Discworld / The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents

The 28th Discworld book, and the first written for young adults.

Imagine a million clever rats. Rats that don't run. Rats that fight...

Maurice, a streetwise tomcat, has the perfect money-making scam. He's found a stupid-looking kid who plays a pipe, and he has his very own plague of rats — rats who are strangely educated, so Maurice can no longer think of them as "lunch". And everyone knows the stories about rats and pipers. When they reach the stricken town of Bad Blintz, the little con suddenly goes down the drain. For someone there is playing a different tune. A dark, shadowy tune. Something very, very bad is waiting in the cellars. The educated rats must learn a new word. Evil.

It's not a game any more. It's a rat-eat-rat world down there, and that might only be the start.

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents won the Carnegie medal for best children's book published in the UK in 2001, making it Pratchett's first book to win a major award.

The story was adapted into a ninety-minute radio drama in 2003, starring Harry Meyers as Maurice and David Tennant as Dangerous Beans. It simplified the story a little, but largely kept to the tone and feel of the book.

This book provides examples of:

  • Animal Eye Spy: The Rat King can do this with any animal. Even Maurice.
  • Anyone Can Die: Several rats cop it, usually unceremoniously as they get caught by traps or dogs.
  • Ape Shall Never Kill Ape: "No rat shall kill another rat" is one of Dangerous Beans' newer ideas. Inverted by Spider, who feels that rats that kill and eat each other encourages survival of the fittest (slaves).
  • Arc Number: Continuing a Discworld tradition of 8 being a magically-potent and dangerous number, there are eight blind rats that comprise the Rat King.
  • Arc Words: "And you can always trust a cat to be a cat."
  • Attack Its Weak Point: Apparently cutting the knot in the tails of a Rat King turns it back into a bunch of ordinary rats.
  • Badass Bandolier: Darktan wears crossed belts covered in pouches to hold his trap-disarming tools.
  • Badass Grandpa: Hamnpork. Late middle-age at the youngest, but manages to emerge unscathed from a one-on-one with a terrier.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Darktan's Rousing Speech starts this way, with him telling the Clan that there's something new and strong and dangerous in the tunnels under Bad Blintz ... and it's them.
  • Balancing Death's Books: Maurice gives up one of his lives to save Dangerous Beans.
  • Beastly Bloodsports: One of the central conflicts involves the terrier rings where the terriers compete to kill the greatest number of rats.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Keith. He was going to put rat poison in the rat catchers' tea... before Malicia thought of a better plan.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Sardines rescues Darktan from certain doom, and later Maurice rescues the Clan from Spider.
  • Blind Seer: A downplayed version. Dangerous Beans, who is a Heroic Albino and virtually blind, doesn't have actual prophetic powers - but he is leading his people on a quest, issuing commandments, and facing down evil on their behalf.
  • Bomb Disposal: Trap disposal, rather, but the work of Darktan's squad is played out the same way.
  • Blood Sport: Hamnpork is thrown into a ring with a terrier. This does not go as expected.
  • Body Horror: Keith's description to the Ratcatchers of Number three rat poison. They were actually only given a laxative, but the effects of the poison are real and no less horrifying.
  • A Boy and His X: Averted. Maurice does not like being referred to as anyone's cat.
  • Brawn Hilda: Big Savings may qualify, despite being a rat.
  • Break the Cutie: Dangerous Beans dealing with the fact that Mr Bunnsy, a children's book where animals are less animal, is fiction.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Sardines is the quirkiest and most eccentric of the rats, always laughing and joking and dancing everywhere. While other rats don't always take him seriously, they can't deny that he, in many ways because of his quirks, is exceptionally good at what he does.
  • Carnivore Confusion: Maurice is very annoyed to be afflicted with this.
    • Also, the Clan's own growing doubts about eating dead clanmates or keekees.
  • Catch-Phrase: Darktan, in the BBC radio drama, gets one with "Here endeth the lesson," usually said after he's done making a point.
  • Cats Are Mean: Played with.
  • Cats Are Snarkers: Maurice.
  • Cats Are Superior: Oh, Maurice.
    • The difference between cats and humans: humans think themselves the lords of creation, but cats know they are.
  • Cats Have Nine Lives: Helpful when Balancing Death's Books.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Darktan, especially in the fight against the terrier. In particular, biting its testicles.
  • Con Man: Maurice is the brains of the operation.
  • Continuity Nod: A subtle one: at the end, Darktan and the Mayor both express skepticism about Mr. Bunnsy, because who ever heard of a talking rabbit? Anyone who read Moving Pictures, the first time that talking animals appear in the series, of course!
    • Waaaaay back in Sourcery, a swarm of rats, some of them wearing clothes, were among the mass rodent-and-bug evacuees which fled Unseen University in fear of Coin's approach. Presumably this would've been before the Clan gave up on devising an efficient way for rats to wear more than just a harness or hat.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Oh, you wacky Malicia.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: What do you get when you Mind Rape intelligent talking cat that is terrified shitless for the reason of being surrounded by hundreds of VERY big rats? When you mind rape it so hard that there's no mind left any more, that all the traces of intelligence and even common sense completely disappear? Answer: "A clever cat, but still... Just a cat. Nothing but a cat. All the way to the forest and the cave, the fang and the claw... Just a cat. And you can always trust a cat to be a cat.", indeed. Cue Crowning Moment of Awesome.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Maurice eventually admits that the reason he's intelligent is that he once ate an intelligent rat, and that he still has nightmares about that.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?:
    • Maurice pounces on the Death of Rats to protect Dangerous Beans, then stands there with the Grim Squeaker in his mouth, stunned by the realization of how much trouble he's bound to be in for...
    • His attack on the Rat King is similarly spectacular.
  • Did We Just Have Tea with Cthulhu?: Apparently Maurice and Death are on first-name basis- Because Death has visited him three times before.
  • Distaff Counterpart: Malicia's storytelling aunts are this to the Brothers Grimm.
  • Do Not Go Gentle / Don't Fear the Reaper: Darktan manages to combine both of these tropes in his Rousing Speech to the rats: death in itself is not something to be feared, but the Bone Rat will only pass you over if you can look him in the eyes. Given that it's the Disc, he's likely not speaking figuratively.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents (and their scam) were first mentioned in Reaper Man, although most people reading it assumed Maurice was a human conman who trained rats.
  • Edible Theme Naming: Since the rats learned to read from food packaging, many of them are named after foods or food-related words (like Additives).
  • Expy: At first glance, and indeed at second glance, Maurice can come across as one for Gaspode the Wonder Dog; Maurice's Origin Story is similar to Gaspode's second origin (normal stray animals made intelligent from exposure to magical garbage), they're both, on the whole, smarter than the humans they hang out with and use similar tactics in manipulating said humans, and they are both masters of snide and sarcastic comments. As the story goes on, however, it turns out that despite similar set-ups and circumstances, the two animals are actually very different when it comes down to it — where Gaspode is ultimately a pessimist who loves to wallow in self-pity and set himself up as a tragic hero, Maurice has a more positive outlook on life and is a lot more unashamedly a self-centered Jerk with a Heart of Gold — with a bit of a Dark and Troubled Past. Although, given how Gaspode mentions that other animals were affected by the magical garbage, the rats' intelligence comes from the same source.
  • Fake Ultimate Hero: The Piper.
  • Fat and Skinny: The rat catchers. Lampshaded by Malicia, who assumes that since they're the bumbling villains, there's a Man Behind the Man. She's half right: there's something behind the two men, but it isn't another man by a long shot...
  • First-Person Smartass: Maurice, in the BBC radio drama, narrates the story, with a bit of extra snark added. The one he's telling the story to is an unresponsive (and dead) Dangerous Beans, while they're both in Death's domain, and Maurice is basically doing a "how did we end up here?" recount.
  • Funny Animal: A deconstruction. Being able to talk doesn't make the rats that much like humans; they can't wear waistcoats, they instinctively eat their dead, mark things by widdling on them, and practically everything in the world is out to get them.
  • Genre Savvy: Malicia insists on always seeing things in terms of stories, ranging from fairy tales to Kid Detective novels like Tom Swift, The Hardy Boys, and The Famous Five (she claims at one point that four kids and a dog is "the right number for an adventure"). Furthermore, she has trouble in coping with subversions and exceptions, and always makes herself out to be the main character of the "story".
  • Groin Attack: How one rat can take down a battle-hardened terrier when trapped in a ring with walls too high to escape normally. It was utterly epic.
  • Heroic Albino: Dangerous Beans.
  • Heroic B.S.O.D.: Dangerous Beans.
    • And Hamnpork.
  • Heroic Willpower: The Rat King's Psychic Powers can paralyze a creature in its tracks, or strip it of sapience. Little, weak, blind Dangerous Beans feels that power and ignores it.
  • Hive Mind: The Rat King. And it's exponentially stronger than the sum of its parts.
  • Humans Are Cthulhu: Dangerous Beans is baffled by the difference between the behavior of the humans in Mr. Bunnsy Has An Adventure and the behavior of the humans he actually encounters.
    Surely even humans wouldn't make a book about Ratty Rupert the Rat, who wore a hat, and poison rats under the floorboards at the same time. Would they? How mad would anything have to be to think like that?
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: Although there are a couple of sympathetic human characters, most of them are unintentionally cruel and deliberately murderous toward the talking-rat protagonists.
  • Idiot Ball: Maurice briefly picks it up in the BBC radio play adaptation when he reveals his ability to talk to Malicia (as opposed to the book where he reveals it in a moment of shock and horror), though, since he immediately Lampshades it and for the rest of the story behaves in an intelligent manner, this can probably be said to be a Rule of Funny:
    Malicia: Everyone knows cats can't talk — can you, Puss?
    Maurice: I can't say a single word!
    Malicia: Hah!
    Keith: Maurice!
    Maurice: Damn! I just fell for the oldest trick in the Talking Cat Book!
  • I Have a Family: One of the ratcatchers tries this. Malicia and Keith aren't buying it.
  • Inexplicably Identical Individuals: Sergeant Doppelpunkt and Corporal Knopf (German for "Colon" and "Nobbs").
  • Insistent Terminology:
    Malicia: Right, and then your clever rats-
    Sardines: Er, we prefer 'educated rodents', miss.
    • Also:
    Spider: What are you? Your mind is WRONG.
    Maurice: I prefer 'amazing'.
  • Intellectual Animal: Dangerous Beans and Peaches in particular.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Maurice, much to his embarrassment.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Often by Malicia, occasionally by Maurice, most of all by both together.
    Malicia: How come a cat knows a word like that?
    Maurice: Everyone's got to know something
  • Laxative Prank: Malicia puts laxative powder in the Rat Catchers' tea, then tells them they've been poisoned and holds the antidote hostage until they do as she says. The "antidote" is laxative powder too.
  • Loveable Rogue: Maurice.
  • Magical Flutist: Invoked by Maurice and his gang and later invoked and subverted by the real Piper.
  • Mercy Kill: Darktan's order that the Clan do this for a poisoned keekee shocks many of them. Not because they don't agree that the poor thing needs to be put out of its misery, but because Darktan wants them to put it into a trap as a safe alternative to biting a rat with poison in its blood.
  • "Mission: Impossible" Cable Drop: Darktan performs this stunt to safely disarm a rat trap, suspended from bits of string.
  • Monster Protection Racket: The educated rodents make themselves known and the stupid-looking kid gets paid to lead them out of town and into the nearest river. People never check whether the rats are good swimmers...
    • The Ratcatchers themselves have a variant going, extorting money from the town to "get rid of" a plague of rats that don't exist, except in their own rat-breeding cages.
  • Morality Pet: Dangerous Beans to Maurice, much to Maurice's surprise.
  • Mugging the Monster: The highwayman at the beginning is aware of this possibility, and has a checklist he runs through before committing himself to the assault. He's not prepared for intelligent rodents, though.
  • Nice Hat: Sardines wears a straw boater with holes for his ears. He says you've gotta have a hat to get ahead.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Doubling as Parental Bonus; in the BBC radio drama, Darktan's voice, accent and general mannerisms are very clearly based on Sean Connery.
  • No More for Me: Sergeant Doppenpunkt, after seeing two rats band together and attack another rat. And then give him a salute.
  • No Name Given: The Rat Catchers are always referred to as Rat Catcher 1 and 2, though their names are mentioned in passing. Also Keith is only "the stupid-looking kid" for the first few chapters because none of the other characters bothered to learn his name.
  • "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: Some details about rats, mentioned in the author's notes: he says he had to leave out some stuff that was too implausible for fiction.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: The ratcatchers. No 2 has to make an effort to sound grammatically incorrect.
    • Sardines is a milder example; the rats generally accept that he's a talented and intelligent rat, but he spends so much time goofing around that they tend to underestimate him. Darktan is amazed at how wily he really can be.
    Darktan: I can see I'm going to have to watch you, Sardines. You think like Maurice.
    Sardines: Don't worry about me, boss. I'm small. I gotta dance. I wouldn't be any good at leadering.
  • Oblivious Guilt Slinging: Maurice swears he will never eat prey that can talk, and everyone reassures him they know he won't, but knows he learned to speak by eating one of the intelligent rats (who had a speech impediment).
  • One Last Job: Bad Blintz was going to be this.
  • Only Sane Man: Maurice.
  • Palate Propping: Sardines avoids being caught in a snap-trap by bracing it open with his stick.
  • Pardon My Klingon: The Clan and Maurice swear in Rat and Cat. Apparently as a result of spending so much time with the Clan, Keith (the stupid-looking kid) also swears in Rat.
  • Picky People Eater: Make sure you don't eat the green wobbly bit.
  • Pointy-Haired Boss: Poor Hamnpork didn't take the shift to sentience particularly well, being fairly old at the time, and is now reduced to being a figurehead for Peaches and Darktan. However, Hamnpork seems to be well aware of this, and quietly grooming Darktan as his successor. Also, while Hamnpork might not be much of a peacetime leader, he is a highly competent scrapper and decent tactician.
  • The Quiet One: The stupid-looking kid doesn't talk much. Maurice didn't even know his name until they were introducing themselves to Malicia.
  • Rat King: The true villain of the story. Spider, so-called because it's made from eight young rats (eight being a number of great occult significance on the Discworld), has psychic powers so potent it can not only control rats and see anything they can see, but also influence human behavior. It can even strip away the magical awareness given to the protagonist rats and cat, making them ordinary creatures. Horribly, making a Rat King is part of the qualification for mastery in the Ratcatchers Guild, suggesting that there are many of these things across the Disc.
  • Reality Ensues: Used positively at the end: rather than the humans simply accepting the rats and going into a Happily Ever After ending, the rats (with Maurice as their agent) have to broker a complex set of contracts, peace treaties and amendments to the town charter to ensure that this human-rodent cooperation is going to work.
    • Plus in general, this is always going to crop up with someone as Wrong Genre Savvy as Malicia around the place.
  • "Reason You Suck" Speech: Dangerous Beans gives a great one to Spider, pointing out that while Spider can think for his rat subjects, his plans for them show that he has never once tried to think of them.
    Dangerous Beans: I am not so blind that I cannot see darkness.
  • Rodents of Unusual Size: The Ratcatchers acting under the Rat King's influence try to breed larger and larger rats for their rat-coursing pit.
  • Rousing Speech: Darktan and his fresh wound.
  • Running Gag: Don't eat the green wobbly bit.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Malicia complains about how one of the Mr. Bunnsy books centered around a duck losing a shoe, and finding it under her bed at the end of the book.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Dangerous Beans' dream of moving the Clan to an island to live without stealing is what the rats in Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH set out to do, also because of emergent ethics.
    • The large medical kit and the small medical kit come from Tomb Raider and probably other similar games.
    • Malicia suggests the perfect time to go solve a mystery...
    Malicia: Of course, it would be more... satisfying if we were four children and a dog.
    • Confronting Spider the Rat King is so horrifying, it robs some of the Clan of their speech and sentience. This is also the fate of Ginger, a talking cat in The Last Battle, when he comes face to face with the demon/god Tash.
    • Jacko the terrier is named after a Real Life champion rat-courser from Victorian times.
    • Nourishing's desperate pleas for Darktan to wake up, she's gotten him out of the trap, are reminiscent of Bigwig's rescue from a snare in Watership Down. Both rescues are made possible because a young, not-too-competent character chewed through part of the trap. Dangerous Beans is also a close parallel to Fiver, that book's Waif Prophet.
    • When the rats get philosophical about what happens after you die, one rat is being expressively skeptical and doubting everything. His name turns out to be Tomato, which makes him a Doubting Tom.
    • According to the Word of God above, the pronunciation of Maurice's name makes this a shout-out to the 80s-90s era spokescat of Nine Lives cat food company. It could also be a reference to Morris Dancing, an activity heavily steeped in the Discworld canon.
  • Shrouded in Myth: The genuine Rat Piper encourages tales about what his magic pipe can do so that people will deal on his terms.
  • Sidenote Full Story: It started out as a one-line joke in Reaper Man.
  • Smarter Than You Look: Keith. He may be stupid-looking, but it doesn't mean he's actually stupid.
  • Squirrels in My Pants: The rats deal with a highwayman who tries to rob their coach in the first chapter by scuttling up inside his pants. The bandit surrenders immediately.
  • Sugar Bowl: The Mr. Bunnsy books portray a world like this. The rats (particularly Dangerous Beans) treat the books as gospel, Malicia treats them as garbage.
  • Swarm of Rats: Played for Laughs, at first.
  • Sympathetic Murder Backstory: Maurice once ate a talking rat. However, he was only a dumb animal at the time, and had no way of knowing until he gained his intelligence from said meal. The guilt is shown to be why he's so careful about what he eats.
  • Talking Animal: In particular, exploring Civilized Animal via What Measure Is a Non-Human?.
  • Theme Naming: The rats are all named after random bits of food label they found in the wizards' garbage pile.
  • This Is My Human: Maurice regards the stupid-looking kid as a necessary prop and an occasionally handy pair of hands.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: Bad Blintz has a serious rat problem - in several ways.
  • Unfazed Everyman: The stupid-looking kid (real name "Keith").
  • Unfortunate Names: Well, that's the kind of name you might end up with if you learned how to read off food labels, and chose names based on how you liked the sound. Dangerous Beans in particular deserves special mention.
  • Waif Prophet: Dangerous Beans.
  • Went to the Great X in the Sky: Some of the rats have a tentative belief that on death the Bone Rat sends them to be with the Big Rat That Lives Underground.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • It's never stated what eventually became of the female rat Dangerous Beans touches paws with.
    • Nor what happened to the eight blind keekees who were freed when Maurice bit through the tail-knot that merged them as Spider: did they regain their individuality, become comatose, or just drop dead?
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: By Maurice's standards, it's a rat that can't talk.
    • Played with regarding the Clan's and Spider's various opinions on how much the life of a keekee (= non-talking rat) is worth.
  • What the Heck Is an Aglet??: A good tip-off that those aren't rat tails, for one.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Dangerous Beans. While he suffers a major crisis of faith during the story, he remains an idealist in the end.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Malicia thinks she's the hero in a Plucky Children On An Adventure story.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: Oh, Maurice.
  • You Didn't Ask: What Kieth says when Maurice is surprised to learn that the Stupid-Looking Kid has a name, and hadn't mentioned it before.
  • You Dirty Rat!: Taken to itty bitty pieces.