THE AMAZING MAURICE AND HIS EDUCATED RODENTS

by Terry Pratchett

Doubleday

0-385-40995-8

261pp/£16.99/November 2001

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents
Cover by David Wyatt

Reviewed by Steven H Silver


It has been several years since Terry Pratchett has turned his attention to writing juveniles, and it is wonderful to see him writing for children again with the appearance of The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents.   Marketed the novel as a juvenile book does the book a great disservice.  Rather than being a story specifically for children, the book is a fairy tale which will appeal to readers of all ages.

The novel is dark, humorous and subversive, and nothing children canít handle.  Pratchett begins by taking the traditional story of the Pied Piper of Hamlin and moves it to the Discworld.  It rapidly becomes apparent that his version is different as his piper, the young boy Kevin, is a pawn of the intelligent titular cat and his equally intelligent band of rats.  When they enter the town of Bad Blintz, Maurice and the rats discover that the town is strangely devoid of rats, but nevertheless supports a crew of full time rat catchers.

Malicia, the daughter of Bad Blintz's mayor, discovers Maurice and the rats' secret and tries to work them into the common tropes of the fantasy tales which she has grown up reading.  Pratchett, however, is more than willing to subvert each of those common depictions, noting that this isn't a story, but real life.  However, just as the original fairy tales were told to teach people about real life, Pratchett deconstructs those stories for the same purpose.  Parallel to Malicia's stories, the rats are also basing their sentient existence on stories, notably the children's book Mr. Bunnsy Has An Adventure, which they are slowly learning is a collection of lies rather than a primer to real life.  Their attempts to build a society based on Mr. Bunnsy meet with failure.

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents is, by turns, humorous and dark.  The situations Pratchett places Kevin, Maurice, Malicia and the rats in are deadly and play upon their fears, and by extension the fears of readers who quickly come to empathize with the characters.  At the same time, the situations are so ludicrous that the readers are constantly reminded that they are in a world of make-believe despite the characters' constant reminders that they inhabit the real world rather than a story.

Despite their flaws, the characters have a tendency to do what is ethically right, and that lesson is imparted to the reader even as the characters bemoan their actions.  Characters rally together at the necessary time despite their likes and dislikes.  The animals learn that intelligence trumps instinct as Maurice, for instance, begins to question his food before eating it to make sure it is non-sentient, and feels remorse for mistakes he made before he gained his intelligence.

The biggest disservice done to The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents may be the decision to market it as a juvenile novel.  While this won't keep hardcore Pratchett fans from reading this slim volume, and will undoubtedly introduce Pratchett's work to the hordes of Harry Potter fans who are waiting impatiently for the fifth novel of that series to be published, it may not find its way into the hands of the adult population which will be able to enjoy much of the humor which will be unnoticeable to its younger readers.


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