So I am steadily working my way through the complete oeuvre of Terry Pratchett, in preparation for the North American Discworld Convention. When I was invited to be on the program last fall, I had read only a few Discworld books, but that was enough to make me eager to be part of the fun. I have read 24 Discworld books so far this year, and enjoyed every one of them lots (although some more than others). And what has surprised me, in the best possible way, is that they aren't just fun and games--I have been moved to tears by the poignant humanity of them (increasingly so as the series progresses) and even would go so far to say that I want my kids to read them too as one part of becoming better, more thoughtful people.
Yep, even The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents (2001), a light-hearted reimagining of the Pied Piper ala Discworld, made me teary (not that it takes much), and think a few deep thoughts en passant on what it means to be human.
Maurice is a cat, and the rodents are rats, and they can think and talk just as well as, if not better than, most people. Maurice is a cat with ambition, and he has organized the rats, along with a boy musician of a dreamy, unambitious nature, into a money making con operation. They arrive at a town, the rodents Infest (brilliantly--with the regiments of Light Widdlers and Heavy Widdlers heading out to do their worst while the more dextrous rats work on trap defusing), and then the boy pipes them away once the town is desperate.
But then they arrive a town whose Bavarian-esque charm hides rat-related depravity. Though there are no rats in evidence, and the town rat-collectors thrive on the culture of fear they've built up and grow fat while the people go hungry.
It's up to the Educated Rodents--Dangerous Beans, the visionary, Peaches, his closest companion and scribe, Darktan, the strategist (who reminded me a lot of Sam Vines, from the Discworld books about the City Watch), and many others--to get to the bottom of the horrible cruelties being practiced on the local rats. And Maurice, self-centered cat though his is, has to decided if he will help too.
And in the meantime, a local girl (Malicia), obsessed with the tropes of all the fairy tales she's read, gets in on the action--and miraculously, her hair pins open locks, secret passages are where she expects them to be, and so on.
So yeah, it's a lot of fun. But it posses thought provoking-ness too, on what it means to be a thinking person, prejudice, working through difference, cruelty to animals, and how the tourism industry can be used advantageously.
I am determined to get my boys to read it.
The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents was written explicitly for a younger audience than the bulk of Discworld, and won the 2001 Carnegie Medal (the UK Newbery equivalent). But adults can enjoy it just fine too.