Beverly Cleary’s The Mouse and the Motorcycle was one of my most memorable reading experiences of my young life. It stuck out to me, I think, because it was the first time I was aware of suspending disbelief. And I was glad to. Here’s why:
The Mouse and the Motorcycle features a mouse named Ralph. Ralph lives in a hotel. Early in the book, a new family comes to visit. One of the family members is Keith, a little boy who has among his possessions a toy motorcycle. It’s exactly the right size for Ralph. And Ralph decides he wants to ride the motorcycle.
Two points very early in the story require the suspension of disbelief:
- First, that the inanimate motorcycle becomes an operational motorcycle for the mouse when he makes a motorcycle noise with his mousey mouth.
- Secondly, the boy and the mouse have no trouble talking to each other. Here’s Cleary’s explanation:
“That’s the stuff,” encouraged the boy. “Now come on. Tell me, did you or didn’t you ride my motorcycle off the bedside table?”
This took Ralph by surprise. He had not expected the boy to guess what happened. “Well, yes. I guess you might say I did,” confessed Ralph, rubbing his aching muscles.
“I thought so.” Neither the mouse nor the boy was the least bit surprised that each could understand the other. Two creatures who shared a love for motorcycles naturally spoke the same language.
The best stories inspire our imaginations because when we’re required to suspend our disbelief, there are greater truths at work. To use Cleary’s example, when two humans share a love for something, they do naturally speak the same language.
Of course, Cleary isn’t alone in artfully asking us to suspend our disbelief. Lewis wonderfully does the same with the passage of time early in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. While I’ve never spoken to a mouse, nor slipped into a different world for five hours only to return with no time passing at all, I’ve been introduced to truth through exactly those events. And I’ve been inspired and thrilled by them. I wouldn’t have it any other way. And I love watching my son start to experience some of these same things. He’s a little younger than I was when I first read about Ralph and Keith. You know, when they started to talk, and the explanation came, he didn’t even bat an eyelash.