Too many years ago, I worked with my now-New Leaf Journal colleague, Victor V. Gurbo to help our high school newspaper gather enough content to produce an issue in time for graduation. In a prior article, I explained how Victor, an 11th grade student at the time who had been designated as the next senior editor of the paper, was drunk on the little authority vested in him by the outgoing senior editor. He attempted to force me to work on the second floor instead of the third floor of the school. Never mind the fact that I, a 10th grade student at the time, was writing four articles in one afternoon to fill the space in their graduation issue despite not actually being a member of the newspaper club. I noted that one of the four articles I produced was called March of the Lemmings.

kgleditsch, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Flickr - a Norwegian lemming in the snow
kgleditsch, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Flickr – a Norwegian lemming in the snow

I no longer have a copy of the issue or my March of the Lemmings movie proposal. However, I remember it well enough to write a bit about it here.

The Inspiration for March of the Lemmings

I had seen March of the Penguins at my local movie theater during the previous summer. Somewhere between then and May, I thought that a lemming version of March of the Penguins would be amusing. The reason for my idea was twofold. Firstly, “lemmings” sounds like “penguins” (close enough… at least). Secondly, lemmings have an undeserved reputation for walking off cliffs.

The Undeserved Reputation of Lemmings

Thanks in large part to Disney murdering innocent lemmings by dumping them off a cliff from a truck in the shooting of the 1958 “nature” movie, White Wilderness, many have heard the story that lemmings are prone to committing mass suicide. Lemmings are neither suicidal nor stupid. I would entertain the latter suggestion had the poor murdered brown lemmings in 1958 entered into a contract with Disney of their own volition, but I am confident that they were not given much choice in the matter.

For the record, I knew when I sat down to write the article that lemmings have been unfairly maligned in the media and are not suicidal. We may have alluded to that in a disclaimer in the article, but I do not remember anymore. In any event, I played off the lemmings’ undeserved reputation in the article.

The Plot of the Movie

March of the Lemmings would be like March of the Penguins, but with lemmings instead of penguins.

Shocking, no?

Unlike the infamous White Wilderness, this film would be set in Norway instead of Canada. We would follow the brief migration of the Norway lemmings from the melting snow to the high ground in spring. To be sure, the population numbers of Norway lemmings are known to fluctuate dramatically due to population booms and busts. Because the Norway lemming and its lemming kin have been subjected to enough slander over the past six decades, we should aim to catch them on a good year.

Viewers would be inspired watching the little critters wander in seemingly randomly directions toward their spring high ground. While we should do our best to avoid lemming carnage – we had quite enough animal carnage in children’s literature in an 1897 bird magazine that I reviewed – we should capture the lemmings swimming. Lemmings, like all mammals except me, can swim.

(In fact, the next school year, a classmate of mine played on this fact about mammals to call another one of my friends “a muskrat who swims in rivers.” Rest assured, it did not make more sense at the time.)

The Lemming Photo

In my article on Victor’s past as a corporate slave enjoying his taste of power just a bit too much, I included a sketch of a brown lemming that came from Mammals of Mount McKinley Park Alaska (1962). You will find the sketch, created by Olaus Murie, below:

Sketch of brown lemming by Olaus Murie from  "Mammals of Mount McKinley Park Alaska" (1962)
Sketch of brown lemming by Olaus Murie

I had searched Project Gutenberg for a lemming picture to use in that article. As soon as I saw Murie’s sketch of the brown lemming, I recognized it on sight. This illustration was the same one that was used in my high school March of the Lemmings article. I would recognize that lemming anywhere.

Thus, while I no longer have my original March of the Lemmings article, I do have the illustration that went with it. Although I cannot say for sure, there is a decent chance that Victor was the one who found the lemming illustration for my high school article.

The Lemmings March On

Having made all my jokes, I will conclude by noting that I think a new March of the Lemmings movie would be an interesting project. Disney not only gave the poor little rodents a bad name in 1958, it also treated actual lemmings quite cruelly. A new piece on the lemmings would not only serve as redress for past wrongs, it would also make for an educational movie. That there is already a March of the Penguins would only help marketability. With that being said, I do recommend catching the lemmings on a good year. Let us zag where Disney zigged, and avoid maximum lemming carnage.

We also should not invite Disney to make the movie. I do not think there are too many lemmings in China anyway.

While I sadly do not have my original March of the Lemmings article, it is always possible that it could turn up again. If I ever find a copy of the original, I will give it new life here at The New Leaf Journal.