By Maritza Arteaga, Wendy Hernandez, Brittany Markham, Krista Pohl, Iolani Sciacca, and Gabby Wilson
What would happen if animals suddenly developed the ability to think? In Terry Pratchett’s novel, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, a group of rats and one sly cat consume some strange, magical garbage and experience “the change.” Suddenly, the animals have the ability to think and plan, and they develop consciences and comprehend that they are independent beings.
Maurice, a self-centered street cat, realizes that this newly founded ability could lead to wealth and prosperity. He recruits the group of intelligent rats and a lonely orphan boy, and together they create a get rich quick scheme. Maurice and his educated rodents, along with the young boy, travel from town to town tricking the villagers by invading houses so that the townspeople think that they have a rat plague. The townspeople then hire a magical pied piper, who is in fact the young boy in Maurice’s gang, and the piper “leads” the rats out-of-town. The gang has a pretty good gig going, until they reach the town of Bad Blintz. Bad Blintz is different. Bad Blintz is scary. This town holds something sinister, and for once, the rats aren’t able to run their scam. Bad Blintz has something evil underneath their city streets, and even the ever-tough Maurice and the intelligent rats are afraid. The eccentric group of animals must work together to overcome a pair of troublesome rat catchers, an intimidating force of evil, and a fear of rats that has been building for centuries. In order to defeat this force, the gang must be brave and work together using their new-found intelligence, and Maurice must decide whether to help his rat friends or flee and save himself.
Maurice, the main character, begins the story as an egotistical, selfish street cat who only worries about himself. His second plan, unknown to his cohorts, is to scam the rats out of the gold they collect from the rat plague scheme by telling them that the silver coins are worth the most. Maurice has retirement plans, and they don’t involve any of his rat friends. Maurice thinks very little of the thoughts or feelings of others. Throughout the novel Maurice begins to hear a voice in his head while he is facing dilemmas. He soon discovers that his conscience is emerging, and it is developing quickly. Maurice’s conscience eventually guilts him into examining his way of life. While he continues the scheming, Maurice has a new-found respect for the rats. He constantly reminds the rodents that he is good due to the fact that he will never eat anything that talks. Creatures that talk are intelligent beings, and Maurice considers this murder, a sin that even he would not commit. Self-awareness allows Maurice to think about the meaning of existence, and what should be done with the time he has been given. The development of self-awareness, brought on by “the change,” affects Maurice and molds him into a thoughtful character who is willing to die for what is right in order to protect people from wrong.
Terry Pratchett uses allusions, religious references, and characterization to teach the reader about the possibility of the afterlife. The rats believe in the Grim Squeaker, an animal version of the infamous life taker, the Grim Reaper. Two of the rats constantly question their new-found ability to think and develop a curiosity about what happens to them in their dream-like states. The rats also question the existence of life after death, and discuss the bright light that they believe they will see during death, and the rat god that will take them on. There are many references to God throughout the book, but Pratchett portrays the elements of an afterlife in a rat-like way. During a near death experience, the rat leader, Darktan, thinks, “it is just like a dream, after all. Nothing to worry about. Quite nice, really. Perhaps there really is a Big Rat Deep Under the Ground. That’d be nice” (208). One rat questions, what happens “to the bit inside you that’s you? Where does that go?” (102). The rats believe that they have souls, even though they do not have a proper name for them. Pratchett uses these thoughts to suggest that death is peaceful and simple, and it is not scary and dark like so many believe. The rats like to think that death is similar to falling asleep after a hard day’s work.
The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents is a fantasy novel. It involves magic, other worlds, and talking animals. As the scenes are a bit dark and a tad gruesome at times, we think it is geared towards children ages twelve and up. The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents is aimed at young adults, but even older readers will appreciate the struggle for courage and the battle for acceptance that the animals must face in order to find their niche.
Pratchett, Sir Terry. The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents. New York: Harper Collins Children’s Books, 2008.