Thanks to clever marketing and merchandising, some books become more famous than their content warrants; a few even become famous for being famous — for example, all the Dr Seuss books that people seem to know by name, even though they may not have read them or even a clue as to what they are all about.
The Gruffalo falls into this rare and happy — for the authors and publishers, of course — latter category, thanks to its catchy title and the distinctive eponymous character. Fortunately, however, unlike certain bestsellers whose popularity is fuelled by undeservingly being on the bestsellers list in the first place — it’s a vicious cycle — The Gruffalo fully deserves the acclaim and hype that it has garnered in the 14 years since it was first published.
Written in clever, catchy, rhyming prose that reads beautifully, the story begins with a little mouse strolling through the deep dark wood when he encounters a fox, an owl and a snake, all of whom think he’s easy prey and try to trick him into becoming lunch. The clever little mouse, however, manages to escape each time by pretending that he is meeting up with a monster that he made up — a “Gruffalo”, with “terrible tusks, terrible claws and terrible teeth in his terrible jaws” among its other, equally charming characteristics.
Or so he thinks, since he actually does run into this supposedly made-up creature, with all of the scary characteristics that he’d gleefully conjured up in his head.
When the Gruffalo threatens to eat him up, the mouse manages to come up with yet another brilliant ruse that not only ensures that the fox, the owl and the snake would leave him alone, but that would make the Gruffalo stay far, far away from him. A great little tale about how wit and brains can prevail over sheer brute strength.
What I don’t get, though, is why the Gruffalo is the one appearing on all the book-related merchandise, since the little mouse is clearly the star of the story — alas, a case of style overshadowing substance yet again.