I foolishly decided to review Hogfather back in July, leaving me with very few choices for a Discworld book to review that fit the season, so I considered doing the complete opposite, that being a book about boundless amounts of life springing into the world, like Reaper Man. Dammit Tim! So why choose Maurice?
This time of year is about families, which is why the primary focus of media tends to be family friendly, accessible to both children and adults in equal measure. We rewatch the films we grew up with and want to introduce those to children in the hopes that our influence can do what genetics began, creating more and hopefully better versions of ourselves. This is also why we recreate those old stories, giving them more of ourselves and making them more relevant and accessible.
And so we come to that thing that Pratchett does best, turning stories and conventions on their head and looking at them from the weirdest of perspectives. In the case of The Amazing Maurice – his first major Discworld children’s book – the tale of the Pied Piper of Hamelin as told from the perspective of the rats. Now the mysterious Piper was never the good guy in the story, but suddenly he’s a true force to be reckoned with, and not someone for some amateur piper doing the bidding of an intelligent cat to face off against.
Ultimately this is a story about stories, and the power that they hold over us. It’s also about perspective, but now I’m rushing to a conclusion, what am I talking about?
The titular Maurice is the cat in question, running a scam where a band of similarly intelligent rats go ahead and perform the role of “plague” so that a piper is needed to come and rid the village. Maurice tells everyone about this kid who’ll do it on the cheap, and because a cat told them they all decide that they thought of it themselves, how clever of them. The kid is also part of the gig, he shows up, plays a beautiful tune and leads the rats safely to the next village in line. All well and good until they come to a town with a corrupt group of rat-catchers, who have been hoarding food away and blaming the rats.
In an effort to try and overcome a village riddled with dark secrets, the kid befriends a local girl, Malicia Grim, who has a fascination with Enid Blyton-esque child detectives and thinks the world ought to work according to their heavily coincidence-based narratives. She drags him into the investigation, which goes deeper and deeper than they could imagine, but it’s the rats who find the truth first, and find it the hard way.
Children should learn to analyse everything in terms of stories, not because the world works in the glorified enhanced-realities that stories represent, but because of the power that words can hold, and reputation and perspective. If everyone reads this book growing up we could see a generation more inclined to examine and scrutinise situations, rather than follow the fairytale to it’s heartbreakingly realistic conclusion.
The Amazing Maurice also serves as a gateway for children to enter the Disc. It’s accessible without being pandering, simple without being stupid, and comes with the same irreverent dry humour the established fans are used to, mixed in with a few juvenile giggles. A child may laugh at the rat called Dangerous Beans (they named themselves after the labels in the rubbish dump they lived in) or at the reoccurring moral “never eat the green wobbly bit”, grown-ups will find comedy in Pratchett’s traditional style and a little bit of referential humour too.
The Carnegie comity unanimously agreed that this was the book to award in 2001, the first in the already vast series to gain recognition by the literary community despite the acclaim of fans and critics alike, seemingly shunned for it’s fantasy label despite the realism, profundity, and breadth of subject matters analysed therein. The series had picked up many an award already, and ultimately it proved one of his less prestigious honours, but he took the opportunity to admonish them (mockingly of course) for ignoring him thus far.
And it’s not without good reason that this sparked his series of books focussed on younger readers, as the Tiffany Aching series followed soon after and became as much a beloved character as Rincewind, Sam Vimes, or Death. Sadly Maurice, his rodents, and pet piper never made a major return, but like many characters that stood alone in their novels they accomplished a great deal in a narrow window, and perhaps a follow-up would have been to their detriment.
I’d still like to see a TV adaption.
Just a better one than Going Postal got.