|by Pullman, Philip; Hawkes, Kevin (ILT)
When a young boy starts proclaiming that he was once a rat, the media and members of the community get involved to find out the real truth behind his rather unusual tale. Reprint.
PHILIP PULLMAN is one of the most acclaimed writers working today. He is best known for the His Dark Materials trilogy (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass), which has been named one of the top 100 novels of all time by Newsweek and one of the all-time greatest novels by Entertainment Weekly. He has also won many distinguished prizes, including the Carnegie Medal for The Golden Compass (and the reader-voted "Carnegie of Carnegies" for the best children's book of the past seventy years); the Whitbread (now Costa) Award for The Amber Spyglass; a Booker Prize long-list nomination (The Amber Spyglass); Parents' Choice Gold Awards (The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass); and the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, in honor of his body of work. In 2004, he was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
It has recently been announced that The Book of Dust, the much anticipated new book from Mr. Pullman, also set in the world of His Dark Materials, will be published as a major work in three parts, with the first part to arrive in October 2017.
Philip Pullman is the author of many other much-lauded novels. Other volumes related to His Dark Materials: Lyra’s Oxford, Once Upon a Time in the North, and The Collectors. For younger readers: I Was a Rat!; Count Karlstein; Two Crafty Criminals; Spring-Heeled Jack, and The Scarecrow and His Servant. For older readers: the Sally Lockhart quartet: The Ruby in the Smoke, The Shadow in the North, The Tiger in the Well, and The Tin Princess; The White Mercedes; and The Broken Bridge.
Philip Pullman lives in Oxford, England. To learn more, please visit philip-pullman.com and hisdarkmaterials.com. Or follow him on Twitter at @PhilipPullman.
Gr. 4^-6. Late one night there's a knock at Old Bob and Joan's door. It's a little boy in a torn, stained page's uniform. "I was a rat," he announces. The elderly couple don't know what to make of this, but they have always longed for a child, so they give the boy a home and a name, Roger. The boy continues to insist that he was a rat, and his ravenous appetite for wood and curtains suggests that, perhaps, he was. His new parents turn to the experts, but everyone-city officials, the police, even the Philosopher Royal-is baffled. Interspersed among the unfolding events of Roger's story are reports from the local newspaper, the Daily Scourge, of the "fairy tale" marriage of Prince Richard and Lady Aurelia. Yes, this is a fractured retelling of "Cinderella," and Pullman has great fun turning fairy tale convention on its head, deflating adult pomposity, and exposing the savagely self-serving nature of the popular press. The result is a little Perrault, a lot of Dickens, and, altogether, nonstop satirical fun for readers-who will laugh out loud at each new twist and turn. ((Reviewed February 1, 2000)) Copyright 2000 Booklist Reviews
Pullman (The Firework-Maker's Daughter, p. 1651, etc.) takes aim at city hall, the law, police, and especially the press in this whirlwind spinoff from a certain familiar fairy tale. As The Daily Scourge trumpets the prince's whirlwind courtship with a mysterious princess, humble cobbler, Old Bob, and his wife, Joan, share a more immediate concern when an exhausted lad in a torn page-boy's uniform appears at their door, able to tell them only that he used to be a rat. Although his habits and table manners are indeed ratlike, Bob and Joan take him in, dub him ``Roger'' and, when no government agency shows an interest, begin to think of him as their own. A quick learner but completely at sea in human society, Roger immediately falls into a series of misadventures, from biting a teacher who tries to strike him, to becoming a sideshow attraction. He flees to the sewers, only to be hunted down and condemned, both in court and in the pages of the Scourge, as a danger to children. Fortunately, Bob and Joan bring Roger's plight, along with a pair of fine shoes, to the kindly princess, who, realizing just who the boy is, engineers a royal rescue. The satire is a bit heavy-handed, but children will find Roger's ingenuousness, along with his inordinate fondness for pencils and other tasty chewables, hilarious. (b&w illustrations, not seen) (Fiction. 10-12) Copyright 2000 Kirkus Reviews
I Was a Rat
Old Bob and his wife, Joan, lived by the market in the house where his father and grandfather and great-grandfather had lived before him, cobblers all of them, and cobbling was Bob's trade too. Joan was a washerwoman, like her mother and her grandmother and her great-grandmother, back as far as anyone could remember.
And if they'd had a son, he would have become a cobbler in his turn, and if they'd had a daughter, she would have learned the laundry trade, and so the world would have gone on. But they'd never had a child, whether boy or girl, and now they were getting old, and it seemed less and less likely that they ever would, much as they would have liked it.
One evening as old Joan wrote a letter to her niece and old Bob sat trimming the heels of a pair of tiny scarlet slippers he was making for the love of it, there came a knock at the door.
Bob looked up with a jump. "Was that someone knocking?" he said. "What's the time?"
The cuckoo clock answered him before Joan could: ten o'clock. As soon as it had finished cuckooing, there came another knock, louder than before.
Bob lit a candle and went through the dark cobbler's shop to unlock the front door.
Standing in the moonlight was a little boy in a page's uniform. It had once been smart, but it was sorely torn and stained, and the boy's face was scratched and grubby.
"Bless my soul!" said Bob. "Who are you?"
"I was a rat," said the little boy.
"What did you say?" said Joan, crowding in behind her husband.
"I was a rat," the little boy said again.
"You were a-go on with you! Where do you live?" she said. "What's your name?"
But the little boy could only say, "I was a rat."
The old couple took him into the kitchen because the night was cold, and sat him down by the fire. He looked at the flames as if he'd never seen anything like them before.
"What should we do?" whispered Bob.
"Feed the poor little soul," Joan whispered back. "Bread and milk, that's what my mother used to make for us."
So she put some milk in a pan to heat by the fire and broke some bread into a bowl, and old Bob tried to find out more about the boy.
"What's your name?" he said.
"Haven't got a name."
"Why, everyone's got a name! I'm Bob, and this is Joan, and that's who we are, see. You sure you haven't got a name?"
"I lost it. I forgot it. I was a rat," said the boy, as if that explained everything.
"Oh," said Bob. "You got a nice uniform on, anyway. I expect you're in service, are you?"
The boy looked at his tattered uniform, puzzled.
"Dunno," he said finally. "Dunno what that means. I expect I am, probably."
"In service," said Bob, "that means being someone's servant. Have a master or a mistress and run errands for 'em. Page boys, like you, they usually go along with the master or mistress in a coach, for instance."
"Ah," said the boy. "Yes, I done that, I was a good page boy, I done everything right."
"'Course you did," said Bob, shifting his chair along as Joan came to the table with the bowl of warm bread and milk.
She put it in front of the boy, and without a second's pause, he put his face right down into the bowl and began to guzzle it up directly, his dirty little hands gripping the edge of the table.
"What are you doing?" said Joan. "Dear oh dear! You don't eat like that. Use the spoon!"
The boy looked up, milk in his eyebrows, bread up his nose, his chin dripping.
"He doesn't know anything, poor little thing," said Joan. "Come to the sink, my love, and we'll wash you. Grubby hands and all. Look at you!"
The boy tried to look at himself, but he was reluctant to leave the bowl.
"That's nice," he said. "I like that..."
"It'll still be here when you come back," said Bob. "I've had my supper already, I'll look after it for you."
The boy looked wonder-struck at this idea. He watched over his shoulder as Joan led him to the kitchen sink and tipped in some water from the kettle, and while she was washing him, he kept twisting his wet face round to look from Bob to the bowl and back again.
"That's better," said Joan, rubbing him dry. "Now you be a good boy and eat with the spoon."
"Yes, I will," he said, nodding.
"I'm surprised they didn't teach you manners when you was a page boy," she said.
"I was a rat," he said.
"Oh, well, rats don't have manners. Boys do," she told him. "You say thank you when someone gives you something, see, that's good manners."
"Thank you," he said, nodding hard.
"That's a good boy. Now come and sit down."
So he sat down, and Bob showed him how to use the spoon. He found it hard at first, because he would keep turning it upside down before it reached his mouth, and a lot of the bread and milk ended up on his lap.
But Bob and Joan could see he was trying, and he was a quick learner. By the time he'd finished, he was quite good at it.
"Thank you," he said.
"That's it. Well done," said Bob. "Now you come along with me and I'll show you how to wash the bowl and the spoon." While they were doing that, Bob said, "D'you know how old you are?"
"Yes," said the boy. "I know that, all right. I'm three weeks old, I am."
"Yes. And I got two brothers and two sisters the same age, three weeks."
"Five of you?"
"Yes. I ain't seen 'em for a long time."
"What's a long time?"
The boy thought, and said, "Days."
"And where's your mother and father?"
"Under the ground."
Bob and Joan looked at each other, and they could each see what the other was feeling. The poor little boy was an orphan, and grief had turned his mind, and he'd wandered away from the orphanage he must have been living in.
As it happened, on the table beside him was Bob's newspaper, and suddenly the little boy seemed to see it for the first time.