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The Power of Story in Pratchett’s The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents

Leeds Children’s Theatre, Carriageworks Theatre, Leeds

Webb, Caroline (2015); Fantasy and the Real World in British Children’s Literature: The Power of Story; New York, Rutledge, (p. 20-23); Cached dokument

Pratchett’s first Discworld novel marketed to children, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, makes very clear his engagement with the problem of fiction. On the one hand, stories generate dreams, even ideals, through which people can imagine and construct a better future; on the other, taken too literally, they can produce false expectations, with dangerous results when readers trust to the happy ending of fairy tales to bypass the power of actual evil. The story of The Amazing Maurice holds both ideas in tension. It offers a beguiling story, or set of stories—the story of two children outsmarting a gang of thieves, aided by a cat and some rats; the story of a homeless boy and a homeless family, who happen to be rats, finding places to live—but at the same time it critiques the conventions of story and asks pertinent questions about how we not only think about but think with and through stories to shape our lives.

The novel’s premise seems to answer one of Pratchett’s characteristically faux-naïf questions: if you pay someone to remove rats, isn’t it in his interest to make sure there are always rats to take away? Thus we are introduced to a young traveller whose bags contain a clan of intelligent rats—or, as they prefer to be known, educated rodents (Pratchett, The Amazing 87)—whose role is to provide the impression of a rat plague that the young man, known for the first part of the novel simply as “the kid” (12), can then triumphantly remove from each town by playing his pipe. The absurd rightness of this scenario is heightened when the reader realises that the brains of this operation is a cat, the amazing Maurice, who magically gained intelligence at the same time as the rats, but whose cat instincts for making the most of a situation remain well to the fore.

As is characteristic in Pratchett’s work, the ideas presented and indeed the structure of the opening pages of the novel are highly significant to his project. In this case, the novel’s opening highlights the extent to which The Amazing Maurice is “a story about stories” (10). First, we are presented with an epigraph drawn apparently from a children’s book called Mr Bunnsy Has an Adventure. Second, the opening lines echo Browning’s famous poem, “The Pied Piper of Hamelin”: “Rats! They chased the dogs and bit the cats, they—” (Pratchett, The Amazing 9). The reader is immediately, and doubly, projected into story, whether the imitation Beatrix Potter of the epigraph—the fictional source text of which turns out to be significant to the plot—or the quotation from Browning. However, the narrator interrupts his own sentence, commenting “But there was more to it than that” (9) before quoting, this time, the title character himself—“As the amazing Maurice said, it was just a story about people and rats” (9)—and observing, significantly, that “the difficult part was deciding who the people were, and who were the rats” (10). The final one-sentence paragraph before we are introduced to the central characters underlines the metafictional aspect of what we are reading: “But Malicia Grim said it was a story about stories” (10). This layering and contrasting invites readers to keep in mind several ideas in reading the novel: that we are reading a story that may be interpreted in different ways; that the story may provide a comment on story itself, as underlined by the epigraph and quotation as well as Malicia Grim’s assertion; and, importantly too, that it may involve a confusion between good and evil, distinguishing the “people” from the “rats.” This Orwellian difficulty is explored in the later stages of the novel, but it is intriguingly literalised in the opening pages. The reader discovers that some of the “squeaky voices” heard by the coachman belong not to humans but to rats—but rats who are definitely “people” (10). The novel at one level imitates the many children’s stories featuring animal characters, but this is not simply naturalised; through Pratchett’s initial use of the coachman as focaliser, the reader is left guessing the identity of the “voices.” Pratchett thus introduces us to the world of the novel, in which animals are not expected to have voices—but may turn out to—and in which not only the characters but the narrator may conceal information from the reader.

This element suggests an ethical dimension to the novel that is further established in the immediately following action. The “fair-haired young man” (10) who is the only person the briefly focalising coachman can see, asks, “Maurice? [. . .] You don’t think what we’re doing is, you know . . . dishonest , do you?” (11), 3 and is fobbed off with the unseen Maurice’s glib arguments. The young man’s awareness that “some of those towns looked pretty poor” (12) generates an argument about the nature of the group’s activities that is ironically punctuated by a more explicit theft than the scam the characters are clearly running, as the coach is held up by a highwayman. Only when the highwayman is in turn attacked by beings that “ran up your trouser legs [. . .] Typical rat trick” (16) does he, and the reader, realise that the hidden Maurice is a cat—and that the other speakers, apart from the young man, are rats. We, like the now vanished coachman, and the highwayman who enquired whether his intended targets were wizards, witches, vampires, or werewolves but did not think of intelligent rats or cats, have been deceived, and our awareness of this deception is focused by the continuing discussion. Clearly we are reading not only a story about stories, but a story that will constantly engage with questions of right and wrong—and with judgements less between good and evil than between the greater and the lesser evil. After all, no one expects the heroes of a story to be rats.

The Amazing Maurice highlights two approaches to fiction. In the first, an individual may lose sight of the world—and his or her place in it—through belief in the literal truth or the universal applicability of a story. The rats, who have taught themselves to read after suddenly becoming intelligent, believe in the reality depicted in Mr Bunnsy Has an Adventure. Malicia Grim, meanwhile, has immersed herself in stories; she is fully aware that the stories she reads are fiction, but her admiration for story results in her endeavouring to turn everything she encounters into the shape of a story. People turn around to watch her being inconspicuous (112). As a result, although Malicia sees a lot more than do the townsfolk around her, she misses seeing some obvious facts because she is convinced that she knows how the story ought to go. Importantly, the human beings she meets do not behave as she expects they will, as when the villainous rat-catchers beat up her and Keith, the kid—who does not bounce back displaying superhuman powers—and shut them in a prison that lacks an obvious escape route. The rats, on the other hand, have been using Mr Bunnsy as their guidebook: they believe there must already be a place where people and rats relate to each other as described in Mr Bunnsy.

Both views misinterpret the ways in which stories can tell the truth. Stories do not provide the literal truth about events. What good stories do, as the rat Darktan eventually recognises, is to provide “a map of . . . where we are and where we’re going” (Pratchett, The Amazing 227). Mr Bunnsy does not describe the world as it really is; it is, as Malicia points out, a rather silly story that ignores not only social realities, such as the enmity of humans and rats, but physical possibilities, as it depicts a snake wearing a collar. But just as Darktan could use the idea of a rat in a jacket, depicted in Mr Bunnsy, to invent something that is not a jacket but is a version of a jacket that might be useful to a rat—a harness of straps and pockets—so he and the other rats can use the idea of a place where animals and humans can live with and help each other to start to make that happen. In the novel’s denouement, the intelligent rats negotiate a way in which they can cohabit with the humans to the benefit of both. Malicia, too, turns out to have learned at least some useful things from stories—she is able to manipulate hairpins to open locks because she has practised this storybook skill, and her decision to provide the villainous rat-catchers with the same emetic as fake antidote that they have been given as fake poison is, as she observes, “narratively satisfying” (214). And Keith, the “stupid-looking kid” (31) who initially claims that he just wants to be allowed to play music, but by the end has not only helped to track down the villains but also been clever enough to defeat and then do a deal with a real rat piper, is last seen speculating about how long it might take to become mayor. Keith, who expressed scepticism about story in his discussions with Malicia, has also learned from story by the end of the novel, in this case about the possible future of a boy who arrives in a town with a clever cat. The rats and Keith, as well as the humans of the town, have used story to imagine and to begin to construct new ways to live their lives.

The Amazing Maurice, like a number of Pratchett’s novels, highlights both the inevitable falsity of stories and their power. At the end of the novel Malicia’s father, the town’s mayor, remarks, “Stories are just stories. Life is complicated enough as it is. You have to plan for the real world. There’s no room for the fantastic”; the response “ ‘Exactly,’ said the rat” (313) underscores the extent to which this practical conclusion is emerging within a fantastic scenario. Stories in this novel turn out to be more than “just stories,” and planning for the real world entails an idea strikingly akin to Sir Philip Sidney’s suggestion that “her [Nature’s] world is brazen, the poets only deliver a golden” (216). The “golden world” only available through art becomes an exemplar for real life to follow. Pratchett’s story simultaneously warns against a simplistic investment in the literal truth of story and provides what might seem a wonderfully escapist fantasy that in fact educates its readers in how to learn from what they read.

The entire study can be found on Amazon

«Rattus» in fabula – Le fabuleux Maurice et ses rongeurs savants, subversion métatextuelle de la légende du Joueur de flûte de Hamelin par Terry Pratchett

Monstrous Productions Theatre Company

Grand Manon (2016). «Rattus» in fabula – Le fabuleux Maurice et ses rongeurs savants, subversion métatextuelle de la légende du Joueur de flûte de Hamelin par Terry Pratchett; Master 1 Lettres et langues, Spécialité Cultures et Critiques du texte en littératures, langues et civilisations, Parcours Lettres, Université Angers, 1er juillet 2016

TROIS REECRITURES DE LA LEGENDE : GRIMM, MERIMEE, SAMIVEL

  1. État des lieux
  2. Légendes Allemandes, Jacob et Wilhelm Grimm
    2.1. Le projet des frères Grimm
    2.2. Schéma narratif de la légende : déroulement et particularité
    2.3. Schéma actanciel de la légende : dispositif et particularités
    2.4. Historicité et oralité, hypothèse de réel
  3. Chronique du règne de Charles IX, Prosper Mérimée
    3.1. Contexte
    3.2. Autour de la légende : le récit enchâssé reconstruit un contexte d’oralité et pose l’enjeu de véracité
    3.3. Stabilité des schémas actanciels et narratifs chez Mérimée
    3.4. Renforcement des aspects surnaturels de la légende, entre fantastique et imagerie chrétienne
  4. Le joueur de flûte de Hamelin, Samivel
    4.1. Contexte et esthétique
    4.2. Distorsions de la temporalité et du schéma narratif : un conte exemplaire ?
    4.3. Accents farcesques et carnavalesques : incursions rabelaisiennes.
    4.4. Préservation de l’aura du Joueur de flûte : puissance du folklore

LE FABULEUX MAURICE ET SES RONGEURS SAVANTS, TERRY PRATCHETT : UN GESTE REFERENTIEL PROLIFERANT ET HYPERTROPHIE

1.1. Des références manifestes à la légende du Joueur de flûte de Hamelin des frères Grimm
1.2. Multiplication et mélange des références aux contes et récits traditionnels ou légendaires
2.1. Monsieur Lapinou, entre parodie de Béatrix Potter et évocation de récits de fantasy animalière aux intrigues et personnages plus élaborés
2.2. Autres récits célèbres pour les jeunes lecteurs anglo-saxons : récits d’aventure, récits merveilleux
3.1. Motif de l’épée magique ou reforgée
3.2. Motif du combat entre lumière et ténèbres
4.1. Une base documentaire et scientifique : l’éthologie des rats au cœur d’un roman fantasy jeunesse
4.2. Rats dans l’imaginaire collectif : une réputation à tenir ?
4.3. Des rats et des hommes
LE FABULEUX MAURICE ET SES RONGEURS SAVANTS, TERRY PRATCHETT : FONCTIONNEMENT DU RECIT
1.1. Utilisation d’un vocabulaire métatextuel par les personnages et le narrateur
1.2. Autoréférences et livres fictifs : un monde de littérature et de lecteurs
1.3. Enrayement et échec de la mécanique de la légende : exhiber les lois de l’histoire pour les subvertir
2.1. Individualisation des personnages de rats
2.2. Évolution progressive du schéma actanciel au profit d’une efficience narrative des rats
2.3. Chat et homme, pires ennemis des rats, deviennent chez Pratchett leurs adjuvants
3.1. Machinerie narrative complexe et récit ondoyant
3.2. Derrière un récit éclaté, émergence d’indices pour la définition de la quête principale
3.3. Un récit qui trouve sa fin et son efficacité : relecture du happy end, au cœur d’un récit dans lequel chacun a quelque chose à gagner
3.4. Le roman de la coopération
CONCLUSION
BIBLIOGRAPHIE
ANNEXES : RESUME DETAILLE
ANNEXES : ILLUSTRATIONS
TABLE DES TABLEAUX

Postcard from Hameln

Pratchett for Young Readers: Translation Analysis of Selected Texts with Software for Lexical Analysis

Director: Paul Heron

Lengálová, K. (2009). Pratchett for Young Readers: Translation Analysis of Selected Texts with Software for Lexical Analysis (Doctoral dissertation, Masarykova univerzita, Filozofická fakulta). https://is.muni.cz/th/110219/ff_m/diplomka_final.pdf

Literary translation is tricky: the most important thing that makes it outstanding is style, which cannot be measured or indeed objectively analysed. There will always be readers who will not like a translation because it does not sound natural enough or because it sounds too natural – naturality being an example of an aspect deeply individual, depending on each reader’s social and cultural background.

However, there are now modern ways to analyse a translation, whether literary or not: software for lexical analysis. This software brings objectivity into the field of translation analysis because it allows the theoretician to calculate certain values of a text and then compare them with those of other texts of his or her choice. Texts can be analysed on the level of words, word clusters or even longer segments, and the software allows the user to ensure that the objects analysed really are objectively comparable. This method is not able to tell you whether the translation is good or not, but it allows you to get a more objective point of view. That is why I chose such approach in my thesis to analyse segments of texts from Terry Pratchett’s books, The Bromeliad and The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents.

I should add that the texts I chose are not just some ordinary texts. Firstly, they fall into the group of children’s literature, that is those books that were written (supposedly) with low age and relative inexperience of the readers in mind. Secondly, to keep the thesis more focused, I chose only certain parts of the texts. Both of the analysed books have a particular peculiarity: each chapter starts with an excerpt from an imaginary book that plays a role in the story. …..

The rest of the article can be read at Mazaryk University

Teaching resources for The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents

New Windmills – 2004 – Resource sheets –
The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents

By Terry Pratchett
Activities by Alan Pearce

© Harcourt Education Limited, 2004

The following pages consist of teacher’s notes and classroom resource sheets for The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett.

These pages can be downloaded and printed out as required. This material may be freely copied for institutional use. However, this material is copyright and under no circumstances can copies be offered for sale. The publishers gratefully acknowledge permission to reproduce copyright material.

Study Areas

This is a very entertaining novel, with some extremely amusing moments. However, there are also dark moments when, for example, some of the educated rodents are killed. The novel will definitely encourage students to consider their attitude towards animals. Possible areas for study include:

Persuasive writing: Write Maurice’s speech to Bad Blintz’s town council, persuading them that rats should be treated as equals. …

Creative writing: Imagine a pet could record his or her thoughts. What would they think of their owners? …

Informative writing: Write an article for a nature magazine, about the educated rodents found in Bad Blintz. …

Independent research/information writing: Produce a leaflet about keeping rats as pets. …

Personal view: Who would you identify as the hero of the novel? …

Group discussion/presentation: Imagine you are members of the Bad Blintz town council. Debate the advantages and disadvantages of treating the educated rodents as equals. …

Collaborative drama: Dramatise significant scenes from the novel: …

This material is found at Pearsons Schools and FE Colleges

Hammer, Y; Interrogating the Humanist subject in Carnivalesque Quest Novels (2006)

Hammer, Y. (2006). Interrogating the Humanist subject in Carnivalesque Quest Novels. CREArTA vol 6, special issue, 2006

… In contrast, Pratchett’s text incorporates childhood play within a festival of tales. Whilst traditional mythic structures have been utilised by both authors to frame their carnivalesque interpretations, Pratchett has constructed a carnival space inscribing metafictive strategies which focus on humorous inversions, mirror images, and intertextual reflexivity embedded in his celebration of plots. His opening page alerts readers to this artifice of plotting by invoking five plot connections: one is encoded in the chapter peritext, Mr Bunnsy has an Adventure;iii the second quotes Browning’s text, The Pied Piper of Hamlyn; two characters then debate their view of the narrative’s direction; whilst a fifth voice, the narrator, begins the official tale. The author humorously and consistently encodes intertextual referencing and metafictive mirroring devices to establish carnival space in this narrative.

Because this text features linguistic playfulness, Pratchett also builds complex contrapuntal plots wherein each emergent narrative strand is embedded in its predecessor: First, the peritext, framed to indicate the narrative’s structural direction, establishes a mise en abyme device that heads each chapter of the larger narrative and parodies the event expectations of traditional quest structures. Beatrix Potter’s text The Adventures of Peter Rabbit is a prominent intertext in Pratchett’s Mr Bunnsy has an Adventure. Pratchett’s use of this peritext structure also encodes both parodic and ironic perspectives and suggests a superior view of childhood naivety in its use of mimetic and intertextual signification even as quest codes are subverted.

Ratty Rupert was the bravest rat that ever was. Everyone in Furry Bottom said so. (2002, p.79)

Mr Bunnsy realised that he was a fat rabbit in a dark wood and wished he wasn’t a rabbit, or at least not a fat one … (2002, p.132)

The same intertext also re-emerges as a didactic masterplot which models utopian society: its gradual philosophical integration is treasured as a training manual by which the educated rodents may consider equal participation in human society. This anthropomorphic approach mirrors childhood struggles with rules of conduct, though at a deeper interrogative level the author examines the Western humanist ideologies that sustain civilised spaces whilst simultaneously offering an intersubjective view of quest representation. Pratchett humorously signifies an emerging rodent consciousness that examines and revises past behavioural patterns to derive a new estimate of societal responsibilities. In this narrative strand, the quest transition from rodent to Changeling interrogates cultural codes of social behaviour, but Pratchett also intends this construct as a comedic subplot which mirrors theories of emergent consciousness within human subjects. The author images child subjectivity even as he promotes this anthropomorphic self-reflection, with all its incumbent failures, as a social condition of growth.

In opening scenes that disclose his feline protagonist’s narrative intention, Pratchett intertextually mirrors the structure of Browning’s popular children’s poem, The Pied Piper of Hamlyn. Browning’s narration begins with a rat plague, and event focus is placed upon the piper’s response to a failed contractual agreement that deprives the town of its children and mirrors the piper’s deprivation of just payment. Pratchett’s Maurice enacts a carnival pastiche: even as the text openly images and enacts authorial plotting, the author’s intertextual allusion adapts another fairytale, Puss-inBoots. At one level, Maurice’s plan provides selected towns with a problematic rat population, offers the piper solution at a negotiated price, and retrieves the rat troupe downstream, ready for a new venture. At another level, the plotting inscribes a game enacted by players: child piper, anthropomorphised rodents, and entrepreneurial conductor, which directs narrative awareness to the performative actions of writers and the game of plotting fiction. In Pratchett’s narrative playground, Maurice and his team soon encounter a Bad Blintz that already has its own deceitful schemes. Here the author’s counterpoint weaves plotters and plots that introduce a carnival space of narrative patterns.

Pratchett’s third intertextual strategy centres upon …. (p. 144-145)

The entire article may be read at Research Online

Cheetham, Dominic: The Amazing Maurice in Japanese and German: A Contrastive Study of Domestication Strategies and Ideology in Translation

Cheetham, David. ‘The Amazing Maurice in Japanese and German: A Contrastive Study of Domestication Strategies and Ideology in Translation’ English Language and Literature. Vol 53, 2017. pp 29-63.

……… In some cultures and languages, Terry Pratchett is a great success, in others his books go largely unnoticed and quickly fall out of print. This paper compares translations of Terry Pratchett’s The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents (2001) as published in Germany (Maurice, der Kater, trans. Brandhorst, 2005), where the book has an on-going popularity, and Japan (天才ネコモーリスとその仲間たち, trans. Tominaga, 2004), where it is almost unknown. The paper discusses domestication or cultural accommodation in translation with respect to non-conventional text types.

Comparing translations between European languages is relatively common, as linguistic and cultural similarities make divergent translation choices easily amenable to discussion (Cheetham, Translating 67-8), and which conventionally makes divergence a point of criticism. However, comparing translations between languages and cultures as different as German and Japanese requires a more nuanced approach than the conventional tactic of direct comparison. For this study I focus mainly on the domestication and foreignisation strategies used in the two translations, and only focus on changes made to a text which are not required by the linguistic systems of the language of translation. Thus, where a translation could have been closer to the original English, but where the translator has chosen to make a change, I shall treat that change as significant. Where changes are either required by the language or are within normal variation of expression, then such changes will not be treated as significant. The underlying assumption is not that translated texts should aim for equivalence with the original, but rather that deviations, where not linguistically motivated, are choices, probably driven by a combination of artistic preference, and both conscious and unconscious cultureideological pressures. As an example, the opening to the English, German and Japanese texts, respectively, read:

Rats!
They chased the dogs and bit the cats, they –– (9)

Ratten!
Sie jagten die Hunde und bissen die Katzen, sie … (7)

活躍するのはネズミたち!
ネズミが犬を追いまわし、ネコにかみついて……。( 6)

The German text is almost word for word the same as the English. It is easy to assume that this similarity is a simple result of the closeness of the English and German languages. However, this would be an over simplification. The critical literature is full of examples where European translators of children’s literature have chosen to introduce textual deviations, even though linguistic equivalence was possible (see Cheetham, Translating 67-8) and as such, the lack of change here is significant; the translator chose equivalence. Naturally, this choice, though significant, is less significant than active change, which necessarily requires more linguistic effort compared to no change.

The Japanese text is markedly different to the English original. The single word “Rats!” has at least four direct possibilities in Japanese; three are different ways of scripting the word, ‘ネズミ’, ‘ねずみ’,‘鼠’ (all read ‘nezumi’) and one a phonetic representation of the English loan-word, ‘ ラット’ (ratto). All four options result in different nuance or reading experience. However, the translator has rejected all of these in favour of expanding a simple, one-word exclamation, to a full descriptive sentence. The point is not whether this is a good or bad choice, but rather that it is a choice, an active adaptation, which, by necessity, must have some underlying motivation.

The second part of this example is roughly the same for both German and Japanese, with the exception that the Japanese translation repeats the word ネズ ミ. This repetition makes no difference in meaning, though it does stress that it is the rats which are doing the chasing. Within the Japanese language it is quite normal to drop those sentence subjects which are self-evident, so this inclusion is especially significant as it is both a change from the English and a deviation from common Japanese usage. Again, the point is not whether this is a good or bad choice, but rather that this is necessarily a motivated choice, and as such a suitable object for analysis…………………….

The entire article can be downloaded from Academia.edu

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