Classics Review: The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents
The problem with reviewing books in the Discworld is that they are all cross-connected, even books set continents away from the usual heroes are influenced by them. The obvious solution is to go back to the first books before the web of characters and plots had time to build up but the early books just weren't very good. Pratchett, like a cheese, improved drastically with age. Which leaves me with only a few Discworld books that I can feasibly discuss. The Truth, revolves around the Discworld's first newspaper, Monstrous Regiment revolves around a foreign military and The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents. The first two are deeply immersed in the political situation and the burgeoning industrial revolution of the Discworld, which leaves us with Maurice. Just to be clear, there are many books within the Discworld's many series which could be considered classics of the fantasy genre in their own right. This is just the easiest to isolate and discuss.
The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents revolves around the story of the Pied Piper of Hamlin set within the Discworld's more cynical setting. A cat and several rats have developed human levels of intelligence after eating from the dump behind the wizard's university. The cat, Maurice has decided to follow his inevitable career path as a con-man, roping in a confused young man who really just wants to play his flute to be the front man for their false flag operations. Throughout the course of the story we see the rats trying to develop a culture of their own, Maurice trying to manage a balance between his own natural instincts and his new-found sense of morality and the investigations of their pet piper as he encounters a girl who is intent on having a proper fairytale adventure but lives in the wrong kind of fantasy world.
The villain of the book is rooted in the oppression and marginalisation of an entire species, with the ultimate expression of cruelty against the rats becoming a virulent and violent force for the upheaval of the previous social order. A solid example of the beloved stereotypical villain, the victim who is pushed too far. Like in every other example this villain has to be curbed by more moderate voices or, more likely, put down like a wild animal. Because as we know, the anger of the oppressed is always bestial. As Pratchett grew older these weird subliminal messages began to work their way into the Discworld. Everyone seems to veer towards right wing politics as they grow old, even authors that espouse otherwise ethical practices the rest of the time.
Compared to this force for evil are Maurice's attempts to rise up against his own animal nature and preserve the lives and friendships of the prey species that are his companions while the villains try to strip his “humanity” away and leave him as nothing better than them. There is a level of complexity in the discussion of those two extremes that you would not expect to find in a fairy tale and it is interesting to find the implication that the conniving Maurice somehow possesses an inherent morality even when he is at his least human.