The book's title characters are a female mouse named Hunca Munca and a male mouse named Tom Thumb. They enter a doll's house while its two occupants, dolls named Lucinda and Jane, are out. When the two mice find that all the food in the doll's house is artificial and inedible, they become angry and try to cause as much damage to the doll's house as they can.
The story's origins can be traced back to June 1903. While visiting her cousin Caroline Hutton in Gloucestershire, Beatrix Potter rescued two mice from a cage-trap. She kept them as pets and named them Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca after characters from Henry Fielding's 1730 play Tom Thumb.
In December 1903, The Tale of Two Bad Mice was one of three ideas for a possible future book to be published along with The Tale of Benjamin Bunny in 1904 that Beatrix Potter submitted to her publisher Norman Warne. The other two ideas were later developed into Potter's 1905 book The Tale of the Pie and the Patty-Pan and the first chapter of her 1929 book The Fairy Caravan. Although Potter was initially somewhat reluctant to write another tale about mice so soon after the publication of The Tailor of Gloucester, both she and Warne agreed that The Tale of Two Bad Mice was the story idea that had the greatest potential. Norman Warne's decision may have been influenced by the fact that he was making a doll's house as a Christmas present for his four-year-old niece Winifred Warne at the time. Beatrix Potter used Winifred Warne's doll's house as a model for the one that appears in the illustrations in The Tale of Two Bad Mice. The book is dedicated to Winifred Warne.
It was while The Tale of Two Bad Mice was being prepared for publication that Beatrix Potter and Norman Warne fell in love with each other. They got engaged in July 1905. The marriage never took place because Norman Warne died suddenly of lymphatic leukemia on August 25, 1905.
The Tale of Two Bad Mice has been adapted for film and television.
The doll characters Lucinda and Jane are also briefly referred to in Beatrix Potter's 1909 book The Tale of Ginger and Pickles.
Two dolls named Lucinda and Jane live in a doll's house. The house belongs to Lucinda. Jane is the cook. There is, however, no need for Jane to do any cooking because she and Lucinda do not eat and all of the food in the doll's house is made of plaster.
When Lucinda and Jane are taken out in a baby-carriage one day, the mice Tom Thumb and his wife Hunca Munca emerge from their hole in the nursery. They go to the doll's house, find that the door is not locked and go inside. They are delighted to find a meal laid out on the dining room table. The food, cutlery and chairs are just the right size for mice. Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca soon find out, however, that it is impossible to cut the ham and that the fish is glued to the plate. When they realize that all the food is made of plaster, they angrily break up most of it. They try to burn the fish on the fire. Nothing happens to the fish, however, since the fire is only made of red paper. Hunca Munca finds some cans. The labels on the cans suggest that they contain rice, coffee and sago. Hunca Munca is disappointed when she finds out that they contain nothing but beads.
The two angry mice go up to the bedroom. Tom Thumb empties the dresser and throws all of Jane's clothes out of the window. Hunca Munca begins destroying Lucinda's bolster. She then realizes that she could use it as her own bed. She and Tom Thumb take the bolster, a crib, a chair, several of Lucinda's clothes and some pots and pans back to their mousehole. They also take a bookcase and a birdcage from the doll's house but find that they cannot get them inside their hole.
While Tom Thumb is carrying another chair away from the doll's house, the dolls and the little girl who owns them come back to the nursery. When she sees the damage that has been done to her doll's house, the girl says that she will get a policeman doll to protect it. The girl's nurse says that she will set some mousetraps.
The two mice try to make up for the damage that they have done. Tom Thumb finds a crooked sixpence and puts it in one of the dolls' stockings on Christmas Eve. Very early each morning, Hunca Munca goes to the doll's house to clean it.
A segment based on The Tale of Two Bad Mice is included in the 1971 Royal Ballet film Tales of Beatrix Potter.
The eighth episode of the British anthology series The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends presents an animated cartoon which is an adaptation of both The Tale of Two Bad Mice and Potter's 1918 book The Tale of Johnny Town-Mouse. In the episode, Hunca Munca is voiced by Felicity Kendal and Tom Thumb is voiced by Rik Mayall. It first aired on BBC1 on June 29, 1994.
- ↑ Other segments in the 1971 film Tales of Beatrix Potter are based on The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, The Tale of Johnny Town-Mouse, The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck, The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher, The Tale of Pigling Bland and The Tale of Peter Rabbit.