Sunday, October 17, 2010

Three Blind Mice

Miss Lemon doesn't feel that she is going too far by saying "Three Blind Mice," the first story in this eponymous short-story collection by Agatha Christie is perhaps one of her all-time best.

And as her devoted readers will agree, when it comes to pacing and plot, Dame Agatha is no slouch at the mystery in short form.

Neither one of these elements in stinted in "Three Blind Mice," where the mise-en-scéne draws the reader in without delay: a blizzard bears down on the lonely guesthouse of Monkswell Manor, while its novice proprietors await with anxiety and uncertainty their strange list of guests.

As it so often happens in stories by Agatha Christie, not all ends up well at the Manor. First one murder occurs; then another. And while one of the guests at Monkswell picks out a haunting little nursery tune on the piano: Three blind mice; Three blind mice / See how they run; See how they run; another lays a trap that may well prevent the murder of a third.

There's quite a bit of history behind Mrs. Christie's story, a wicked play on the old Mother Goose rhyme by the same name. "Three Blind Mice" made its debut as a radio play in May 1947 and was broadcast in honor of Queen Mary's 80th birthday celebration. Mrs. Christie later worked the radio play into a short story in December 1948, and, then, in 1949, into a stage drama, which is now best known the world over as London's longest-running-ever play, The Mousetrap.

The play opened at The Ambassadors Theatre in London's West End in 1952 and starred Sir Richard Attenborough -- and it was a tremendous success. Meanwhile, the short story had been published in a magazine in the U.S. and then was collected and published, in 1950, in Three Blind Mice and Other Stories. But Mrs. Christie wavered when it came to having a similar sort of collection published in the U.K., as so many people had yet to see The Mousetrap.

And so it is still today. The Mousetrap continues its historical run in London's West End (now at St. Martin's Theatre) and "Three Blind Mice" as a short story is still only available in the States. An interesting fate for both works.

What Miss Lemon enjoyed seeing most especially in the short-story version were the little elements sprinkled within the narrative that were clearly drawn from Mrs. Christie's own experience after World War II, with the sudden shortage of affordable houses and domestic servants. Rationing was another issue that adds an interesting plot dimension. In all, "Three Blind Mice" is excellent fun -- but do respect Mrs. Christie's wishes and don't read it if you haven't yet seen the stage version. 

Do you have a favourite short story by Agatha Christie? Miss Lemon would love to hear what it is.

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