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Maurice versus Mrs Frisby

By Paul Johnson in Culture
Wed Jul 17, 2002 at 02:44:25 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

A critical look at The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett, and Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien.

Both these books are children's stories about intelligent rats who must confront not only the hazards of a hostile world but fresh questions about the meaning of life and the nature of civilization. Both authors use the newness of the rats to intelligence to explore these questions in a way that will be accessible to children. Mrs Frisby is aimed at readers in the range 8-12. Maurice is aimed at slightly older readers, ten and above.

From this description it might be thought that Pratchett is guilty of plagiarism, but this is not true. Although Pratchett uses a similar backplot to investigate similar themes, his handling is very different, as is the way in which he resolves the plot. Ironically although Maurice is set on Pratchett's Discworld it is the more believable of the two stories.

Spoiler Warning: I have tried to avoid major spoilers, but its impossible to compare two stories in detail without saying something about the events they describe.

Length Warning: This is long.

Common Themes

Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
was published in 1971 and won the Newbery Medal in 1972. The story tells of a group of rats and mice that become intelligent as a result of a genetic engineering experiment. Mrs Frisby is not one of this group, but she must depend on them to save the life of one of her children. Much of the story is told as a retrospective by one of the rats. who explains to Mrs Frisby how they came to be and why they will help her.

The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents was published in 2001 and won the Carnegie Medal in 2002. Again there is significant back story told as retrospective, although this is mostly by Pratchett filling in historical details as they become relevant. In this case the rats (and one cat, the Amazing Maurice of the title) became intelligent as a result of eating magically contaminated waste.

Dumb Animals

In both Mrs Frisby and Maurice there are talking animals. However in Mrs Frisby there is no clear distinction between the genetically enhanced rats and mice and the other animals. Mrs Frisby consults an owl about her problem because owls are wise, but in reality owls are no more intelligent than any other bird. Mrs Frisby herself is an ordinary mouse, but she is intelligent enough to converse with the enhanced rats and mice, and to understand their thinking even if she cannot emulate it. The biggest difference between the genetically enhanced and other animals is that the enhanced creatures can read and write.

The blurred distinction between the enhanced and natural animals in Mrs Frisby is its greatest weakness to adult eyes. To children, used to stories of intelligent talking animals, the wise owl and the housewifely Mrs Frisby will appear much less strange.

Pratchett draws a much clearer distinction between the "Changed" rats of the Clan and other animals. Other animals are dumb in both senses of the word. The Clan can read, write, talk and think. They can still deal with normal rats, but only through their natural non-verbal communication mechanisms.

Pratchett not only draws a clear distinction between the Clan and the "keekees", he actively satirises stories for children about talking animals. His rats set great store by a book they have found called "Mr Bunnsy has an Adventure". This is a story for young children featuring a range of animals that talk, wear clothes and never eat each other. Each chapter in Maurice starts with a quote from this book, and Pratchett contrasts the friendly, safe world of Mr Bunnsy with the dangerous world inhabited by the rats. This contrast is most sharp when the leading rat makes a speech to encourage his people before they go into danger, and calls on imagery from Mr Bunnsy: "You heard about the Dark Wood in the Book? Well, we're in the Dark Wood now.".

Dumb Humans

The only humans with speaking roles in Mrs Frisby are the scientists who first made the rats intelligent. The rats see the scientists as implacable captors and do not attempt to communicate, even though they could easily do so. The scientists are simply curious investigators, and not unkind to their subjects.

The deliberate creation of intelligent creatures raises some interesting moral questions. Whatever one's opinion of vivisection the use of a fellow intelligence for such experiments would seem morally wrong. O'Brien could have explored this issue by having the rats communicate with the scientists, reveal their intelligence, and then plead for their freedom.

Once the rats arrive at the farm they continue this pattern of isolation. The farmer is always off-stage and is seen by all the animals as akin to a natural force: they can live with him and to some extent predict his actions, but they have no hope of influencing him.

In Maurice almost the first thing that happens after the Clan and Maurice become intelligent is that Maurice devises the Pied-Piper scam and recruits "a stupid-looking kid" named Keith to front it. Shortly after arriving in Bad Blintz the mayor's daughter Malicia discovers their secret, and by the end of the book rats and humans are dealing on equal terms.

Pratchett's major characters are generally sharply observed and idiosyncratic. This is particularly true of Malicia, who combines a sharp intelligence with a dreamy fixation on adventure stories. By comparison Keith ambles through the story, pulled this way and that by the other characters but rarely with any ideas of his own. He just wants to be left alone to play his pipe.

The Food Chain

One thing that confuses Pratchett's rats is that nobody in the Mr Bunnsy book ever eats anyone else. To the rats, eating whilst avoiding being eaten is part of everyday reality. A running joke throughout the book is that when a rat dies "don't eat the green wobbly bit".

Food presents a moral problem for Maurice the cat: cats kill and eat rats, but with his new-found intelligence he feels empathy for his prey and has decided that killing something that can talk is wrong. Pratchett explores Maurice's internal conflict between primitive cat and intelligent being in some depth. Not only does Maurice experience a cat's drives to hunt and kill, but he is bothered by guilt over not being a proper cat and also at having behaved as a cat in the past. This conflict gives depth to Maurice, and lets us empathise with him as his character develops and changes. Initially he is an amoral rogue who is happy to cheat his friends, just like any cat. By the end of the book he has repented of his past sins and found redemption by fighting and sacrificing two of his nine lives for the Clan.

The world is a dangerous place for Mrs Frisby too. O'Brien uses the fact that owls eat mice to build a strong dramatic scene out of Mrs Frisby's visit to the owl, and later she finds she must risk being eaten by the cat. But the other animals appear much more human. Jeremy the Crow is friendly and helpful, despite the fact that a real crow would be happy to make a meal of a mouse. The rats appear to be largely vegetarian: their primary source of food is grain stored by the farmer, although no doubt they steal other food as well. At no point do the rats kill anything.

Despite the danger, nobody actually dies in Mrs Frisby. Three of the intelligent rats die in Maurice (not counting ones who don't stay dead), and there are a number of references to past casualties and painful deaths.

Maurice is a much darker book than Mrs Frisby. There are repeated references to suffering and death throughout Maurice, and towards the end, in a scene reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft, the rats must find and destroy the source of the evil that is starving the town . It is also dark in a more literal sense: much of the action takes place in rat-runs underneath the town. The rats light candles to push back the dark, but even this makes them more aware of the darkness that remains in the shadows, waiting to come back when the candle goes out. By contrast the rats of NIMH have electric lights in their warren and there is no evil to be faced, just practical problems to be solved.

Learning to Read

Both Pratchett and O'Brien present animals who can read and write. The Rats of NIMH are fully literate, but in Maurice the rats are only partially so. Even the best reader, Peaches, finds Mr Bunnsy difficult. She is developing a pictographic language that she hopes rats will read more easily.

This raises the question of how the rats learned to read. The Rats of NIMH were taught basic reading by the scientists who manipulated them, and later taught themselves much more when they found a deserted house with a large library. The Clan in Maurice learned to read from labels and signs left in the rubbish tip they lived in, and their names are words they "liked the sound of" before they learned what they meant. But how did they learn any of this? Pratchett does not explain. Perhaps the knowledge seeped into their brains along with the intelligence. On Earth this explanation would be unsatisfying, but causality on the Diskworld works differently. On the other hand perhaps Pratchett was just hoping nobody would ask the question.

Little Animals with Large Questions

Both Pratchett and O'Brien bring their intelligent animals up against questions that bother humans, such as: What happens to us after we die? What moral duties does intelligence impose? What kind of society do we want to live in? Both succeed, although Pratchett explores a wider range of questions.

The main philosophical question facing the Rats of NIMH is whether to continue living off humans "like fleas on a dogs back". A lengthly central section of Mrs Frisby is occupied by a rat named Nicodemus telling their story to Mrs Frisby and explaining this dilemma. He tells of reading an essay about the human "rat race", and realising that his people are falling into the same trap. Their colony is growing, and they are having to steal more food and other supplies. The farmer has started taking anti-vermin measures. Intelligent rats can evade these easily, but the farmer is going to start wondering about it soon. The rats could move to another farm, but the immediate problem has started some rats thinking that they should move away from humans and live on their own resources.

Pratchett uses Maurice and the rats to explore a wide range of moral and philosophical issues. In contrast to the set piece lecture by Nicodemus to Mrs Frisby, Pratchett drops these issues in unexpected places. At one point some rats are contemplating the sudden death of a comrade in a trap, and one of them asks "what happens to you when you die?". At first the other rats misunderstand, and reply that either you get eaten or you go green and mouldy. But the questioner persists, and gradually puts over its theory of a soul as an entity separate from the body. Its a new thought to the rats, and it may be a new thought to young readers as well. They may have learned the word "soul" as part of religious education, but Pratchett manages to discuss the idea without mentioning the word, a device that lets readers come at it without preconceptions imposed by others.

On another occasion some rats are arguing over what to do with a young "keekee": an ordinary rat. The leader Hamnpork argues that she should be let go, to face certain death amongst the traps and poisons, because she is no use and can't think. Others don't like the idea, but have difficulty explaining why. Then the Clan's philosopher, Dangerous Beans, states that the Clan can think about what they do, and therefore can pity an innocent who means them no harm. This is a dramatic moment where two plot threads come together. The leader's failing authority takes another blow and the philosopher makes the first connection between intelligence and moral duty. The fact that this happens suddenly within a seemingly ordinary argument emphasises its importance. Had the philosopher stated this conclusion outside such a context it would have seemed trite.

Pratchett also emphasises the importance of the philosopher to the rest of the Clan. Even the ageing leader, who distrusts all this new-fangled thinking, values the philosopher.

Bodily Functions

Pratchett's rats live and think like rats. They deliberately spoil human food by "widdling", a word defined by A Concise Dictionary of Slang to mean urination, and mark special locations and territory in the same way. Defecation is not directly referred to, apart from the fact that the crooked rat-catchers have been spreading rat droppings.

Mrs Frisby contains no references to any bodily function apart from eating.

These differences reflect the times in which the books were written. Mrs Frisby was published in 1971, about 30 years before Maurice. In those days very few books contained any kind of reference to bodily functions, and the few that did tended to be for specialist audiences. It would have been considered especially unsuitable for children. Today things are more relaxed. In addition Pratchett is a humourist and children are particularly fond of scatalogical jokes.

More interesting is the difference in mating customs of the animals in the two books. Mrs Frisby was the widow of Jonathon Frisby. This presents the animals as having human-like nuclear families. The Rats of NIMH might conceivably have picked this trait up along with intelligence, but Mrs Frisby herself has not been enhanced and seems perfectly at home in the role of housewife. In contrast Maurice contains some oblique references to mating that strongly suggest that Pratchett's rats don't marry:
'[...] There's more interesting things to do now than bite one another.'

'Or do rllk, from what I hear,' said Dangerous Beans.

Peaches looked down, demurely. [...] 'The ladies are a lot more choosy,' she said. 'They want to find fathers who can think.'

Gender Roles

Mrs Frisby is almost the only female character in the book. The only other female she encounters is a young rat, one of the offspring of the original Rats of NIMH. All the important decisions for the colony appear to be taken by males, and only males are named in Nicodemus's account of their escape. Mrs Frisby is an idealised housewife, concerned only with looking after her family and having no larger goals or concerns. Significantly, her husband chose not to tell her about his past or his ongoing dealings with the rats, and her discovery of this is one of the major plot threads.

In Maurice the rats have a leader, and it seems to be unquestioned amongst them that the leader will be the strongest male. However they have evolved an informal leadership council that makes the decisions in practice, and this council embodies the tensions in their society.

Officially the Clan leader is the ageing and inflexible Hamnpork, but the other three can easily out-think him. Hamnpork knows this, and is forced to resort to bluster as he feels himself being pushed out of their decisions. The younger, brighter generation are represented by the mechanically apt male Darktan and the more nurturing female Peaches, who seems to be deputised to speak for all the females in the Clan. Disputes are mediated by the Clan philosopher Dangerous Beans.

Peaches is the most important female amongst the rats. There is an older, stronger female called Big Savings who seems to be the female counterpart of Hamnpork, and guards the mothers and youngsters. But Big Savings is rarely on-stage and Peaches is undoubtedly the dominant female. She is also the "official carrier" of the Mr Bunnsy book and is working on developing a written rat language.

At one point the philosopher Dangerous Beans asks Peaches to write down a Thought. It might seem that this presents Peaches in a secretarial role, traditionally junior and female, but the context makes it clear that this is not the case. Dangerous Beans is blind whilst Peaches is the best reader and writer in the Clan. Her role is more scholar than secretary

Neither O'Brien or Pratchett have their rats consider the issue of gender roles in their societies, which is an interesting gap. In Mrs Frisby this may have been due to the time it was written. In 1971 the question of equal rights for women was a controversial issue, and many saw it as antithetical to the nuclear family. But Pratchett has been ruled by Mrs Thatcher and his earlier book Equal Rites satirises paternalist thinking.


The big question faced by the Rats of NIMH is whether to build their own society or to continue to parasitize the human one. But the argument has led to schism within the rat society. One split occured before the rats arrived on the farm, and the proposed move to the wilderness threatens another one. But we are never told how the decisions are made. Are the Rats a democracy, or an autocracy, or is the colony small enough to hammer out their decisions in a mass meeting? Either way coercive force is noticeably missing.

Politics in Maurice mostly revolve primarily around the personalities of the Clan leadership. Without realising it the rats find themselves moving from a leadership based on physical strength to one based on knowledge and personality.

At the end of the book the rats talk to the humans of the town. Maurice and the rats offer a vision of a tourist industry and economic growth stemming from co-operation, and compare it with a bleak image of scorched-earth warfare. A long negotiation follows, during which Darktan and the human Mayor privately discuss what it is like to be the leader. They find that their experiences are very similar. Pratchett uses this scene to emphasise the unity of intelligent life over differences in body shape and basic instincts.


Both Mrs Frisby and Maurice use their settings as a way to introduce young readers to deep questions. Literature that does this has a long history: many Victorian stories were sold as being "improving" to their readers. Mrs Frisby is the more straightforward example of this: its subtexts all support social cohesion and the popular image of the ideal nuclear family at the time.

is more complex. Pratchett explores the conflict between animal instincts and drives and intelligent freedom of action. Since his target audience are children entering or going through puberty this will have powerful resonances for them. Pratchett's message here is clearly humanistic: Maurice is shown as heroic for putting his intelligence and empathy before his natural cattiness. Similarly, one of the first Thoughts of Dangerous Beans is that the Clan are not like other rats. This is not merely an observation: if they are not like other rats (i.e. intelligent and not acting purely on instinct) then they don't have to try to be like other rats. This is in contrast with the views of Hamnpork, who prefers to stick to what he knows.


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Best animal book
o Mrs Frisby 11%
o Maurice 23%
o Watership Down 57%
o Inoshiro! 7%

Votes: 42
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Also by Paul Johnson

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Maurice versus Mrs Frisby | 29 comments (18 topical, 11 editorial, 0 hidden)
Prattchet (5.00 / 3) (#6)
by rdskutter on Wed Jul 17, 2002 at 10:58:45 AM EST

If you've read any Prattchet at all then you'll soon realise that all is work heavily satirical of other people's work. You will miss a hell of a lot of jokes if you haven't read the books that he is parodying.

Prattchet's works are extremely funny and insightful and there is a hell of a lot of original thought in them however he does have a big habit of "borrowing storylines". Often he does this extremely blatantly for example Wyrd Sisters is loosely based on Macbeth and starts a scene where the witches are saying "When shall we three meet again?"

If you're a jock, inflict some pain / If you're a nerd then use your brain - DAPHNE AND CELESTE

Montage writing (5.00 / 4) (#10)
by Paul Johnson on Wed Jul 17, 2002 at 11:32:34 AM EST

I think I can best sum up Pratchett's writing style as "montage". In visual art its the style where you cut up lots of existing pictures and stick them together to make a new one. You might call a montage unoriginal because every bit of it came from other people's work, but that misses the point.

For example, in another book (Men at Arms, IIRC) Commander Vimes of the City Watch is investigating an explosion at the (legal) Assassins Guild. After talking to the Head Assassin Vimes walks away, then slaps his forehead, turns, and says, "Oh, I almost forgot Sir. What did you say was stolen?". The assassin replies "I didn't say anything was stolen.". "Oh, of course you didn't. Silly me" says Vimes.

The point of this dialogue is that something secret and important was stolen, and a bit of Columbo was exactly the right thing for that scene.

So it is with all of Pratchett's writing. Pratchett fans enjoy spotting all of these references and "resonances", and a compiled list can be found here.

You are lost in a twisty maze of little standards, all different.
[ Parent ]

Perfect (5.00 / 2) (#11)
by rdskutter on Wed Jul 17, 2002 at 11:36:52 AM EST

Exactly what I was trying to say in my clumsy post. Thanks.

If you're a jock, inflict some pain / If you're a nerd then use your brain - DAPHNE AND CELESTE
[ Parent ]

Interesting...got me thinking about Watership Down (5.00 / 3) (#8)
by graal on Wed Jul 17, 2002 at 11:15:17 AM EST

I'm not sure why, since the only shared feature is the depiction of intelligent, conversational animals. There's a scene in the book where the wild rabbits must lure domesticated females away from their farm to ensure that the new colony can breed, and it reminds me a bit of the encounters you describe between the intelligent animals and their un-augmented kin.

One feature of Watership Down that struck me when I first read it (and sticks with me to this day) is the completeness, for lack of a better word, of the created society. The Lapine language, the creation mythology and the sort of epic journey the rabbits make all remind me strongly of Tolkien.

Well-written. Deserves to see the FP.

For Thou hast commanded, and so it is, that every
inordinate affection should be its own punishment.
-- St. Augustine (Confessions, i)

...and then I looked up and saw the poll options. (5.00 / 1) (#9)
by graal on Wed Jul 17, 2002 at 11:16:53 AM EST


For Thou hast commanded, and so it is, that every
inordinate affection should be its own punishment.
-- St. Augustine (Confessions, i)
[ Parent ]

Watership Down is ... (none / 0) (#28)
by defeated on Thu Jul 18, 2002 at 02:34:55 PM EST

the standard by which all others are judged.  That book floored me when I read it for the first time in the 6th grade.  "Eat hraka....SIR"

Redwall, the Rats of NiMH, Tailchaser, the Wild Road, etc, I'll lay money that the authors had Richard Adams lurking somewhere in the darkest corners of their brains when they wrote them.
 Well, maybe not NiMH...was that pre-WD?

[ Parent ]

Sidenote (4.00 / 2) (#14)
by jmzero on Wed Jul 17, 2002 at 11:40:28 AM EST

Please don't watch the animated version of "Rats of NIMH".  It is truly, truly horrible - and it descends into this new age claptrap ending that's pretty much unmentionable.

Also, I recommend avoiding the sequel book "Racso and the Rats of NIMH" (or something like that).  It added nothing of value, and served only to cheapen the whole first book for me (back in grade 8) - kind of like 3001.
"Let's not stir that bag of worms." - my lovely wife

claptrap ending (none / 0) (#18)
by JyZude on Wed Jul 17, 2002 at 01:05:23 PM EST

What was the new-age ending? tell me or else I'll have to go see the movie to know.

It's like AI. Everyone said the ending sucked, but you can't just turn the movie off... that's wrong!

k5 is not the new Adequacy k thnx bye

[ Parent ]
AI had a great ending (5.00 / 4) (#19)
by jmzero on Wed Jul 17, 2002 at 01:27:16 PM EST

In fact, it had about 7 great endings.  
"Let's not stir that bag of worms." - my lovely wife
[ Parent ]
Indeed (5.00 / 2) (#22)
by Happy Monkey on Wed Jul 17, 2002 at 04:18:00 PM EST

All except the last one.
Length 17, Width 3
[ Parent ]
Telekinesis (5.00 / 1) (#23)
by Happy Monkey on Wed Jul 17, 2002 at 04:23:08 PM EST

They used a magic amulet that gave them telekinesis and moved her home magically after the rats' technological attempt failed.
Length 17, Width 3
[ Parent ]
poll write-in (5.00 / 1) (#20)
by loteck on Wed Jul 17, 2002 at 01:47:25 PM EST

the Redwall series by Brian Jacques.
"You're in tune to the musical sound of loteck hi-fi, the musical sound that moves right round. Keep on moving ya'll." -Mylakovich

Interesting analysis (none / 0) (#21)
by Mental Blank on Wed Jul 17, 2002 at 02:37:57 PM EST

Just one nit-picky point: in "Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH", the scientists are not the only humans with speaking roles. The family of farmers (the MacGregors, iirc?) also speak, although they don't have much of interest to say.

I also disagree with your point about the "blurred distinction" between enhanced and natural animals in this book. The natural animals can all speak and reason, but it's only the enhanced rats who are capable of making long-range plans, using tools, and forming a society. For example, Mrs. Frisby knows that her house has to be moved, but she can't conceive of how it can be done. The owl is a bit of an exception to this rule, but even he can't come up with any better ideas than "go and visit the rats".

O'Brien also seems to draw a clear parallel between the enhancement of the rats and human evolution - the normal rats corresponding to monkeys, and the super-rats being Stone Age man. This reinforces the "social conditioning" aspects of the book (nuclear families, self-sufficiency, etc.).

It's interesting, when comparing the two books, to consider other recent children's fiction about animals, which has also generally got a lot darker and grittier - for example, the excellent Deptford Mice series (by Robin Jarvis) gets downright disturbing in places. Not so many morals in it, though.

I haven't actually read "the Amazing Maurice" yet, mostly because I thought it'd just be Pratchett Standard Plot #27, but with the main characters being rats instead of humans. Maybe I will now. Thanks for an interesting article.

Animal IQ (5.00 / 1) (#25)
by Paul Johnson on Wed Jul 17, 2002 at 06:03:21 PM EST

I also disagree with your point about the "blurred distinction" between enhanced and natural animals in this book. The natural animals can all speak and reason, but it's only the enhanced rats who are capable of making long-range plans, using tools, and forming a society.

Real animals cannot communicate anything beyond a few bits of canned messages like "I give in", "Lets mate" and "Run!". Mrs Frisby appears to have an IQ somewhere in the 70 to 90 range, plus something like dyslexia to make her illiterate. She is emphatically not a realistic portrayal of a mouse.

In something like Watership Down thats OK, because the whole rabbit society thing is part of the willing suspension of disbelief. But the point of the Rats of NIMH is that they have been raised to human-like levels of intelligence by artificial means, and it follows that the animals in their natural state should be like real animals. In Mrs Frisby they are not. Of course I can extend my disbelief to cover this, but its still jarring.

Pratchett meanwhile makes it very clear just how limited the keekee intellect is. His unChanged rats are realistically rat-like.

You are lost in a twisty maze of little standards, all different.
[ Parent ]

Great writeup on "kids' lit" (none / 0) (#24)
by hatshepsut on Wed Jul 17, 2002 at 04:28:41 PM EST

I greatly enjoyed reading this sort of thing, as a kid, and still have a fairly extensive collection of "children's books". It looks like I need to add to it, however. Great comparative write-up!

Glad to know that there is still some "darker" material out there for kids. I got pretty turned off by much of the literature that was foisted on younger readers, the bland uninteresting stuff that seemed to become popular for a while, so as not to damage the kids' little psyches. Who didn't cry like a baby the first time they read "Charlotte's Web"? Did it damage us...I would like to say not.

As an aside, I have heard a rumour that J.K.Rowling's 5th book in the "Harry Potter" series didn't get a great reception at her publisher's...something about being too dark (not surprising given the ending of book 4). It will be interesting to see how that turns out.

"darker" kids material (5.00 / 1) (#27)
by _Quinn on Wed Jul 17, 2002 at 08:55:21 PM EST

I haven't read Maurice, so I don't know how she compares, but go look for Dianne Wynne Jones; I enjoyed her books a lot (particularly the Chrestomanci (sp?) series).  I would imagine, in general, that non-American children books are better if you're looking for darker.

Reality Maintenance Group, Silver City Construction Co., Ltd.
[ Parent ]

Difference (4.00 / 1) (#26)
by godix on Wed Jul 17, 2002 at 06:27:55 PM EST

I know Pratchett says this book is geared for early teens but I got the feeling it's a retelling of a fairy tale for adults, similar to some of Neil Gaiman's work or the 'Snow White, Blood Red' anthology series. While I enjoy NIMH as an adult, while reading it I never forget this is a story written for children. Maurice quite often makes you forget this is a childrens book, the barn scene with the dog being a good example (intentionaly vauge for spoiler reasons). I think the difference is NIMH tends to make it's subcontext blatently obvious while Pratchett's subcontext is a much more subtile issue of character interactions and motivations.

Blood, guts and Cinderella (5.00 / 1) (#29)
by Aemeth on Mon Jul 22, 2002 at 08:46:27 AM EST

Having been a reader of Terry Pratchett from the beginning (as I'm sure many if not most of you are), "...Maurice..." actually picks up on some of Terry's earlier ideas and fancies. The character of The Amazing Maurice (and his educated rodents) is mentioned quite early in the Discworld series, although the implications at the time was that Maurice was Human, this little idea of a Pied-Piper style character, and Terry's aparent love of older style fairy-tales gave birth to the book in question. Personally I think that although the book seems to be written in a more adult manner, and certainly relishes an adult audience, it is actually mainly a children's book, designed to be read by and to children of most ages. "...Maurice..." does not merely poke fun at common children's stories, it dismisses them in favour of the more traditional style of fairy-tales, with lots of what would currently be deemed adult content, and in a way, "...Maurice..." is an attempt to promote these older, gorey, and more interesting tales. I think that Terry feels that there is no need to demean children by giving them nonsensical tales about happy little bunnsies (that is not to say that they should be exposed to the horrors of the world either), and that they understand a lot more than many childrens writers (and indeed, entertainers) give them credit for.
Terry has explored similar themes in a previous Discworld novel, "The Hogfather", which focuses much more on the world that is presented to children.

Ofcourse the book deals with other themes as mentioned in the review, I just felt that this theme was not given as much focus as it should have, especially from the point of view of an adult reading the book.
I understand that Neil Gaiman's new book was also written as a story for children (specifically for his daughter), and is similarly 'adult', if not more so. I think that many authors are sick of syrupy childrens stories that are not particularly interesting or imaginative, let alone memorable, and are (hopefully) working to fix this.

Other than that I encourage anyone who has ever read a children's story to read "...Maurice...", it's excellent.

...mathematics may be defined as the subject in which we never know what we are talking about, nor whether what we are saying is true.
Bertrand Russell

Maurice versus Mrs Frisby | 29 comments (18 topical, 11 editorial, 0 hidden)
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