|Cover artist||David Wyatt|
28th novel – 5th individual story
|1 November 2001|
|Awards||Winner of the 2001 Carnegie Medal.|
|Preceded by||The Last Hero|
|Followed by||Night Watch|
The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents is a children's fantasy novel by British writer Terry Pratchett, published by Doubleday in 2001. It is the 28th novel in the Discworld series and the first written for children. The story is a new take on the German fairy tale about the Pied Piper of Hamelin and a parody of the folk tale genre.
Discworld had been a comic fantasy series for adults, beginning with The Colour of Magic in 1983. Amazing Maurice was marketed as a children's book, to be followed in that respect by The Wee Free Men (2003, #30). It differs from earlier Discworld novels also by its division into chapters, though chapters become far more common in later books of the series. Contrary to the contrast between adult and child markets, reflected in catalogues, The Guardian observed on the occasion of the Carnegie Medal that "[t]he main audience for Pratchett's 48 books, all busily in print, is teenagers, who are drawn by his irrepressible invention and sense of mischief."
The book opens with Amazing Maurice (a sentient cat), a group of talking rats (the Clan), and the human boy Keith travelling in a mail coach to a small town called Bad Blintz. The group plans to enact a scheme they have used many times before, where in the rats pretend to infest the town and Keith poses as a rat piper to lead the "vermin" away for a small sum of cash. Although Maurice sees nothing wrong with this hustling business, the rats find it immoral, and convince Maurice that this town will be the last one they rob. Upon arriving in town, the group discovers that the people are convinced of a massive rat infestation, and have spent much of their savings on two rat catchers. Despite their efforts, food continues to disappear from the town. As the rats move into the town's underground, they discover an overwhelmingly large number of rat traps, but no live keekees (rats who can't talk or think). Aboveground, Maurice makes similar observations, including that many of the rat tails the rat catchers display as proof of their successful hunting are in fact shoelaces. Maurice and Keith meet the mayor's daughter Malicia and introduce her to the talking rats.
Malicia believes that the rat catchers are up to something and so she, Maurice, and Keith break into the rat catchers' hut. They discover a great deal of food stolen by the men and large cages when the local keekees are being bred for coursing. The rat catchers return and lock up the humans, taking away the rat leader Hamnpork who had met up with them. Maurice hides and feels a voice trying to enter his mind, inciting a great sense of fear. The rats of the Clan feel it too, and many become so afraid that they all but forget how to think and reason. Dangerous Beans, the rats' spiritual leader, is crushed by the realization that the rats are just mindless animals at heart, and leaves with his assistant Peaches. Darktan, the rats' trap expert, leads a group to rescue Hamnpork, and succeeds after nearly dying in a trap. Hamnpork dies of injuries sustained while fighting in the rat coursing pit, and Darktan reluctantly assumes control of the Clan.
Malicia and Keith, after freeing themselves, trick the rat catchers into admitting their crimes. The rat catchers have created a powerful rat king named Spider, which is the source of the mysterious voice that has been plaguing the rats and Maurice. Using its mental control over the rat catchers, Spider plans to wage war on the humans that created it. It sends the rats it controls to attack Maurice, Peaches, and Dangerous Beans. However, Maurice (so terrified that he stops thinking and acts instinctively) pounces on the rat king and destroys it. Maurice emerges from Spider's chamber carrying the body of Dangerous Beans. When he is safely out, he collapses and dies. In ghostly form, he sees the Bone Rat coming for Dangerous Beans and makes a deal with the reoccurring personality in Discworld, Death – two of his remaining lives in exchange for both his life and the albino rat's.
The rats corral all the keekees and block their ears. When a real rat piper arrives in town, Keith challenges him to a duel. The piper plays his magic rat pipe but none of the rats come out. Keith plays on a trombone and Sardines (an intelligent rat) emerges and dances for the crowd. Keith is proclaimed the winner, and leads the keekees out of town with the piper. After the piper leaves, the Clan rats emerge from hiding and tell the humans about the rat catchers' duplicity. The humans bargain with the rats: if the Clan will keep the keekees out of the town, the rats may stay and live as though they were just smaller humans. Keith decides to stay behind as Bad Blintz's ceremonial rat piper, while Maurice moves on to find a new scheme.
Karen Usher, who chaired the panel of Carnegie judges, declared that the selection was unanimous: "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 Carnegie Medal for Maurice was Pratchett's first major award. The Guardian alluded to "16 years of disdain by the British literary establishment" and reported about his acceptance speech that he "rounded on" that establishment, "tilted at" Tolkien, and showed ambivalence about the fantasy label: "though his work dealt with profound themes, 'stick in one lousy dragon and they call you a fantasy writer'."
All 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, such as the doubting rat, who was called "Tomato" (as in Doubting Thomas).
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