The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett
Given the light-hearted yet poignant nature of Terry Pratchett’s DISCWORLD, it is surprising that so few of the dozens of books in the series are Young Adult oriented. One of these is The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, and it can readily be enjoyed by adults, as well.
Playing with the legend of the Pied Piper, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents is the story of Maurice the cat, his band of talking rats, and the teenager Keith with whom they travel city to city. Running a scam, the preening, egotistical Maurice works as a middle man for Keith and the rats, the former earning money by playing the pipe to eliminate the rats who have made themselves a nuisance under Maurice’s guidance, the group sharing in the spoils.
Coming to the city of Bad Blintz in Uberwald, however, their plan runs afoul when they encounter a pair of feisty if less than intelligent rat catchers, an inconsolable mayor, and disharmony within the group as their belief in each other is tested by a variety of bizarre revelations. The group’s survival was never less certain.
Filled with huge amounts of humor and word play (Educated Rodent proverb: “The second mouse gets the cheese.”), The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents is everything DISCWORLD fans have come to love about the author. There is also a strong moral message. The tension within the group is only topped by the turmoil within the townsfolk of Bad Blintz when the rats appear. Forces on all sides threaten to destroy the unspoken accord and how the situation is resolved is certainly atypical when compared to most other books, but firmly in line with Pratchett’s worldview.
Subverting contemporary acceptance of social Darwinism, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents offers a neo-socialist utopian vision of a world wherein all species live cooperatively in a mutually beneficial society, thus improving everyone’s chances of survival. Rat rule number one: “We cooperate, or we die” is the truism of the novel. Readers looking for a grand climax will thus be disappointed. However, given the suspense and individual episodes which lead the story to its grand confrontation, reading the book is never a chore. And then again, this is Pratchett: expect the unexpected. Which leads to the next point.
Along with The Pied Piper, another idea the novel subverts is the place of fairy tales. The idyllic nature of fairy tales, as well as the dependability of their outcome, all come crashing to the ground as the plot develops (poor Mr. Bunnsy!), but later are resurrected in a rational light. Dangerous Beans is still able to defend himself against the logic of the Rat King — his rationale intact despite just having had his belief in Mr. Bunnsy destroyed. This departure from the traditional fairy tale along with other subversive techniques used by Pratchett coagulate into a central theme of the novel when at the end Dangerous Beans can be quoted as saying “We have to plan for the real world. There is no room for the fantastic.”
In the end, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents is a superb combination of storytelling and morality. Though aimed at a YA audience, adults will have no problem reading the book — many, in fact, need to take Pratchett’s message to heart themselves despite their age. Humor, humor, and more humor, an utterly unpredictable plot, interesting rats — err, characters — and a profound denouement, this is DISCWORLD at its best.
Discworld — (1983-2015) Discworld is a satirical fantasy world created by Terry Pratchett to poke fun at 1980s fantasy novels. Since then, they’ve evolved so that they now make fun of everything. Mr. Pratchett explains Discworld: “The world rides through space on the back of a turtle. This is one of the great ancient world myths, found wherever men and turtles are gathered together; the four elephants were an indo-European sophistication. The idea has been lying in the lumber room of legend for centuries. All I had to do was grab it and run away before the alarms went off… There are no maps. You can’t map a sense of humor. Anyway, what is a fantasy map but a space beyond which There Be Dragons? On the Discworld we know There Be Dragons Everywhere. They might not all have scales and forked tongues, but they Be Here all right, grinning and jostling and trying to sell you souvenirs.” The Discworld novels are presented here in publication order. To read more about the Discworld “arcs” and reading order, see this Wikipedia article.
Discworld for Kids: