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
Change the Story, Change the World: Gendered Magic and Educational Ideology in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld
While delving into the world of Wyrd Sisters, I have come upon several articles and theses dissecting Pratchett, his witches and the Discworld in general. I have a couple of articles on this blogs from before. As seen from the intro of Katlin L. Williams’ thesis, and ideed its title, Williams takes a look at gender and ideology on our favorite world.
About some of my favorite literary women, Williams says (among other things):
The decidedly ditzy Magrat embodies the extent to which readers’ familiarity with the Shakespearean archetype of witches dictates their identities, yet her superior Granny quickly dismisses such nonsense as a fanciful notion of a young and naïve girl. As a result, readers are directly made aware of the narratives that influence their own perceptions and assumptions, then forced to abandon them entirely. Furthermore, many scholars have remarked on how these three witches conform to the traditional maiden / mother / crone paradigm. After all, in Witches Abroad they are at one point explicitly labeled as such by a rival witch (295). However, while Pratchett plays with the reader’s familiarity with various archetypes, his witches in many ways defy such simple associations just as they challenge the gender roles imposed upon them. In Discworld cackling and building gingerbread houses constitutes madness, Granny Weatherwax owns a broomstick yet finds riding one highly unrespectable and slightly drafty, and despite popular belief, under no circumstances do witches take off their clothes and dance in the moonlight — except perhaps the saucy Nanny Ogg who likes to do all manner of things with her clothes off.”
This thesis is 97 pages long. Enjoy.
Williams, L. Kaitlin; Change the Story, Change the World: Gendered Magic and Educational Ideology in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld; Appalachian State University, 2015;
This thesis explores educational ideology in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series with a continued focus on the ways gendered magic results in gendered knowledge and education. Pratchett’s witches and wizards demonstrate and even consciously uphold distinct gender separation regarding magical practice, methodology, knowledge, and responsibility. By fracturing the magical community into two distinct factions, Pratchett’s work positions the witches and wizards of Discworld as ideological oppositions. An in-depth analysis of the wizards and Unseen University traces their associations with the history of the British educational system, male privilege, academic elitism, and tradition, reading their order as indicative of the “norm” and a repressive dominant educational ideology. Contrastingly, the witches’ status as Other and insistence on writing their own stories filters their perspectives of reality through the lens of the individual, resulting in an underlying prioritization on social equality and an ethics of selfless social responsibility. Examining Tiffany Aching’s magical education and her interactions with the witches reveals an educational ideology contingent upon recognizing the constructedness of reality, challenging the repressive realities imposed v. by a hegemonic society, and instead purveying a reality that liberates and empowers the individual. Ultimately, the witches’ subversive educational ideology not only undermines the wizards’ repressive educational ideology, but also through Tiffany and the Nac Mac Feegle takes on a threateningly rebellious quality capable of toppling the hegemonic and hierarchal structures of Discworld. In light of recent scholarship on the fantasy genre, this thesis concludes suggesting Pratchett’s complex interplay between the “real” and “unreal” enables readers to recognize and question ideological superstructures, ultimately epitomizing Daniel Baker’s notion of fantasy’s “progressive potential”….