Nov 4, 2007

I Was a Rat! by Philip Pullman

Bob and Joan are an ageing couple who never had any children. One day, a little boy in a page uniform knocks on their door. When asked who he is and where he came from, all he answers is, “I was a rat!”

Bob and Joan take him in, feed him and put him to bed. He says he doesn’t have a name (because rats don’t have names), so they call him Roger, the name they were going to give their son, if they’d had one. Roger turns out to be a lovely boy, even if a little ratty in his ways – he has a special fondness for gnawing on things, and he sleeps all curled up like a rat in its little nest.

The following day they try to find out who his parents are, but there are no reports of missing children in the city. So they decide to look after him for the time being, and they take him to school, but things there don’t exactly go well. In the next few days, poor Roger becomes an object of study for the Royal Philosopher, an exhibit at a freak show, an unknowing member of a juvenile gang, and an imprisoned “monster” on whose extermination the safety of the city allegedly depends. Bob and Joan have to do everything in their power to save he who has become their little boy.

I Was a Rat! is an extremely funny and intelligent book. In between the book’s chapters there are front pages of “The Daily Scourge”, the town’s local paper, and those are especially hilarious. This charming story is about how we so often villanize others and refuse to see what’s right in front of our eyes, just because dismissing them as evil is easier than trying to understand them and accepting their differences. It’s a deeply human and endearing story told in a wonderful manner.

Before I read the book, I kept seeing blurbs and reviews that said this was actually a retelling of a well-known fairy-tale, but none would actually say which, or explain in what way, and when I started reading it I became utterly confused. Sure, the mood and the tone of the story were fairy tale-ish, but a rat turning into a boy is not the plot of any fairy tale I know. But after reading the book, I understood. This IS a retelling of a very beloved fairy tale, but the reason why nobody would say which is the fact that it would be a major spoiler for the story. Philip Pullman approaches the tale from a completely original angle, and that’s one of the book’s greatest strengths.

Philip Pullman is one of my very favourite authors, and once again he does not disappoint. I Was a Rat! is a lovely book that I strongly recommend to young and older readers alike.

Other Blog Reviews:
Nothing of Importance
Words by Annie
Valentina's Room
Stuff as Dreams are Made On


  1. I was curious about this title when I first spotted it on your "Currently Reading" column. I really like His Dark Material, but wasn't certain if Pullman's other books are just as interesting. Thanks for revewing it. I will be sure to look out for it at the library now.

    I thought it was a Piped Pier revision - er - is it? Does this counts as a spoiler?

  2. Sounds like something I would definitely love. I loved His Dark Materials and you know I love fairy tales and retellings. I always mean to read The Tiger in the Well series as well but haven't gotten around to it. Have you read those and do you recommend them?

  3. Dark Orpheus: I wasn't even aware that this one existed until I saw it at the library. It's not as good as HDM, of course, but it's a very good book. Piped Pier...a good guess! It would make sense with the rats. I hadn't thought of that. :P It's much more surprising than that!

    Rhinoa: I do think you'd love this one! I haven't read that series, no, but I've been meaning to for a long time. I think I'm putting them on my list for the YA challenge to make sure I get to it next year.

  4. Nymeth, you had me hooked from your very first paragraph, I would absolutely love to read this book! For some months now I have been reading books with fairly serious subject matters, now I just want to lose myself in a lovely, feel-good story for a change and "I was a Rat" seems to be the perfect one to pick up!

    Thank you!

  5. Do you have any idea how excited I am after reading your review?!! It sounds like such a wonderful story! Philip Pullman is one of Annie's favorite authors, too (but can you believe all I've read by him is one short story...shame on me, I know!). Anyway, this sounds like it would be wonderful for our fairy tales unit...please tell me I'm right!

  6. hmmm...! i wasn't interested in this at all, but now you're really piqued my curiosity!

    sounds very good indeed.

    (initially i thought the title refered to some gangster theme... and i thought it was a children's book version of some chicago mobster thing... or something...)

  7. Not Piped Piper? Oh, now I HAVE to find out what is it! :p

  8. Lotus: I do think it'd be perfect for that. I hope you enjoy it! :)

    Debi: You're definitely right! The fairy tale in question is a major one, so it really would work well. I actually remembered you and Annie when reading this one. I know she likes Philip Pullman and I wondered if she'd read it. She will enjoy it for sure, and I think you would too.

    Jean Pierre: I'm glad to have made you curious :P No gangster involved, no, lol. But it is a great book.

    Dark Orpheus: Pick it up! You know you want to :P It's a really fast read too.


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