In the ninth chapter of The Amazing Maurice, the group fights back against the ratcatchers, only to discover that there’s something else terrible down below. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
I don’t know that I’ve had this much fun with a Discworld novel in a while, and I REALLY LIKE THESE BOOKS! But in The Amazing Maurice, Pratchett is hitting on multiple themes that I love, and THIS IS SO FUNNY. I can’t get over the poisoning scene, especially now that I know that THEY WERE GIVEN LAXATIVES, NOT RAT POISON! But the satisfaction isn’t purely emotional. I adore what Pratchett is doing with stories here, and look… this isn’t the first time I’ve read a Discworld book about the power of stories, about the pervasive nature of tropes, about fulfilling roles and rejecting them. Across these many, many books in this series, Pratchett has engaged with these notions in many different ways. So why this book? Why is this the one that feels so very unique?
It must be said that Pratchett has managed to give these rats unique, compelling identities. RATS. (Well, and they have great names, too. I WILL DIE FOR THEIR NAMES.) It is astounding to me that there are so many characters here, yet I can instantly tell them apart, and I look forward to watching each of them grow. AND THEY’VE ALL GROWN SO MUCH IN JUST UNDER TWO HUNDRED PAGES! Look at Hamnpork! And Nourishing! And Dangerous Beans! Pratchett accomplishes this is less time than most books and at a higher concentration than most books. Maurice is changing, forced to examine his selfishness. Then there are Malicia and Keith, who seem like polar opposites in terms of characterization, but who are learning to appreciate each other’s perspective through this conflict. This book is shorter than most Discworld novels, but it’s so dense with character development and plot twists. It’s like… the essence of a Discworld story, boiled down and stretched into a fairy tale story.
And my god, I love it. SYNCHRONIZED SWIMMING. Keith and Malicia threatening the ratcatchers! THE RAT KING. But let me jump right into my thoughts on Darktan, because what the fuck is this book doing to my emotions. See, that’s another reason why I’m responding as I am to The Amazing Maurice. Because it’s shorter, the elements that Pratchett explores are all the more intense. I thought that we had lost Darktan, that he’d become victim to a trap, so yes, I was quite surprised by the twist that Darktan not only didn’t die, but that we’d experience him almost dying. I think it’s easy to imagine that had he not been Changed, this experience would be completely different and probably not as emotional. Even though it’s all happening to a rat, it’s indicative of a very human thing. That wonder about the afterlife and death is something practically all of us think about. But death used to mean something much different for the rats. Now, with their Changed consciousness, death holds a more haunting meaning. Is there something afterwards? Is there a Big Rat Deep Under the Ground? Darktan contemplates all of this as he slips further toward death, only to be pulled back by Nourishing, who manages to rescue him from the rusty trap.
There’s still a lot of tension in the story, though, because even though Hamnpork and Darktan have survived, we don’t know how long they’ll last. Both rats are in terrible shape, so it’s possible they won’t make it to the end of the book. But death—or at least the threat of it—has unequivocally changed Darktan. (I imagine it’s changed Hamnpork, too, but we’ll have to see.) He is the only rat that they know of who has escaped from both a trap and the experience of death. The very act of acknowledging that forces Darktan to think about things that are frightening and uncomfortable, which leads us to his epiphany about Dangerous Beans. IT’S ONE OF MY VERY FAVORITE THINGS IN THIS BOOK:
But now he thought: He’s a trap hunter, just like me. He goes ahead of us and finds the dangerous ideas and thinks about them and traps them in words and makes them safe, and then he shows us the way through.
We need him… we need him now. Otherwise we’re all running around like rats in a barrel….
Of course, Pratchett invokes that image as a metaphor and a literal reference to the horrific experience of the rat coursing. That event helped these rats realize just how different they are from their “natural” state and how disturbing that reality is. Yet that’s why Dangerous Beans is so important: none of the other rats are so willing to do uncomfortable things like him, and finally, Darktan gets that. He understands the power of thought and consideration, and it’s why he ultimately chooses not to drop that match on the barn. He makes the conscious decision not to become like the humans who tormented his kind.
I AM FULL OF EMOTIONS OVER THIS, OKAY. And it’s just one of a billion things going on in this chapter! Like Darktan’s growth, we see how poeticism plays a huge part in the narrative, so much so that Malicia outright mentions it. While the two kids certainly made it seem like they’d poisoned the ratcatchers, they ultimately choose not to sink to the same level as them. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a lack of poetic justice here, and I loved that Malicia used her love of stories to come up with a means to torment these horrible, horrible people with laxatives and a couple well-timed lies. ALSO: SHE JUST HAPPENED TO HAVE LAXATIVES ON HER. She is TOO MUCH and she is MY HERO and IS HER BAG A TARDIS. Can we also all applaud the greatest single exchange in the entire Discworld series thus far?
Keith sighed. “How much did you give them?”
“Lots. But they should be all right if they don’t take too much of the antidote.”
“What did you give them for the antidote?”
“Malicia, you are not a nice person.”
And look, maybe she’s not a nice person, but goddamn it, sometimes, you can’t be nice. It’s not worth it! So bless being not nice!!!!
There’s just one thing looming over all of this: the Rat King. Look, there’s about a one percent chance this isn’t disgusting, so I’M BRACING MYSELF. The colloquial use of the term is gross enough, but I somehow think Pratchett is going to mess with us in a way that’s new and horrifying. The thing can ALREADY talk to other people subliminally, and it’s incredibly violent and pessimistic. Ugh, is it made up of all the rats who died in the cellar? I DON’T KNOW, I’M SCARED.
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