Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents

Sarah and I usually read together before bed at least a few times every week. We've done this pretty much all of our married life. Lately it's usually been me reading to her because this helps her get to sleep.
Our latest book was The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett. This book won the Carnegie Award for Children's Literature, and it came to us on loan from Elisa Sutherland, who is doing a Masters in Children's Literature.
The back cover describes this book as "excruciatingly funny." That might be a bit of an overstatement, but it definitely had us laughing out loud again and again. It's an odd satire with a dry but strong sense of humor.
Here's the basic premise. The book is apparently set in Europe, roughly in the late 1800's, but neither are particularly important to the book. The main characters are a clan of rats and a wily alley cat, named Maurice. These animals initially lived in a garbage dump outside a school for magic (think Hogwarts). After eating some of the magical refuse of the school, a large group of rats were suddenly Changed. They became self-aware and rational. They learned to read, to write, to plan, to disarm traps, etc. Maurice, the cat, joins the thinking world when he eats one of these Changelings. Somehow Maurice and the rats form a peace and set off into the world to make their fortune and/or a better life for themselves. Hilariously, the rats all have names from food labels: Nourishing, Peaches, Dangerous Beans, Ham-n-Pork, etc.
With their newfound ability to think and analyze their world, the rats - thanks especially to their resident philosopher, Dangerous Beans - have an increasingly profound ethical code.
The rats have a copy of a children's book, which seems to describe an idyllic relationship between animals and humans, one of peace and mutual respect and equality. They are in search of such an utopia, but alas it is not to be. Eventually dark forces collude to crush their idealism. However, what emerges is a beautiful - and very funny - drama of beings of extremely different cultures and perspectives learning how to live together with synergy and mutual respect.
This book is of value simply for entertainment. It's a good story guaranteed to keep your interest (especially after you give yourself time to get into this alternative world drama), and it's guaranteed to get you laughing.
However, this book is also of value for several other reasons. It is a beautiful description of a community's attempts to deal with change and to reinterpret themselves and their world in the light of a steady stream of new information.
Also, as the book moves toward it's close, it offers a description of the beauty and difficulties of living in multicultural community. Perhaps because of my job as pastor of an international church, I particularly appreciated this.
Lastly, we get a few picture of the difficulties of leadership from the various perspectives of the different leaders who help to guide this book and their communities to the successful conclusion of this chapter of dealing with overwhelming change. Again, I resonate with this because of my role in leading a changing congregation in a changing world.
I'm torn between 4 j's and 5 J's. However, for the sake of keeping the 5J rating for books that are extremely good and/or profound, I'll give this very good book 4 j's.
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