It’s Elementary, My Dear Mice: Basil of Baker Street

You may be under the mistaken impression that only humans are aware of the superior intellect of a certain Mr. Sherlock Holmes, of Baker Street. You would be wrong, indeed, since just below the apartments of Mr. Holmes at 221B Baker Street—specifically, in the basement—live mice so impressed by the achievements of Mr. Holmes that they have chosen to live this dwelling just so they can watch and learn from his cases.

The mice—Basil of Baker Street (named for actor Basil Rathbone, renowned for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes) and Dr. David Q. Dawson, who bears a rather suspicious resemblance to a certain Dr. John Watson—not only make regular trips upstairs to listen to Sherlock Holmes, but have convinced 44 local mice families to build a little mouse town in the basement—Holmestead. And, of course, like their hero, they solve crimes—mouse crimes, you understand, not human crimes.

The crime in Eve Titus’ Basil of Baker Street is a particularly vicious sort of crime—unknown mice of despicable morals have kidnapped (mousenapped?) two adorable little girl mice. After a pause for the opportunity to slip in a moral about the dangers of talking to strangers here, even when the strangers are mice, tension in Holmestead rises as the mice wait hopefully for a ransom note, which arrives in the paws of a very nervous little mouse. Fortunately for the case, this mouse just happens to be a mouse with a maritime history and just happened to stand in some coal dust. Fortunately, because the note has a grim signature indeed: THE TERRIBLE THREE. (Their capitals, not mine.) They want—gasp—Holmestead. All of Holmestead, for their own. And—the note threatens—if the mice aren’t out of Holmestead within 48 hours, they will never see the two adorable little girl mice again!

I can’t help but wonder why, exactly, three criminal mice calling themselves THE TERRIBLE THREE would want to move into a cellar right underneath the apartment of the greatest detective of all time, however nice the cellar and the little mice houses built there, but this thought never bothers Basil or Dr. Dawson, who swiftly don disguises and go out into the fog (it’s a Sherlock Holmes story, so of course, fog), tracing their slim clues and jumping on human transportation to go rescue the girls and make sure that all of the mice can continue to live safely in Holmestead.

The plot is pure Sherlock Holmes—indeed, some of the clues and bits of plot are lifted directly from Sherlock Holmes stories. The main differences: the mice, instead of hailing hansom cabs and buying train tickets, have to hope that a human will hail a hansom cab (fortunately for the plot, a nearby human also just happens to want to travel to Euston Station) and that no one will see them sneak into first class train compartments, and the mice have what I think most of us would call a fixation on cheese. But when not thinking about cheese, Basil more or less is the mouse version of his hero: an expert on things as varied as soil, manual typewriters, sailor slang, and the criminal mindstep; able to deduce quite a lot from a very little; respected by the mouse police; and the subject of a series of memoirs written by his great friend, a doctor mouse.

Basil of Baker Street doesn’t get around to explaining just where Dr. Dawson got his medical training (I’m assuming a mouse hospital), and despite a few imaginative moments of considering things from a mouse perspective, it’s perhaps less successful in imagining mouse life than other stories of intelligent mice or very small humans—like, say, The Rescuers, The Borrowers, or The Littles. Then again, this story is aimed at a younger audience, and is far more focused on Sherlock Holmes than on the logistical considerations faced by intelligent mice in an all too human world.

galdone-basil

Art by Paul Galdone

I don’t have that much else to say about Basil of Baker Street: it’s a very short book—given the large print and lavish illustrations, its 96 pages may actually contain fewer words than many of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Certainly far less than, say, The Hound of the Baskervilles. The illustrations by Paul Galdone, especially those of Basil in his little deerstalker cap, are adorable, as is the story. If you have a small child around, this is probably not a bad introduction to mysteries, mice and adventure.

I also can’t tell you much about Eve Titus, although she apparently died about thirteen years ago just a few miles from where I currently live. Sources give contradictory information about her birth year, job history, and marital status. I can only say that she clearly loved mice, and detective stories, and found a clever way to combine the two. She eventually wrote five books in the Basil of Baker Street series, taking Basil and Dr. Dawson over to the United States, as well as several books about another mouse, Anatole, the first two of which were Caldecott Honor books. The Anatole books were eventually made into a short lived CBS television show that later aired on the Disney channel. Disney’s main animation department preferred the Basil books, using them as inspiration for The Great Mouse Detective, coming up next.

Mari Ness lives in central Florida.

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