I read quite a lot – for work, for education and for pleasure. Not as much in the last category any more, and less overall than I used to, but there are still a few fiction titles every year, usually in the “damn near brain-dead/guilty pleasure” category. There are very, very few books that I read hundreds of times. The Gruffalo is the only one this year.
It’s probably obvious that I have a young child – the Gruffalo isn’t a religious text, or a set of instructions for life. But there are lessons in it, and the reading of it, just the same.
For those of you not familiar with this book, it’s the tale of a small brown mouse and his duplicitous and inventive adventures in a deep, dark wood. Everyone who meets him lies to him and wants to eat him, with the exception of the eponymous title character. The Gruffalo is completely up-front about the fact that he wants to eat the mouse, preferably on a slice of bread. In fact, the Gruffalo, the monster in the tale, is the only one who tells the truth (he’s also incredibly gullible, unlike the mouse).
The lessons I’ve taken from the Gruffalo are not complicated ones. Bravery, and a little inventiveness, can be helpful in overcoming pretty challenging obstacles. Once the mouse discovers that the Gruffalo is actually real (“But who is this creature with terrible claws, and terrible teeth in his terrible jaws..Oh, help! Oh, no! It’s a Gruffalo!”) he uses that knowledge to his advantage, convincing the predators in the forest that he is unafraid of the Gruffalo, and at the same time convincing the Gruffalo that he, the mouse, is the most terrible creature in the wood.
In the end, the monster is not to be feared, but pitied, for both his fear of becoming food himself (“Gruffalo Crumble!”) and his gullibility, which the mouse exploits so ruthlessly for his own survival.
I was also struck by the mouse’s simple desires. He doesn’t want to be eaten, and he is most content when he has quiet and a nice nut to eat.
And that leads me on to the primary lesson I’ve taken from the exercise of reading the Gruffalo to my daughter so many times. The mouse is grateful for the simplest things in life, and I’m hugely grateful to have the time and ability to read to my daughter. Life is laden with challenges, and it is easy to forget how lucky most of us have it. We forget too easily how filled with plenty our lives are compared to the majority in the world. We complain about the hardships of work, the challenges of raising children, and the aches and pains we suffer as we get older. We forget that all of these things are privileges. We are lucky to have work, even if the roles we have are not necessarily the ones we want. We are blessed to have our children, even those who are sometimes very challenging (parents of teenagers and toddlers out there, I’m looking at you :)). And the aches and pains in our lives are reminders that we’re alive. They can wear us down at times, but the alternative is terribly final.
So I’m grateful to the Gruffalo – in part because I enjoy its simple rhyming, and the pure brass neck of the mouse, but primarily because it reminds me in a basic, everyday way how incredibly lucky I am.