Favorite Fictional Characters, #310: Ralph S. Mouse
Updated: Feb 1, 2022
Most people know Beverly Cleary for her Ramona books, but I've always been partial to the little mouse named Ralph. He's a courageous little rodent, to the consternation of his more timid relatives in the walls of the Mountain View Inn. Ralph makes friends with Keith, a boy staying at the run down hotel, and eventually figures out how to operate one of Keith's toy motorcycles as if it were the real thing. That's always been part of the magic of this book for me - Cleary deftly appropriates something all kids do (making vehicle sounds while playing with toy cars and trucks) and makes it a source of arcane power, a secret spell that allows our hero Ralph to drive not just a motorcycle but an ambulance and other toy vehicles.
The relationship between Ralph and Keith is a nuanced and realistic one, undergoing a speed bump when the mouse loses the motorcycle and experiencing redemption when Ralph brings the boy vital medicine at no small risk to himself. Part of Cleary's talent has always been to paint children in three dimensions, as whole people with a full range of emotions including fear, pain, and joy. She uses that talent to give us a full image of Keith, and also to depict Ralph as capable of daring and foolhardiness and shame and regret. He's a mouse, but he's a person. It's hard not to respect his yearning for a life beyond the hole in the wall, for his courage in the face of danger, and for his determination to help his friend.
Stories about underdogs, about little guys who become heroes, aren't unusual. But the mouse on the motorcycle has always been one of my favorites.