had a brilliant idea.  Many people who invest in the stock market lose their shirts, and people who knew nothing of finance were almost guaranteed to lose their money by investing in the stock market.  Since Gloriana knew absoltuely nothing about finance (or little else), if she invested in the stock market, she would be sure to lose all of the unwanted money that had been foisted off on Grand Fenwick.  She closed her eyes and randomly stabbed a needle at the stock indexes to choose a company to invest in.  By luck, it happened to be one of the most worthless companies on the exchange.  She wrote to the Duchy's American broker and instructed him to buy six million dollars worth of shares in the company, then immediately began thinking of more pleasant things.  It took about two weeks for the letter to reach America, but the broker did what was asked and, within four weeks, Gloriana was pleased to hear that she lost some four million dollars thus far on the venture.

In the meantime, an unscrupulous American investor was looking for companies to milk and to give himself a huge tax writeoff.  Mergers happened, and conglomerates conglomerated, and suddenly Gloriana was making money hand over fist despite her best efforts.  Rumors began flooding the market and Gloriana earned more money.  Soon she had close to a billion dollars.  She was proclaimed the smartest investor in the world by the financial papers.  Fears of her demanding that the money be traded for actual gold began, and the economies of many nations began to tumble, as once again, the little duchy had an oversized effect on the world.

In the end, Grand Fenwick is able to dig itself (and the world) out of a cataclysmic crisis and the duchy soon reverted to the picturesque country it had always been -- potionally an amazing tourist destination.

Leonard Wibberley (1915-1983) was an Irish-born reporter and novelist who spent much of his life in America.  He wrote more than one hundred books (some under the name "Patrick O'Connor," and -- as "Leonard Holton" -- eleven mystery novels about clerical detective Father Bredder, the basis for the television series Sarge), but was best known for his five comic novels about the Duchy of Grand Fenwick:  The Mouse That Roared (1955), Beware the Mouse (1958), The Mouse on the Moon (1962), The Mouse on Wall Street (1969), and The Mouse That Saved the West (1981).  The Mouse That Roared and The Mouse on the Moon were both made into popular films (you shouold really watch them).  Other books by 'Wibberley that may be of interest include McGillicuddy McGotham (1956. in which a leprechaun serves as an ambassador to the U.S. seeking the restoration of lost tribal lands to the Little People) and A Feast of Freedom (1964, about the complications that arise when a new nation with primitive dietary habits causes a crisis when it eats the vice-president of the United States).

The Mouse novels and the absurd situations Grand Fenwick finds itself in allowed Wibberley to comment satirically and effectively on contemprorary politics and events.  They are a joy and should be considered essential reading.

1 comment:

  1. Having seen both MOUSE films as a child, I've been meaning to read Wibberly's MOUSE novels for decades, and haven't taken the opportunity as yet. I really should. Thanks for the reminder...and tipping at least some of us to the extent of the MOUSE oeuvre!