|WMG||This article contains wild mass guessing, or original research about the settings, characters, or events in a work of fiction.|
The maze is the fictional setting where a self-help business fable called Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson and several parodies of this story take place. Johnson spent comparatively few words on worldbuilding to concentrate on the thesis of taking change as it comes. The parodists who followed filled in the gaps where it suited their humor and ended up forming what could be interpreted as a shared universe.
At least four species are present: mice, rats, and Lilliputians (1:12 scale humanoids) inside the maze, and big people outside it. The maze stories refer to the Lilliputians as "littlepeople" (Johnson), "teeny people" (Jarlsberg), "punypeople" (Brown), or "loyal employees" (Hochberg). But because Jarlsberg's "about the author" page states six inches (15 mm) as their adult height, I'm using Swift's term, especially because it leaves the door open for an interquel over a couple hundred years between Travels and the maze stories. Compared to a Lilliputian, a mouse is a substantially sized animal. A rat is even bigger. Mice and Lilliputians coexist more or less peacefully (Johnson), but Lilliputians have to carry around weapons to fend off predation from some rat breeds (Brown). The early books are written from the point of view of two Lilliputians who share the known part of the maze with two mice or two rats. But some books show evidence of other Lilliputians in the maze. Haw, for example, wants to start a family, and Hem wants to be promoted to management (Johnson). Only Malhotra's book has no Lilliputians; it strays farthest from Johnson's formula without abandoning the maze as similarly titled parodies of self-help in general by Darrel Bristow-Bovey and Ross Shafer do.
|Johnson||mice, Sniff and Scurry||littlepeople, Hem and Haw|
|Jarlsberg||rats, Snitch and Scamper||teenypeople, Hi and Ho|
|Brown||rats, Whiff and Ditch||punypeople, Duck and Cover|
|Hochberg||rats, Snivel and Scurvy||loyal employees, Hid and Hah|
|Malhotra||mice, Max, Zed, and Big||none|
Most books appear to imply a communication barrier of some sort between the murids and the Lilliputians. Mice may have to communicate with Lilliputians through gestures (Johnson), but some rats can talk to Lilliputians (Brown). However, some of the Lilliputians have access to computers in the maze that connect to the big people's Internet (Brown), so they must be able to read and write big people language, just as big people can learn to speak and read Lilliputian (Swift). (We can't confirm or deny that the descendants of the stowaways from Lilliput can still speak Lilliputian after two centuries.) Mice too can learn to read and write big people language (Malhotra).
The maze is an experiment run by big people for reasons that the murids and Lilliputians are not aware of (Brown, Malhotra). Speculation: It's a follow-up to the Rat Park experiments of the late 1970s, which showed that rats will become addicted to psychoactive drugs much more easily when deprived of stimulation than when given interesting living conditions.
The maze's floor plan forms a square grid (Malhotra; video) and has loops (Malhotra). The walls of the maze are about four times as tall as a mouse (Malhotra). "Cheese stations" (Johnson) or "cheese depots" (Brown; Malhotra) are far larger than a single cell (Brown; video). Exercise wheels are present in the maze (Brown); even wild mice like to use them. The big people cause the walls to shift over time and cause depots to get filled and not filled, but one mouse has learned to interfere with the changes (Malhotra).
Speculation: Dead-ends get occupied by families. Two mice, two Lilliputians, or one rat can live in one cell.
The maze can't be too big. For one thing, it has to fit in the facility. For another, there's a limit to how far critters will search for cheese, whether it's in Who Moved My Cheese? or in Grand Theft Auto V.
"Don't you mean who moved my oats?"
Cartoons depict cheese as a mouse's trademark favorite food. But real world mice don't especially like literal cheese; that's more of a rat thing. The popular association of mice with cheese comes from bite marks when a mouse tastes something. A lot of foodstuffs that last longer than a day, like flour, nuts, and seeds, are more mouse-portable than a big waxed wheel of cheese and don't gather obvious bite marks. To attract mice, use peanut butter or bacon.
In any case, Johnson makes it clear that the Cheese is a metaphor for anything sought after, such as the desires of Hem and Haw. Perhaps "cheese" is slang in the maze for any kind of food, which possibly figures into a barter system, just as "dough" is real-world slang for money.
Vending machines hand out cheese, some controlled by levers or treadles and some by wheels (Brown). Some levers shock critters that use them (Brown). Speculation: These are vending machines that have had their dispenser removed. Some of the electrical insulation is sub-par. Speculation: The ones with wheels dispense more cheese as a reward for generating the power to run the maze.
Depots have all kinds of food, but given how long it took for Haw to find N (Johnson), they're hidden away in remote parts of the maze. Depots receive deliveries of new cheese, but these deliveries may stop (Jarlsberg), and critters who have made a home near such a depot (Johnson) need to seek out a new source of cheese. Mice tend to react far more quickly than Lilliputians to supply changes (Johnson).
A critter seen to understand his existence may "ascend" and get pulled out by a big person like Cover was (Brown), may become strong enough to break out of the maze like Big (Malhotra), may have another throw him over the border of the maze into big people land like Max (Malhotra), or may even phase through a wall like Zed (Malhotra). Speculation is needed as to the nature of Zed's illusion.
Works set in the maze
We currently recommended reading these novellas in the order of first publication. This order happens to match the progression of the themes.
- Who Moved My Cheese? (1998) by Spencer Johnson, ISBN 9780091816971
- Who Cut the Cheese? (2000, revised 2010) by Stephen White as "Stilton Jarlsberg", ISBN 9781453797754
- Who Cut the Cheese? (2000) by Mason Brown, ISBN 9780743212359
- Who Stole My Cheese? (2002) by Ilene Hochberg, ISBN 9780762412365
- I Moved Your Cheese (2011) by Deepak Malhotra, ISBN 9781609940652
An animated video was also produced based on Who Moved My Cheese?.
Other works consulted
- Travels Into Several Remote Nations of the World (1726, revised 1735) by Jonathan Swift, Gutenberg 829
- I Moved Your Cheese (2001) by Darrel Bristow-Bovey, ISBN 9781843301653
- firstname.lastname@example.org. "Who Cut the Cheese(s)?". Not My Desk, 2000-11-22. Accessed 2013-10-20.
- J.F. Sargent. "4 Exaggerated Dangers Everyone Loves to Hype". Cracked, 2014-01-23. Accessed 2014-01-23.
- Johanna H. Meijer and Yuri Robbers. "Wheel running in the wild". Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 2014-05-21. Accessed 2014-05-21. Via Emily Underwood. "Even in the Wild, Mice Run on Wheels". Science Now, 2014-05-20. Accessed 2014-05-21. Via Slashdot.
- Seanbaby. "5 Things Critics Love About 'GTA V' (That Actually Suck)". Cracked, 2013-11-30. Accessed 2013-11-30.
- Storytelling devices in Who Moved My Cheese? at All the Tropes