The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents is the 28th novel in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, published in 2001. It was the first Discworld book to be aimed at the younger market; this was followed by The Wee Free Men in 2003.
The novel won the Carnegie Medal in 2001, providing Pratchett with his first major award. The leader of the judges, Karen Usher, declared that the choice was a unanimous one: "This is an outstanding work of literary excellence - a brilliant twist on the tale of the Pied Piper that is funny and irreverent, but also dark and subversive."
The Amazing Maurice is a talking cat, who leads his Educated Rodents, a group of talking rats, as they go from town to town being a plague so that their accomplice, a boy piper, can "lure them all away" from the town, after which they share the money the piper makes. The rats had gained intelligence from eating the waste from the rubbish tip behind Unseen University; Maurice gained it after eating one of the rats, Additives before he was capable of realizing that they were no longer proper rats.
The group is not completely happy; the leader of the rats, Hamnpork, despises Maurice, while Dangerous Beans, a near-blind rat who guides them like a guru, wants to start a rat civilisation and both he and Peaches, the group's scribe, find their trickery unethical. The rats are seeking an ideal world where humans and rats live together, following the example of their sacred book Mr Bunnsy Has an Adventure. They agree to do one last job, in the town of Bad Blintz, in Uberwald.
The rats set about planning their offensive, led by Darktan, their general, while Maurice and Keith, the piper, look around. They are surprised to find that while the buildings are expensively built, the people have little food, and rats are hunted far more viciously than anywhere else. Maurice and Keith meet Malicia, the mayor's daughter, who is a story teller (her grandmother and great aunt were the Sisters Grim). She soon discovers that Maurice can talk, and meets Sardines, a tap-dancing rat who is the most daring of the group. While talking to her, Maurice reveals that the rat-catchers have been passing off boot-laces as rat tails (for which they are paid 50 pence each).
As they set off to look in the rat-catchers' house, the rats discover many rat tunnels, which are empty, save for traps and poison. The two groups meet in the rat catchers' den, where they have been storing the food the rats are thought to have eaten, and find cages where the rats are being bred, for coursing.
The rat-catchers return, and lock Keith and Malicia away, and take Hamnpork to be coursed. Maurice hides, and feels a voice trying to enter his mind. The rats feel it, and it returns many of them to being simple rats, to the dismay of Dangerous Beans. Darktan leads a group to rescue Hamnpork, while Peaches and Dangerous Beans free Keith and Malicia. Malicia lets slip that Mr Bunnsy Has an Adventure is a fictional children's book, and Dangerous Beans and Peaches leave in despair.
Darktan's group is successful in rescuing an injured Hamnpork, though Darktan himself, the head of the Trap Disposal Unit, finds himself in a trap. After a near-death experience, and the death of Hamnpork, he assumes leadership, and sets out after Dangerous Beans. Maurice, in the meanwhile, has given in to his conscience and is also seeking them, but the voice gains power over him. Malicia and Keith, after gaining freedom, trick the rat catchers into revealing their secret by tricking them into thinking they have been poisoned. The rat catchers have created a powerful rat king – several rats, tied together at the tail, who make a single mind with power over others – who is named Spider, being made of eight rats (eight being a magical number on the Discworld).
Spider is interested in Dangerous Beans; other rats he can control, but Dangerous Beans has a mind similar to his: one that thinks for others. Dangerous Beans refuses Spider's offer of jointly ruling, as Spider wants to wage war on humans. As this happens, Malicia and Keith, under Spider's control, are about to set free the trapped rats. Spider tries to destroy Dangerous Beans' mind; this is felt by his army of rats, and Maurice. Dangerous Beans is able to resist, but Maurice reverts to being a cat, and the cat instinct tells him to pounce on Spider, though enough of his mind remains to tell him to sever the knot in Spider's tails.
Darktan's army, who have been fighting Spider's rats, find Peaches in Spider's lair, which is burning after Peaches dropped a match. Maurice, seeing Dangerous Beans, attacks and kills him. He emerges carrying the body of Dangerous Beans. When he is safely out, he falls over and dies. In ghostly form, he sees the "Bone Rat" coming for Dangerous Beans. He attacks him, but is picked up by Death, with whom he strikes a deal: one of his remaining lives for Dangerous Beans'.
Though Spider is defeated, there is still a problem remaining: the rat piper is due to arrive the next day. The rats set about rounding up the other, non-intelligent, rats ('keekees'). When the piper arrives, Keith challenges him. His pipe had been broken by the rat-catchers, so he uses a borrowed trombone, to the sounds of which Sardines comes out dancing. When the piper starts to play his magical pipe, the rats plug their ears to avoid being charmed. One rat does come out: Mr. Clicky, a clockwork rat the rats use to test traps.
The piper calls Keith aside, and tells him the tricks of the trade: the pipe contains a hidden slide position for a trick note that drives rats away, the stories are made up so people will be scared into paying. Keith and the piper then lead the keekees out of town – Keith wants to maintain the story of the piper, and the rats want a convenient way to set the keekees free.
Once that has been done, the rats emerge, offering to tell the humans where to find the stolen food and money, in return for living peacefully with them. Maurice negotiates, selling the humans a promise of a brighter future, with the rats as a tourist attraction. Keith stays on as the town's piper, and the town becomes a tourist attraction, as Maurice predicted, and everybody remarks on how clean the place is.
At the end of the novel, Maurice leaves his rodents behind and finds a child to whom he asks "Hey, stupid looking kid. You wanna be lord mayor? No, down here kid" and goes off to start a new adventure.
Ideas and themesEdit
Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents are first mentioned in Reaper Man. The novel presents a new take on the classic fairy tale The Pied Piper of Hamelin, which was based on German folklore and has been popularized by such authors as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the Brothers Grimm, and Robert Browning.
The rats' names derive from the words they have seen written on tins before they knew what the words meant and they have called themselves whatever they thought sounded good. Pratchett puns on this; the doubting rat, is called 'Tomato' a play on Doubting Thomas one of Jesus' disciples. Other names include "Peaches", "Nourishing", "Hamnpork", "Delicious" and "Feedsfour". "Dangerous Beans" and "Donut Eater" are takeoffs on the roadway signs, "Dangerous Bends" and "Do Not Enter"
Pratchett attacks the notion that humans are the high water mark of evolution often in his novels. Here is points out that rats (which we humans consider to be lowly vermin) don't have many of the horrible traits of the supposedly superior human race. Maurice says, in reference to humans, "I don't know about intelligent species, We're dealing with humans here. Do you know about wars? Very popular with humans. They fight other humans. Not hugely big on common bonding." The Rat King also uses a similar line when he says to Dangerous Beans, "You will have worked out that there is a race in this world which steals and kills and spreads disease and despoils what it cannot use." to which Dangerous Beans replies, "Yes. That's easy. It's called humanity."
"Mr Bunnsy Has an Adventure" - Mr Bunnsy's adventures are a parody of Beatrix Potter's Tales of Peter Rabbit children's stories, most of which concern fluffy animals being rather nice to each other. It also resonates with Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows. In the Hogfather, Pratchett parodied the whole soppy children's literature genre of the early 1900s.
"Rats! They chased the dogs and bit the cats, they --" is a reference to Robert Browning's 1842 version of The Pied Piper of Hamelin: "Rats!/ They fought the dogs and killed the cats,/ And bit the babies in the cradles". Near the end of the book, this line is changed to "We fight dogs and we chase cats..." and sung by the army of rats. In the armed services, a military cadence or cadence call is a traditional call-and-response work song where one person sings the lines and the rest of the group responds. It is sung while running or marching to keep the cadence and keep spirits up. In the United States, these cadences are sometimes called jody calls or jodies, after Jody, a recurring character in many traditional cadences; Jody refers to the man with whom a serviceman's wife/girlfriend cheats, while he is deployed. Usually the songs poke fun at other regiments, the enemy, army life and what the soldiers' girlfriends/wives are up to while the soldier is away in the army. Pratchett used this in Night Watch as well.
The Uberwald town of Bad Blintz is a play on the common spa towns throughout Germany - Bad meaning Bath -where people went to take the curative waters. Blintz is a stuffed folded pancake which is then sauteed.
The Sisters Grim, Agoniza and Eviscera are the equivalent of the German lexicographers Brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, but the reference is also to the fact that these stories are grim like most cautionary tales for children, unlike the Beatrice Potter stories of Peter Rabbit. Pratchett provides a nice touch of gender equality by making the authors of such grim fairy tales women.
Hamnpork says, "We never thought about thinking when I was a lad. We'd never get anything done if we thought first." to which Pratchett adds that "Maurice hadn't got were he was by giving up on problems". Both are references to the TV series and books by David Nobbs, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin" where the character CJ is always saying this kind of thing and his standard tag line is, "I didn't get where I am today by....."
Darktan's troop are a parody of the military structure of an army. The Light and Heavy Widdlers are a reference to the Light Cavalry and Heavy Horse Regiments which, after the end of the use of horses, became the Light and Heavy Tank Battalions. The rat trap squad is reminiscent of the bomb squads in the London Blitz who disarmed and dismantled the German ordinance that fell on the city during WWII and has many parallels to the British TV series, Danger UBX.
Peaches drawings include a "thick line, where she'd pressed heavily, (which) had to mean 'no'." There are two theories on this line; one is that it is like the thick diagonal line through road signs as in "Do not enter" or "no passing" and the other is the one from formal logic where one of the ways of indicating the negation of a proposition 'p', (ie turn it into the opposite statement "not 'p'), is to write 'p' with a horizontal bar on top of it. Pratchett uses similar road sign references in Thud! to indicate mysterious symbols of the deepdowner Dwarfs.
Malicia, the granddaughter and great neice of the Sisters Grim clearly "inherited the story telling talent". She is convinced that Maurice was probably owned by a witch who lived in a ginger bread cottage in the woods, (Hansel and Gretel from the Brothers Grimm) and that Keith must have been a prince left on a doorstep with a crown and a magical sword (reminiscent of the heir to the Kingdom of Lancre, Tomjon, left with the traveling theatre group as well as Captain Carrot, but also a very common theme in numerous fairy tales (The Dancing Water, the Singing Apple, Thumbelina, the Speaking Bird), legends (Oedipus Rex, Excaliber) and bible stories (Moses found in the bullrushes). She claimed to have two evil step sisters (Cinderella) when she is really an only child..
Maurice asks Malicia about the fairy tales, "stories about little people with wings that go tinkle-tinkle?" a reference to Tinkerbell in James Barrie's novel Peter Pan.
The reference to "four children and a dog, which is the right number for an adventure, [...]'" is to Enid Blyton's Famous Five stories.
Maurice says to Malicia " How will you recognize me? Shall I wear a red carnation?" - wearing a flower is a common identification trick in TV and movies. John Steed in the 1960s British TV series, The Avengers used a red carnation as his identifier.
Malicia says to Maurice, "I mean,you don't wear boots and sword and have a big hat with a feather in it," a reference to the story of Puss in Boots, the most popular version by Charles Perrault,
The fairy tale, The Seventh Wife of Greeenbeard is a reference to the story of Bluebeard, also by Charles Perrault and called The Robber Bridegroom in the Grimms Fairy Tales or Mr. Fox written by Norman Partridge,
As Maurice and the rats become more "human", the rats discuss the concept of a soul and a god; a big rat who lives underground. Since rats are a tunneling species, it is appropriate that their god would not be above in "heaven" but below in the underworld - the place humans put Hell. The Bone Rat is their concept of the Death of Rats - Death's counterpart for rats - a skeletal rat with scythe.
The line, "[...] of course everyone knows about Dick Livingstone and his wonderful cat, don't they?' is an an amalgam of Dick Whittington and Ken Livingstone, both mayors of London in different eras. Dick Whittington is a character in British pantomime, loosely based on the real-life Richard Whittington. Dick is a boy from a poor family who sets out for London to make his fortune, accompanied by his cat. At one point he loses heart and turns to go back home, but then he hears the bells of London ringing out, saying: "Turn again, Dick Whittington, three times Lord Mayor of London." Pratchett plays on this in the final scene when Maurice finds a boy with all his worldly goods tied in a handkerchief on a pole and says to him, "Hey stupid looking kid? Want to be Lord Mayor? Nah! Down here, kid..." The real Richard Whittington was mayor of London under Richard II in the late 14th century. As for Ken Livingstone, one of his first acts as new mayor of London after being elected in 2000, was to get rid of the famous pigeons from Trafalgar Square. He did not get his cat to eat them but he just removed the street-traders who sold bags of bird-feed to tourists there -- no unlimited food, no huge flocks of birds.
As the novel develops Maurice and the rats develop other human characteristics. Maurice feels guilty about eating Additives and says "Cats don't go around feeling sorry! or guilty! We never regret anything! Do you know what it feels like, saying "Hello food, can you talk? The line, "We never regret anything!" resonates with the song Edith Piaff made famous, Je ne regrette rien - I regret nothing.
"Pay the piper" is a triple entendre - actually paying the rat piper for his services but also as in the old expression, "He who pays the piper, calls the tune" which means if you pay the expenses for something you get to determine what happens with it, which Maurice and the rats clearly do when Keith pays the piper to join him in leading the rats out of town. The final meaning of the expression comes from the original use of the term; after dancing all evening to the musician's music you were expected to pay for his services. The expression therefore means, to bear the negative consequences later for enjoyable activities earlier on. The rat piper does this when he is ridiculed, exposed and threatened with ruin for not being able to bring forth one rat after years of making a huge profit off his rat piping scam.
"Talk to the paw, mister, 'cos the whiskers don't want to know" is a take off on comedian Martin Lawrence's 1990s line which became a popular and short lived insult then, "Talk to the hand, because the ears ain't listening"
"[...] the Acme Poison Company [...]' is a recurring reference to the Acme company of Wile Coyote and Roadrunner cartoon fame which supplies Wile Coyote with most of his equipment for attempting to capture the Roadrunner. It is found as the Acme Dynamite Company in Soul Music.
The voice of the King Rat in the walls and inside Maurice, the rats and the rat catchers' heads saying such things as "come CLOSER", "WHAT! CAT! CAT! KILL! resonates with JK Rowling's, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and the basilisk in the drains of Hogwarts which Harry hears.
The King Rat, who is comprised of number of rats with their tails tied together draws its reference from multiple sources. Pratchett refers to the practice of tying the rats tails together as the final exam of apprentice rat catcher and Roundworld urban legends suggest that in certain circumstances (mucus, excrement, confined locations) the rats tails get joined permanently however there is no real evidence to support this. Other references include the 1965 World War II film of the same name directed by Bryan Forbes, about prisoners in a Singapore prisoner of war camp, a more likely reference as the rats in The Amazing Maurice are prisoners too and the King Rat is their leader. The third reference is likely the "Mouse King" (Mausekönig) from E. T. A. Hoffmann's The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. The Mouse King has multiple heads and was probably itself inspired by the multiple-bodied rat king legends. This novella was made into Tchaikovsky ballet The Nutcracker. The fact that the rats tails are tied together is also reminiscent of the Gordian Knot which Pratchett referenced in The Last Hero. In Roundworld legend, the one who could untie the Gordian knot would rule the world. Alexander the Great solved the problem by "cheating" and cutting it in half with his sword. In the The Amazing Maurice, Maurice cuts the knot by biting through it and defeating the rats who are then no longer one super rat but a number of ordinary ones - a variation on the united we stand, divided we fall theme.
The comment that Malicia had tracked down the "Headless Horseman" who turns out to be a short man with a high collar, is a reference to the old folk lore tale from the Middle Ages and which was popularized in the 1820 short story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,"by Washington Irving.
The two Watchmen Sergeant Doppelpunkt and Corporal Knopf are Uberwald's equivalent of Sergeant Colon and Corporal Nobbs. "Doppelpunkt" translated from German to English means "double point" or "colon" (the punctuation mark, not the part of the digestive tract). "Knopf", means "knob"who makes his appearance on the next page has a name that translates back to 'Knob'.
Pratchett has little respect in any of his novels for the bureaucratic wrangling of government and business. In this novel, the negotiations between the rats and the people of Bad Blintz to provide a permanent home for the rats in exchange for pest control become mired in endless committee meetings, resolutions, task forces, etc. which threaten the whole project. In The Last Hero, Pratchett refers to these kinds of "workshops" as a system "where people who don't know anything get together to pool their ignorance."
- BBC Radio 4 broadcast a 90-minute dramatisation in 2003, which was repeated on BBC 7 on June 2,2007 and April 27, 2008. This will be available to listen to via the BBC 7 website for a week, until 4th May
- Изумителният Морис и неговите образовани гризачи (Bulgarian)
- Čudesni Maurice i njegovi učeni glodavci (Croatian)
- Úžasný Mauric a jeho vzdělaní hlodavci (Czech)
- Mirakelse Maurits en zijn Gestudeerde Knaagdieren (Dutch)
- Hämmastav Maurice ja tema õpetatud närilised (Estonian)
- Mahtava Morris ja sivistyneet siimahännät (Finnish)
- Le Fabuleux Maurice et ses rongeurs savants (French)
- Maurice, der Kater (German)
- Il prodigioso Maurice e i suoi geniali roditori (Italian)
- Brīnumainā Morisa dēkas (Latvian)
- Magiske Maurits og hans Gløgge Gnagere (Norwegian)
- Zadziwiający Maurycy i jego uczone szczury (Polish)
- O Fabuloso Maurício e seus ratos letrados (Portuguese)
- O Fabuloso Maurício e seus roedores letrados (Portuguese - Brazil)
- Uluitorul Maurice şi rozătoarele lui educate (Romanian)
- Удивительный Морис и его ученые грызуны (Russian)
- Den Makalöse Maurice och hans Kultiverade Gnagare (Swedish)
! colspan="3" | Reading order guide
! colspan="3" | Awards