The Tooth Fairy of my youth
When I was a child and I lost a tooth, I would put it under my pillow at night. While I was sleeping, a cute little fairy in a pink tutu with a twinkling magic wand would fly onto my bed, gently lift the pillow where I slept and ever so delicately take the tooth. In its place she would leave me a shiny coin. It was a nice trade. But what about the children in France?
If there’s no Tooth Fairy in France, do the French children still get paid to lose their baby teeth? Yes, they do. When they lose a tooth, they put it under their pillow at night, just like American children do. But who sneaks into their room at night to take the tooth and leave a coin? That would be La Petite Souris, known in English as “The Little Mouse”. That’s right, French parents allow a mouse to crawl into their child’s bed, wiggle its way under the pillow, and take the tooth! Am I ever glad I lost my baby teeth in the United States!
The French Tooth Mouse
In searching for the origins of the Little Mouse, all of the sources that I found say she is probably based on a 17th century French fairy tale by Madame d’Aulnoy, called La Bonne Petite Souris or “The Good Little Mouse”. I’m pretty sure that the French parents, who tell their children about the nice little mouse who will crawl into their bed at night and take their tooth, have not read this story. I suppose in one sense you could say that the “good little mouse” is good – she does help the people get rid of a very evil king. But the way she goes about it is anything but nice.
She’s actually a fairy who turns herself into a mouse at night and creeps up into the evil king’s bed. While he sleeps she bites one ear. He turns over and she bites the other. He screams in pain and calls everyone in the castle to search for the mouse. In the meantime the “good little mouse” goes to the room of the equally evil prince and does the same thing to him. Then back to the once-again-sleeping king to bite his nose. There is more screaming and mouse searching while the “good little mouse” is nibbling on the princely nose. When everyone is called to the princely chamber to search for her, she goes back to the king and into his mouth where she chews on his tongue, cheeks and lips. Then of course, she does the same to the Prince.
The “good little mouse” in this story causes a lot of havoc in the bed, but she doesn’t take any teeth and she doesn’t leave any money. Well, one time she did cause the king to lose four teeth when she pushed him out of a tree. But she wasn’t in mouse form – she was invisible at the time.
In any case, La Petite Souris is apparently in much better humour these days and of course, since the French children are all good and well-behaved, she wouldn’t do any of these awful things to them. But still, I much prefer the thought of that delicate little pink fairy flitting around my room and reaching under my pillow to the idea of a little mouse running around in my bed… No matter how nice they say she is.
I’ll be sure to take care of my teeth while I’m in France! Now where’s that floss?
La Bonne Petite Souris by Madame d’Aulnoy 1697-1698 (in French)
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