“Eric” is mainly about who has power, who wants power and who will suffer from it.
The demon King of Hell, Astfgl, has been waiting for Eric Thursday to open a summoning circle.
(his) brand of super-intelligent gormlessness was a rare delight. Hell needed horribly-bright, self-centered people like Eric. They were much better at being nasty that demons could ever manage.
When this long-awaited event finally happened, the King’s best demon, Vassenego, was supposed to materialize in the magic circle and bend Eric to Astfgl’s will.
We last left Rincewind running away from the Thing in the Dungeon Dimensions after telling Coin to run towards the light and not look back over his shoulder no matter what he heard. One of Rincewind’s greatest strengths is running. He does not care where, as long as it is away from trouble. Somehow, Eric’s summoning brought him back from his marathon in the Dungeon Dimensions to the reality he preferred. Sadly, he was caught in the summoning circle and could run no further. Eric thought he had summoned a demon and demanded of Rincewind that he grant three wishes: Dominion of the world, the most beautiful woman who ever lived and to live for ever.
We all know that Rincewind is the most inept wizard ever and incapable of fulfilling any wishes demanding magic. His magic ability is on the negative scale, and if it were not for the spell living in his head the other wizards would have completely ignored him. A strange thing happens with Rincewind after he was summoned. It seems he developed great magical powers. Eric is about to learn an important lesson when it comes to wishing things from summoned creatures: Phrasing is important.
Back to my questions at the beginning of this post. The only being on the Discworld who does not care about being powerful is Death. Whether you are all-powerful or downtrodden Death is who is found at the end of life. However, in Hell Astfgl is at the top of a ladder with many power-hungry demons climbing behind him. As we saw in “Sourcery”, magicians who are unfortunate enough to become Arch-chancellor suffer from the same affliction.
Rincewind’s ambitions are not those of demons. Nor are they those of Eric. However, he ends up suffering for the ambitions of both demons and Eric. In Eric’s case, we can safely say that he was extremely fortunate in getting Rincewind rather than Vassenego into his summoning circle. One can safely say that Rincewind is not interested in breaking any one to his will. Once again, the Luggage turns up to save Rincewind’s “bacon“.
Pratchett makes fun of the many reorganizations that people in power want to implement so they too make a mark upon the world. From my limited experience, reorganizations seldom seem to achieve their claimed goals. They are expensive things that require re-educating the people who have to implement them. Sadly that re-education is often lacking. Once again, Pratchett’s poking works for me and the laments about the reorganizations are brilliant.
The title of the story refers to the well-known story about another demon summoner who had not been careful of his phrasing. Eric and Rincewind’s adventures continue our classical education during the fulfillment of Eric’s wishes. We are taken to the Discworldian versions of the mythology surrounding the Aztecs, Helen of Troy, the Big Bang theory and the re-birth of the universe. This reminder of sociological traditions is another thing I love about Pratchett’s writing. No text or theory is too sacred to be twisted into even odder tellings.
All of Pratchett’s intro’s are amazing. I leave you with the introduction to “Eric”:
The bees of Death are big and black, they buzz low and sombre, they keep their honey in combs of wax as white as altar candles. The honey is black as night, thick as sin and sweet as treacle.
It is well known that eight colours make up white. But there are also eight colours of blackness, for those that have the seeing of them, and the hives of Death are among the black grass in the black orchard under the black-blossomed, ancient boughs of tress that will, eventually, produce apples that — put it like this — probably won’t be red.
The grass was short now. They scythe that had done the work leaned against the gnarled bole of a pear tree. Now death was inspecting his bees, gently lifting the combs in his skeletal fingers.
A few bees buzzed around him. Like all beekeepers, Death wore a veil. It wasn’t that he had anything to sting, but sometimes a bee would get inside his skull and buzz around and give him a headache.
As he held a comb up to the grey light of his little world between the realities there was the faintest of tremors. A hum went up from hive, a leaf floated down. A wisp of wind blew for a moment through the orchard, and that was the most uncanny thing, because the air in the land of Death is always warm and still.
Death fancied that he heard, very briefly, the sound of running feet and a voice saying, no, a voice thinking oshitoshitoshit, I’m gonna die I’m gonna die I’m gonna DIE!
Death is almost the oldest creature in the universe, with habits and modes of thought that mortal man cannot being to understand, but because he was also a good beekeeper he carefully replaced the comb in its rack and put the lid on the hive before reacting.
He strode back through the dark garden to his cottage, removed the veil, carefully dislodged a few bees who had got lost in the depths of his cranium, and retired to his study.
As he sat down at his desk there was another rush of wind, which rattled the hour-glasses on the shelves and made the big pendulum clock in the hall pause ever so briefly in its interminable task of slicing time into manageable bits.
Death sighed, and focused his gaze.
There is nowhere Death will not go, no matter how distant and dangerous. In fact the more dangerous it is, the more likely he is to be there already.
Now he stared through the mists of time and space.
OH, he said. IT’s HIM.
- Braille: Eric; Stephen Briggs; Stockport: National Library for the Blind, 1997.
- Brazilian Portugese: Eric; Translated by Ludimila Hashimoto; Sao Paulo: Conrad livros, 2005.
- Bulgarian: Eric; Translated by Tatiana. Kostadinova-Minkovska; Sofia: Vusev, 1992.
- Czech: Erik; Translated by Jan Kantůrek; Praha: Talpress, 2007.
- Dutch: Eric; Translated by Venugopalan Ittekot; Amsterdam: Mynx, 2008.
- Estonian: Eric; Translated by Kaaren Kaer, Hillar Mets; Tailinn: Varrak, 2002.
- Finnish: Eric; Translated by Mika Kivimäki; Hämeenlinna: Karisto, 2003.
- French: Eric; Translated by Patrick Couton, Raphaël Defossez; Nante: L’Atalante, 1997, Paris: Pocket, 2001.
- German: Eric; Translated by Andreas Brandhorst; Munich: Piper, 2006.
- Hungarian: Erik. Regény a Korongvilágon; Translated by Anikó Sohár; Debrecen: Cherubion, 2001.
- Italian: Eric; Translated by Antonella Pierotti; Milano: Salini, 2006.
- Polish: Eryk; Translated by Piotr W. Cholewa; Warszawa: Prószyński i S-ka: 1997.
- Serbian: Erik; Translated by Dejan Papić; Beograd: Laguna, 2001.
- Slovakian: Erik; Translated by Vladislav Gális; Praha: Talpress, 2010.
- Spanish: Eric; Translated by Javier Calvo; Barcelona: Debolsillo, 2004.
- Swedish: Eric; Translated by Mats Blomquist; Stockholm: B. Wahlström, 2003.
- Turkish: Eric; Translated by Niran Elçi; Istanbul: Ithaki, 2010.
Guards! Guards! begins with an Ankh-Morpork brought to her knees by the fiascos of its previous rulers and the manipulations of its present Patrician, Lord Vetinari. Lord Vetinari has worked hard to subvert any thought of traditional social contract between ruler and the ruled. He has created organized crime/intricate guild system and subverted Ankh-Morpork’s police force/Watch. Its officers are no longer considered a threat to those who break the “law”.
The city wasa, wasa, wasa wossname. Thing. Woman. Thass what it was. Woman. Roaring, ancient, centuries old. Strung you along, let you fall in thingy, love with her, then kicked you inna, inna, thingy. thingy, in your mouth. Tongue. Tonsils. Teeth. That’s what it, she did. She wasa … thing, you know, lady dog. Puppy. Hen. Bitch. And then you hated her and, and, just when you thought you’d got her, it, out of your, whatever, then she opened her great rotten heart to you, caught you off bal, bal, bal, thing. Ance. Yeah. Thassit. Never knew where you stood. Lay. Only thing you were sure of, you couldn’t let her go. Because, because she was yours, all you had, even in her gutters …..
Captain Vimes is the leader of the Watch. A man who has no experience with rose-tinted glasses. Growing up in the Shades will do that to you. Brought to his knees by the manipulations of the Patrician, Vimes has become a severely depressed alcoholic who drinks to forget what he, and his Watch, have become.
In other words, both Ankh-Morpork and Captain Vimes seem ready for some kind of catalyst. And that is what Pratchett gives us. One of those catalysts brings a mystery to the eyes and ears of the entire Watch.
And then there was a sound –
– perhaps a volcanic sound, or the sound of a boiling geyser, but at any rate a long, dry roar of a sound, like the bellows in the forges of the Titans –
– but it was not so bad as the light, which was blue-white and the sort of light to print the pattern of your eyeballs’ blood vessels on the back of the inside of your skull.
According to the Patrician, they are dealing with a gigantic “wading bird” and “gang war”. Vimes does not agree. The other catalyst comes in the form of a six foot six dwarf. For the sake of spoofing, the dwarfs of Discworld are similar to the dwarfs of epic fantasy, i.e. miners whose idea of a good height for a mine is five feet. As far as he knows, Carrot is a dwarf. When he becomes sixteen, Carrot discovers that he is not, in fact, a dwarf. Instead, he is a human like those on the surface. His father wrote to the Patrician inquiring about the possibility of a position with the Watch. Once the letter of hire is received, Carrot travels to Ankh-Morpork to “have a man made of him.” On his he memorizes most of Ankh-Morpork’s laws.
Why do I love Guards! Guards!? Pratchett is an excellent writer and this is probably one of his better works. He lays our (humanity’s) weaknesses and strengths in front of us in a manner that is both warm and sharp. No issue is too sacred. With Carrot, Vimes and Wonce we explore the long-term effects of personality, environment and chance. Colon allows us a look at the way some marriages survive. Sybil and Vimes show us loneliness and depression and different ways of coping. They also bring an odd version of Cinderella to the Discworld. The Patrian and the dragon show us two sides of the same type of leadership. Theirs aren’t the only types of leadership we see. Organized crime is a fitting word for the guild system, and the wizards, of the city. In addition, there is the Supreme Grand Master of the The Elucidated Brethren. Democracy is a term the citizens of Ankh-Morpork are unfamiliar with. The Librarian remains comfortable in his skin. Lines between classes are best seen in the river of Ankh-Morpork and, indeed, it does divide “betters” (Morpork) from their “lessers” (Ankh).
With Guards! Guards! Pratchett’s satire pricks me, and hopefully many others, with its truths. Mainly though, I am left with a sense of hope. Or perhaps opportunities? Anyways. Absolutely fabulous.
- Audiobook: Guards! Guards!; Narrator
- Bulgarian: Стражите! Стражите!; Translator Мирела Христова; ИК Вузев, 1998
- Chinese: 來人啊！Translator 魯宓 (Hu Shu); 寂寞出版股份有限公司, 2012
- 卫兵！卫兵！ Wei bing! Wei bing! 四川科学, 技术出版 社, 2012
- Czech: Stráže! Stráže!; Translator Jan Kantůrek; Talpress, 1995
- Dutch: Wacht! Wacht!; Translator Venugopalan Ittekot; Het Spectrum, 1993
- Estonian: Vahid! Vahid!; Translator Allan Eichenbaum; Varrak, 2002
- Finnish: Vartijat, hoi!; Translator Marja Sinkkonen; Karisto, 1999
- French: Au Guet!; Translator Patrick Couton; Nantes, L’Atalante, 1997
- German: Wachen! Wachen!; Translator Andreas Brandhorst; Münich, Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, 1991
- Hebrew: שומרים! שומרים! Shomrim! Shomrim!; Translator
- Hungarian: Őrség! Őrség!; Translator Sohár Anikó; Cherubion, 2000
- Italian: A me le guardie!; Translator Antonella Pieretti; Milano, Salani, 2002
- Norwegian: I lovens navn!; Translator Torleif Sjøgren-Erichsen; Tiden, 2002
- Polish: Straż! Straż!; Translator Piotr W. Cholewa; Warszawa, Prószyński i S-ka, 1989
- Portuguese (Brazil): Guardas! Guardas!; Translator
- Romanian: Gărzi! Gărzi!; Translator M; Rao, 2008
- Russian: Стража! Стража!; Translator Светлана Увбарх; Москва, Эксмо, 2001
- Serbian: Straža! Straža!; Preveo: Dejan Papić; Beograd, Laguna, 2000
- Spanish: ¡Guardias! ¡Guardias!; Translator Cristina Macía Orio; Barcelona, Martínez-Roca, 1993
- Swedish: I lagens namn!; Translator Peter Lindforss; Stockholm, Wahlströms, 1995
- Turkish: Muhafızlar! Muhafızlar!; Translator Niran Elçi; İthaki Yayınları, 2003
Another feature in the young (and not only young) people in today’s Russia is their (or our) political apathy. Out of one hundred students barely 10 will be at least mildly interested in politics. Whatever the causes this apathy has to be dealt with despite the fact that government and university officials frown upon attempts at independent political activity of more or less any kind. There are quite many books on the issue but they are so serious that in them things either look like ideological propaganda which provokes idiosyncratic reaction – or appear to be totally hopeless which is maybe even worse. With Pratchett’s ‘Guards! Guards!’ it as possible to talk not only about political matters, but also about the good and evil in people. Pratchett’s brilliant formulas stick in memory and give food for thought and, I believe may really influence one’s behavior, provided that attention has been timely drawn to them: ‘people who will follow any dragon…’
So, from Pratchett’s books we can move in three directions: 1) philosophical; 2) political; 3) literary (involving the above and a lot of other things as well).
Suprun, T. (2011). Humanities in academia: The glass beads game, a breakthrough to the ultimate reality (whatever it means) or following the curriculum?. International Journal of Arts & Sciences, CD-ROM. ISSN: 1944-6934 :: 4(18):65–75 http://openaccesslibrary.org/images/0418_Tatiana_Suprun.pdf
Terry Pratchett recognises the power of cultural stories: they are a way for the culture to understand itself. “Story shapes” become templates as people “attempt to fit the facts of history into them”. However, when these stories move beyond frameworks for understanding the past and present, they morph into a blueprint for the future. This “narrative causality”, as Pratchett calls it, drives cultural and individual identity. Pratchett rejects this cultural lockstep, as his Discworld characters demonstrate that “stories cannot be allowed to dictate roles to people”. In Guards! Guards!, Captain Samuel Vimes of the City Watch is caught between two roles: the fantasy hero and the drunk, washed-up policeman. His negotiation between these two frameworks is the heart of the novel. Vimes becomes a hero and stays a cop through his own choices about what he wants his story to be, not what the universally known stories tell him.
Pratchett’s Discworld brings together medieval English romance tropes and their modern reiterations in epic fantasy. Historically, both genres have struggled to garner serious scholarly study. Medieval romance was for a long time understudied, despite its being the most popular genre of its time, the basis for much of modern Western popular culture, and the location of much of the imaginary world of the Middle Ages. Fantasy (and science fiction) often take tropes of romance and rework them for a contemporary audience. Epic fantasy is a type of medievalism ………………………………..
Leverett, E. (2018). Terry Pratchett’s Narrative Worlds : From giant turtles to small gods. In ‘At times like this it’s traditional that a hero comes forth’: Romance and identity in Terry Pratchett’s Guards! Guards! (pp. 159-175). Cham: Springer International Publishing: Palgrave MacMillan. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-67298-4_9
Of all of the Discworld novels, those that feature Ankh-Morpork’s Watch place the most emphasis on the operation of society as a whole. They apply the satirical lens of Discworld optics to the city of Ankh-Morpork, using the Watch as a microcosm of society to focus attention on the ways in which people see. The events of each of the novels are set in motion by a perceived need to resurrect the long-dead monarchy of Ankh-Morpork. Those who think: the city needs a king view monarchy as a monological means of resolution, using it to superimpose their idea of kingship upon society. The absolutist nature of this kind of approach either ignores or devalues some of the Discworld’s inhabitants. In contrast, the high-resolution picture of society that the Watch develop is an inclusive and adaptable one, always in the process of being shaped. The Watch novels subvert perceptions of monarchy and, in doing so, indicate the narrowness of anyone who ignores the essential diversity, divisiveness and complexity of society…………….
Murray, W. (1998). Subversions: The Discworld novels of Terry Pratchett. University of Canterbury, Masters thesis. p. 52-113. Webaddress
“But here, away from the great centres of population, where the Circle Sea meets the desert, there is a line of cold blue fire. Flames as chilly as the slopes of Hell roar towards the sky. Ghostly light flickers across the desert.
The pyramids in the ancient valley of the Djel are flaring their power into the night.
The energy streaming up from their paracosmic peaks may, in chapters to come, illuminate many mysteries: why tortoises hate philosophy, why too much religion is bad for goats, and what it is that handmaidens actually do.”
As the Discworld unfolds, the stories become more poignant. Yes, gags, plays on words, and downright bizarreness are plentiful. Except, this isn’t why Pratchett remains one of my alltime favourite authors. Real world people and events (even historical) are. Pyramids is sort of about Egyptian history, all boy boarding schools (particularly final examinations), family, coming of age and religion. Most of all, it is about human nature as seen with the eyes of Pratchett and interpreted through me. This must have been my fourth time to read the Pyramids, and I still enjoyed it a great deal. To be fair, I am not alone in that point of view. Pyramids was considered great enough that it won the 1989 BSFA Award for best science fiction novel.
And, after all, what was there for him at home? A kingdom two miles wide and one hundred and fifty miles long, which was almost entirely underwater during the flood season, and threatened on either side by stronger neighbours who tolerated its existence only because they’s be constantly at war if it wasn’t there.
Teppic’s father, the king of Djelibeybi, promised Teppic’s mother that he would send the boy off for a proper education abroad. She felt Djelibeybi was a bit set in its ways. According to popular beliefs of the time, the best all-round education a boy could get was at Ankh-Morpork’s Assassin’s Guild. Up until then, Teppic’s education had been a bit spotty, encouraged independent thinking, and gave him an inflated view of his position in the world. The (almost) all-boy boarding school did not destroy Teppic’s independent thinking but it did manage to help his opinion of himself become a bit more in line with Discworld reality. We meet him for the first time as he is about to take his final examination, one that is all about avoiding ill-preparedness, carelessness, lack of concentration, poor maintenenance of tools and over-confidence. Not all who attend the Assassin Guild’s school survive the experience.
Then Teppic’s father dies and his “mantle” passes on to Teppic.
The sun, unaware that it was making its farewell performance, continued to drift smoothly above the rim of the world. And out of it, moving faster than any bird should be able to fly, a seagull bore down on Ankh-Morpork, on the Brass Bridge and eight still figures, on one staring face …
Once the mantle is passed, Teppic knows that he must return to Djelibeybi. If only he did not have to return to Dios. “Dios, First Minister and high priest among high priests“. A fundamentalist of fundamentalists. Like many priests he does not really believe in his gods, but he certainly believes that other people should. Dios reminds me of many religious leaders I have met and read about.
The naturally religious, he felt, were unstable and given to wandering in the desert and having revelations – as if the gods would lower themselves to that sort of thing. And they never got anything done. They started thinking that rituals weren’t important. They started thinking that you could talk to the gods direct. Dios knew, with the kind of rigid and unbending certainly you could pivot the world on, that the gods of Djelibeybi liked ritual as much as anyone else. After all, a god who was against ritual would be like a fish who was against water.
Along the way we meet two other important characters, albeit secondary ones. The greatest mathematician of the Discworld and Ptraci. Like I said at the beginning, Pratchett jokes with words. Being a word kind of person, I like that. I like the intelligence of Pratchett’s writing. His expectation that I see through his fun and games. The lovely pictures he paints. Intriguing characters. It is fitting that the characters from Pyramids remain in Djelibeybi, leaving it as one of his stand-alone novels. I miss having him alive.
The Pyramid Players presented a one-week stage adaptation by Suzi Holyoake, “at the Bowen West Theatre in Bedford from Tuesday 5th January to Saturday 9th January 1999.” The original titles of the chapters can be found in Egyptian funerary texts, The Book of the New Sun, and 101 things a boy can do around the house.
- Audiobook: Narrated by Tony Robinson; Abridged by Kati Nicholl; produced by Maurice Leitch. Corgi Audiobooks, 1995
- Braille: South Yarra, Vic. : Louis Braille Books, 1996
- Bulgarian: Пирамиди; Translated by ; Вузев, 2000
- Chinese: 金字塔 (Jin zi ta); Translated by Hu Shu yi; 成都 : 四川科学技术出版社, 2012 (Laqiete Pu)
- Chengdou : Si chuan ke xue ji shu chu ban she, 2012
- Croatian: Piramide; Translated by Drago Štajduhar; Split, Marjan tisak, 2008
- Czech: Pyramidy; Translated by Jan Kantůrek; Praha, Talpress, 1995
- Dutch: Pyramides; Translated by Venugopalan Ittekot; Utrecht, Het Spectrum, 1993
- Estonian: Püramiidid; Translated by Allan Eichenbaum; Varrak, 2001
- Finnish: Pyramidit; Translated by Mika Kivimäki; Hämeenlinna, Karisto, 2002
- French: Pyramides; Translated by Patrick Couton; Nantes, L’Atalante, 1996
- German: Pyramiden; Translated by Andreas Brandhorst; München, Piper, 2015
- Greek: Τέρι Πράτσετ, Πυραμίδες; Μετάφραση: Άννα Παπασταύρου; Ψυχογιός, 2006
- Hebrew: ירמידות; טרי פראצ`ט; תירגום: אורית קפלן;תל אביב, כנרת, 1998
Hungarian: Piramisok; Translated by Sohár Anikó and Farkas Veronika; Debrecen, Cherubion Könyvkiadó, 2000
- Italian: Maledette piramidi; Translated by Pier Francesco Paolini; Milano, TEA, 2004
- Japanese: ピラミッド; Translated by 久賀宣人訳 久賀, 宣人; S.l., Choueisha, 1999
- Norwegian: Pyramidene; Translated by Torleif Sjøgren-Erichsen; Oslo, Tiden, 2001
- Persian: اهرام؛ تری پرتچت؛ مترجم: محمد حسینی مقدم؛ تهران، ویدا، 1395
Polish: Piramidy; Translated by Piotr W. Cholewa; Warszawa, Pro︠szyn︠ski i S-ka, 1998
- Portugese: Pirâmides; Translated by Ludimila Hashimoto; São Paolo, Conrad 2004
- Romanian: Piramide; Translated by Tatiana Kostadinova-Minkovska, Bozhidar Grozianov; Sofia, Vusev, 2000
- Russian: Пирамиды; Translated by V. Simonova and N. Berdnikova; Moskva, Эксмо, 2003
- Serbian: Piramide; Translated by Dejan Papić; Beograd, Laguna, 2000
- Slovak: Pyramídy; Translated by Jan Kantůrek; Talpress, 1995
- Spanish: Pirómides; Translated by Albert Solé and Cristina Macía Orio; Barcelona, Martinez Roca, 1992
- Swedish: Pyramidfeber; Translated by Peter Lindforss; Stockholm, B. Wahlströms bokförlag AB, 1997
- Turkish: Piramitler; Translated by Niran Elçi: istanbul, İthaki Yayınlar, 2002
It is argued in this article that literature is a resource for exploring constructs in non-literary fields of study. More specifically, we selected a fictional account of an “assessment event” in Terry Pratchett’s “Pyramids” as source material for teacher training. Pratchett’s fictional rendition of authority-based facilitator-learner interaction in an “oral assessment event” indicates that the novelist has a firm grasp of the interactional rules that govern this kind of exchange. The discourse in the fictional event follows the traditional Initiation-Response exchange pattern, with Feedback (IRF) suspended until the learner has successfully concluded the entire assessment process. Moreover, the assessment event is analysed from an outcomes-based education (OBE) perspective. The fictional interactional exchange (and the subsequent hands-on performance-based assessment in the novel), with Pratchett in satiric mode, provides sufficient information for prospective teachers to define (hypothetical) specific outcomes, assessment criteria and range statements that could apply to the training of assassins in the Assassins’ Guild on the Discworld. Several worksheets are presented to illustrate how this particular fictional text may be used to examine practical aspects and theoretical constructs in English Language Teaching (ELT).
Greyling, W. (2001). Making connections : On fantasy, applied linguistics and outcomes-based education. Journal for Language Teaching = Ijenali Yekufundzisa Lulwimi = Tydskrif Vir Taalonderrig, 35(4), 259-277.
My review of Amazing Maurice
BBC Radio 4 broadcast a 90-minute dramatisation in 2003
- Dangerous Beans: David Tennant
- Darktan: spoof version of Sean Connery’s Scottish burr.
- Narrator: Maurice: Harry Meyers
- “Child reader” of quotes from Mr. Bunnsy Has an Adventure: Rebecca Norfolk
The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents – The Play; Terry Pratchett and Stephen Briggs; Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2003
- UK: Leeds Children’s Theatre, Rose Bruford Bruford College
- USA: American High School Theatre Festival, The Historic Mounds Theatre,
Read and Respond: The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents; Adapted by Eileen Jones; Scholastic,
Life is made up of stories. From the moment we are born until the time we die we get told, and tell, stories about the way we think life ought to be. If we are lucky, life sometimes introduces us to new ideas and experiences.
It began – part of it began – on the mail coach that came over the mountains from the distant cities of the plain.
This was the part of the journey that the driver didn’t like. The way wound through forests and around mountains on crumbling roads. There were deep shadows between the trees. Sometimes he thought things were following the coach, keeping just out of sight. It gave him the willies.
And on this journey, the really big willie was that he could hear voices. He was sure of it. They were coming from behind him, from the top of the coach, and there was nothing there but the big oilcloth mail-sacks and the young man’s luggage. There was certainly nothing big enough for a person to hide inside. But occasionally he was sure he heard squeaky voices, whispering.
With this as part of his introduction to The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, Terry Pratchett sets the mood for one of his darker stories. Much like the court-jesters of old, Pratchett peels away our layers of folly and covers them in stories, this time a story about rats, a cat, a boy and a girl. Most of the time, humans prefer to pretend that what we are told is real rather than accept reality. Except for people like Keith.
“one day he’d seen the stupid-looking kid playing the flute with his cap in front of him for pennies, and he’d had an idea. An amazing idea. I just turned up, bang, all at once. Rats, flute, stupid-looking kid …”
Keith is thought stupid by most people he meets. He tends to listen more than he speaks, to observe more than he demands attention. Once his observations are confirmed, he accepts that what is right in front of him must be real. Even if that happens to be a talking cat. As long as he gets to play his flute, Keith does not care whether a person comes in the shape of a cat or a human or a rat. I am married to a man who has often been underestimated because of his listening abilities. Con-men have a harder time with such people. Not that Maurice had a difficult time recruiting Keith to his Pied Piper scheme. After all, it allowed for quite a bit of flute-playing. Some time before Maurice volunteered Keith he was still amazing but could not speak or think human. Until he could.
They said he was amazing. The Amazing Maurice, they said. He’d never meant to be amazing. It had just happened.
He’d realized something was odd that day, just after lunch, when he’d looked into a reflection in a puddle and thought that’s me. He’d never been aware of himself before. Of course, it was hard to remember how he’d thought before he became amazing. It seemed to him that his mind had been just a kind of soup.
Maurice became a Changeling by eating one of the members of the Clan. Cats seem to consider themselves above humans. Becoming a Changeling cemented Maurice’s theory of himself as better than any other creature he meets. While most parts of being a Changeling has made life more comfortable for Maurice, his new way of thinking brings with it a conscience. Perhaps not a well-functioning conscience, but one that rears its head at inconvenient times. Such as dinner.
One of the stories we are repeatedly told in life, is that the only good rat is a dead rat. Maurice discovers that this is not the case with the Clan. The Clan are the old mischief led by Hamnpork. They used to eat whatever the wizards at Unseen University threw out. The Clan had no idea eating food that glowed was a bad thing so they did. Oops. Now they have have to deal with humans in a completely new manner. One that brings in silver and gold.
Sudden change can be difficult for those who are set in their ways. Hamnpork and the other older rats all struggled with the new-fangled ways that came with human. Maurice was one of the things they had problems accepting. No wonder.
One person embraced human and that was Dangerous Beans. He is the Clan’s spiritual leader, the group’s philosopher and he thinks up guidelines for modern behaviour. All good prophets must have a person who writes down their wise thoughts. Peaches has that job. She feels that life has more to offer than babies and mating. Her duties for the Clan are as record-keeper and inventor of a written rat-language. You see, not every rat is interested in learning to read human.
Darktan is the rat voted most likely to succeed Hamnpork. Adapting to their changed condition has been simpler for Darktan. His inventions of tools, a tool-belt and a map for rats along with an ability to plan defensively has saved lives that traditional thinking would have killed. Many of the younger rats look up to him. Hamnpork sees Darktan as a threat. But Darktan does not want to take over leadership of the Clan. He would rather lead his teams of rats in making each new town safe.
Sardines is a rat smart enough to be a leader but whose interests lie with acting and dancing. He is the only rat with a hat. Sardines also has a stick that he uses during his dance numbers. These rats sound very human-like, but they aren’t any more human-like than rats have always been. The only difference really is that the Clan now talk and are able to think about tomorrow.
These and several more rats make up the Clan. Their job when they get to a new town is to annoy the humans enough to send for Keith, defuse traps, recognize and remove poison, set up camp, and defend the Clan from keekees (unchanged resident rats). Maurice’s job is to be the small voice in the crowd that gets people to say and do whatever he wants. Keith’s job is, of course, to lead the rats off to the closest river and pretend to drown them. Except rats swim well.
Our final main character is Malicia. She is the first human to understand what the gang is doing and wants in on it. Her world is one of stories and she lives her life according to whichever story she is currently into. Talking rats and a talking cat are woven into the stories in her head, and that worries Keith and Maurice. They know that death in life is more permanent that death in fairy tales.
Even the crooks are given life by Pratchett, even though that life is shallower than the one for our main characters. We should be able to recognize people we know in some of the people in Amazing Maurice. I know I could identify both myself and others in some of them. Keith, Dangerous Beans, Malicia and Peaches come to mind. Pratchett’s stories tend to give me that. Identification with characters is important to me. So is plot. Amazing Maurice is like fairy tales of old. Dangerous, scary and a kind of happy ending that leaves all parties somewhat dissatisfied. As usual Pratchett plays with old stories and plays making them into something that does not take itself as seriously. Amazing Maurice is told from several points of view. Each voice is different to the others.
As usual with Pratchett’s stories, my favourite thing about The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents is the way it highlights how silly humans are and how dangerous that silliness is. Children of all ages ought to read Amazing Maurice. I wholeheartedly recommend it.
- Bulgarian: Изумителният Морис и неговите образовани гризачи; Translated by Катя Анчева; Вузев, 2006
- Chinese: 貓鼠奇譚 ; Translated by 謝其濬 ; 天下遠見出版股份有限公司 2004
- Croatian: Čudesni Maurice i njegovi učeni glodavci; Translated by Drago Štajduhar; Split, Marijan Tisak, 2003
- Czech: Úžasný Mauric a jeho vzdělaní hlodavci; Translated by Jan Kantůrek; Talpress, 2003
- Danish: Mageløse Maurice og hans rådsnare rotter: Translated by Svend Ranild; København, Borgen, 2004
- Dutch: Mirakelse Maurits en zijn Gestudeerde Knaagdieren; Translated by Venugopalan Ittekot; Uitgeverij M, 2003
- Estonian: Hämmastav Maurice ja tema õpetatud närilised; Translated by Kaaren Kaer; Varrak, 2001
- Finnish: Mahtava Morris ja sivistyneet siimahännät; Translated by Leena Peltonen; Karisto Oy, 2002
- French: Le Fabuleux Maurice et ses rongeurs savants; Translated by Patrick Couton; Nantes, L’Atalante, 2004
- German: Maurice, der Kater; Translated by Andreas Brandhorst; Goldmann, 2004
- Greek: Ο εκπληκτικός Μορίς και τα σοφά τρωκτικά του; Translated by Παπασταύρου Άννα; Αθήνα, Ψυχογιός, 2008
- Hebrew: מוריס המדהים ומכרסמיו המלומדים; Translated by Jonathan Bar; Sial, 2001
- Hungarian: Fantasztikus Maurícius és az ő tanult rágcsálói; Translated by Veronika Farkas; Delta Vision Kiadó, 2014
- Italian: Il prodigioso Maurice e i suoi geniali roditori; Translated by Maurizio Bartocci; Arnoldo Mondadori, 2005
- Japanese: 天才ネコモーリスとその仲間たち Translated by Hoshi Taminaga; Asunaru Shobo, 2004
- Latvian:Terijs Prečets; Brīnumainā Morisa dēkas; Translated by Uldis Sīlis; Zvaigzne ABC, 2001
- Norwegian: Magiske Maurits og hans Gløgge Gnagere; Translated by Torleif Sjøgren-Erichsen; Oslo, Gyldendal Tiden, 2006
- Polish: Zadziwiający Maurycy i jego uczone szczury; Translated by Dorota Malinowska-Grupińska; Warszawa: Prósyński i S-ka, 2004
- Portugese: O Fabuloso Maurício e seus ratos letrados; Translated by Ricardo Gouveia; São Paolo, Conrad, 2004
- Romanian: Uluitorul Maurice şi rozătoarele lui educate; Translated by Mirella Acsente; Corint Junior, 2006
- Serbian: Neverovatni Moris i njegovi školovani glodari; Translated by Nevena Andrić; Laguna, 2001
- Spanish: El asombroso Mauricio y sus roedores sabios; Translated by ; Plaza & Janes Editories Sa, 2010
- Swedish: Den Makalöse Maurice och hans Kultiverade Gnagare; Translated by Mats Blomqvist; B Wahlströms, 2003
- Turkish: Muhteşem Maurice ve Değişmiş Fareleri; Translated by Niran Elçi; Tudem Yayınları, 2007
- The 2001 Carnegie Award:
“A brilliant and witty twist on the tale of the Pied Piper. Funny and irreverent, but also dark and subversive, in the way it parodies the classic folk tale genre. This is a story that holds a mirror up to our world and questions attitudes and behaviour prevalent in our society. A clever and most entertaining read.”
- The 2014 Geffen Award for Best Translated YA Book