The Amazing Maurice is the twenty eighth book in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and the first one that he deliberately wrote as a children’s book. It won him his most distinguished literary prize, The Carnegie Medal, largely because I like to think that children’s librarians are much smarter than literary critics and have always known genius when they’ve seen it.
The Amazing Maurice is a cat who, like the educated rodents he hangs around with, spent too long eating things that the wizards at Unseen University threw away, and suddenly discovered he could think, and talk. Maurice and the rats have teamed up with a ‘stupid looking kid’, who can play the penny whistle, and are travelling the Disc, simultaneously infesting and ridding the town of a plague of rats, and a hefty sum of money for doing so.
As they arrive in Bad Blintz, the rats tell Maurice that this is their last con. They want to find the nirvana promised in the book Mr Bunnsy Has an Adventure, which has become their bible. Maurice grudgingly agrees, but before things can swing into action they find that sinister forces are afoot in Bad Blintz. Can they save themselves and the townspeople of Bad Blintz?
On first reading I found this a strange choice for a children’s book. The Amazing Maurice may have more than echoes of the Pied Piper fable. It may also be influenced by Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, but it is a very dark tale. It’s about the human in animals, and the animal in humans. It has moments of savagery and genuine fear and tension that many of the previous Discworld novels lack. Just as I assume that children’s librarians are smarter, I found this was the point where I realised that Pratchett knew children were smarter than your average adult, too. There is no pandering to young minds here. There is direct, straight talking, fierceness and no compromise whatsoever and it makes the book worthy of the Carnegie and every other prize you might care to mention.
It’s funny, of course. There’s a lot of mention of widdling in jam, but it’s also funny in an extremely macabre, sharp way that cuts to the bone of what Pratchett is doing, showing humans to humans and talking about what it is to be humane.
On re-reading it with Oscar, I only have more praise for it. It’s one of those books I think should be compulsory reading in schools. Sod Lord of the Flies or Animal Farm. This is the one.