I think I might have found my new, most favorite line, in all of literature. It is from a short story called “Gordon, the Self-made Cat,” by Peter S. Beagle.
It’s the story of a mouse who asks questions. He learns that cats eat mice, and mice are meant to be eaten. Thinking this is bullshit, he sets out to become a cat. The story explores the prejudice of the cats, the fear of the mice once they’ve heard that Gordon has ostensibly become a cat — and the kind of obstacles that arise when your reputation gets passed around by people who don’t understand what you’re trying to accomplish.
This story tackles intense themes of politics and prejudice, yet never loses its sense of wonder and curiosity. There is nothing gruesome or horrible about it. It is funny. It is charming. It is fascinating, inspiring, and at times heartbreaking. It is a master displaying his craft in a way that only he can, do deliver a message that so many of us need to hear.
Gordon does his thing, against all odds, and against all advice to the contrary. Gordon never gives up. He is always seeking the next level of mastery, and it all begins with this:
“They thought he was joking, but as soon as Gordon was old enough to go places by himself, he packed a clean shirt and some peanut butter, and started off for cat school.”
Is that not the best thing you have ever read? Our hero, armed with a clean shirt and some peanut butter.
I made that noise normally reserved for especially adorable kitten videos. I am so used to dark, cynical fiction that I forgot you can adventure, strive, suffer, and learn without ever lifting a weapon.
That line, that exact choice of necessary items at the beginning of the quest, is astounding. It’s whimsical and innocent, and also a giant FUCK YOU to a society that dictates mice must be hunted and can never amount to anything beyond their status of birth.
As if we needed more reasons to give Peter S. Beagle a giant hug and a fruit basket.
Check out the story for yourself, in text or podcast form, on Lightspeed.