Rats in fact and fiction: suggested reading (this list represents my personal favourites and is by no means exhaustive).

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The Brown Rat
Graham Twigg: pub. 1975 David & Charles, Newton Abbot (hardback)

Out of print, rare and hard to obtain

Important zoological treatise on Rattus norvegicus. Contains some rather depressing chapters on man's attempts to kill off wild rats - but also a great deal of fascinating information about wild rat behaviour, tunnel-systems etc..

Encyclopaedia of Rabbits and Rodents
Esther Verhoef-Verhallen: pub. 1997, REBO Productions (hardback)

Should still be in print and available through good pet-shops

Translated erratically from the Dutch and type-set by a dyslexic computer, but thorough and informative, with sound advice on husbandry and an enormous number of absolutely superb photographs (even if some of the captions have been transposed...) of rats and other small furry things, including exotics such as degus and jirds.


Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
Robert C O'Brien: pub. 1971 Scholastic (paperback); 1974 Atheneum (hardback); 1986 Aladdin Books (paperback); 1987 Puffin Books (paperback)

Atheneum and Aladdin versions in print, and all versions readily available second-hand

Children's science fiction/animal fantasy. The eponymous rats (and a few mice) of NIMH have escaped from a laboratory where their intelligence was boosted to human levels, and are now trying to set up their own civilization: but even the "ordinary" animals talk. Seen through the eyes of Mrs Frisby, a normal mouse but the widow of one of the NIMH mice, who has to go to the rats for help in moving her nest out of the way of the coming ploughing. Winner of 1972 Newbery Medal for the most distinguished contribution to American children's literature.

Kate Thompson: pub. 1998 Disney (hardback); 1998 Red Fox (paperback); 1999 Hyperion (paperback)

All versions in print
Midnight's Choice
Kate Thompson: pub. 1998 Bodley Head Children's Books (hardcover); 1999 Red Fox (paperback)

Red Fox version in print
Wild Blood
Kate Thompson: pub. 2000 Red Fox (paperback)

In print

Switchers is a children's fantasy about teenage shape-shifters who take on (non-human) animal form to save the world from icy monsters: they spend a lot of time with and as rats, who are sympathetically and engagingly portrayed. The second book in the same series, Midnight's Choice, concentrates heavily on rats, but is less interesting to rat-lovers because in this case the rats are being possessed and controlled by an outside force, so their behaviour is not as appealingly ratty as in the first book. A third book, Wild Blood, appeared in 2000: I haven't read it yet but I gather it too pays a lot of sympathetic attention to rats.

I Was a Rat!...or The Scarlet Slippers
Philip Pullman: pub. 1999 Doubleday (hardback); 2000 Knopf (hardback); 2000 Random Library (hardback); 2000 Yearling Books (paperback); 2001 Chivers Cavalcade Story Cassettes (audio-book)

Knopf and Random editions and audio-book in print, all readily available second-hand

Children's fantasy in which one of Cinderella's page-boy rats ran off to play and was overlooked when the others were being re-ratified, and now has to make a go of it as a human child - despite being only a few weeks old and having a tendency to chew everything in sight. The story (which was recently adapted for TV by the BBC) is also an allegory about the way humans react to animals regarded as "vermin", and the way in which the tabloid press demonizes or idolizes people at random.

The Journal of Watkin Stench
Meredith Hooper: pub. 1988 and 2000 Hodder Children's Books (paperback)

Y2K edition in print

Children's adventure-story about Watkin Stench, a young ship rat from London who joins a convict-ship bound for Australia in 1778, and the rat-colony which he and his friends set up in parallel with the first European colony in Australia. This book is unusual in featuring Rattus rattus rather than Rattus norvegicus, though unfortunately the cover-artists don't know the difference.

The Pole-Seekers
Meredith Hooper: pub. 2000 Hodder Children's Books (paperback)

In print

Children's adventure-story about a group of ship rats on an exploratory vessel bound for Antarctica, concentrating on a young buck called Hackle who accompanies the expedition's human commander to the South Pole. The author has personal experience of Antarctica.

A Rat's Tale
Tor Seidler, illus. Fred Marcellino: pub. 1986 Farrar, Straus & Giroux (hardback and trade-paperback); 1997 Orion Children's Books (paperback); 1999 Harpercollins Juvenile Books (paperback)

Harpercollins edition in print

Award-winning, complex children's adventure-story described by the author as "a love story and adventure story, with political overtones," in which an artistic young sewer-rat called Montague Mad-Rat tries to prevent humans from destroying a rat-colony on a New York pier, courts an aristocratic young doe from the pier colony, and gets to know a human art-gallery owner. An animated film-version was produced by a German marionette troupe and released by Warner Brothers.

Rats and Gargoyles
Mary Gentle: pub. 1990 Bantam (paperback); 1991 Viking/ROC (hardback); 1992 New American Library (paperback)

New American Library edition in print, others readily obtainable second-hand

Adult fantasy novel. A complex plot about theology, philosophy and hermetic mysteries, set in a surreal, geometrically distorted city ruled by man-sized, intelligent rats. Ship rats form the ruling/priestly classes, while Norway rats are artisans and soldiers. Gruesome in parts, but has some wonderful ratty (and other) characters.


Xeno's Arrow
Greg E Beettam and Stephen Geigen-Millar: 1999 onwards
First 10-issue story-arc (and original 8-issue mini-series) pub. Cup O'Tea Studios
Second, 6-issue story-arc, begining in January 2001, pub. Radio Comix
Third story-arc, begining some time after March 2002, pub. Cup O'Tea Studios: the team have not yet decided whether this will appear as another series of individual comics, or a single graphic novel

Bimonthly comic, up to Book II #6 as at February 2002. The 10-issue set which makes up Book I, and also a few sets of an earlier, small-format 8-issue version of the first story-arc, are available from the publishers

Part science fiction and part beast-fable (it has reptilian aliens in it with names like Dr Malcolm Braithwaite!), and drawn in a semi-cartoon style, Xeno's Arrow is set in a time when an arrogant but well-meaning lizard race have taken it upon themselves to absorb all other intelligent races into their civilization: specimens of "uncouth", unabsorbed sentients are kept on a vaste space station, a cross between a mission-school and a zoo. The most incorrigibly uncouth and unabsorbed of all uncouth sentients are the Rachaat, leopard-sized, space-faring rats who have colonized the galaxy by stowing away on other races' ships.

The hero, Xeno, is a young alien boy of unkown species who is persuaded by the female lead, Clemens, an even more than ordinarily independent-minded Rachaat, to make a break from the zoo...

For more information visit the Xeno's Arrow website

The Tale of One Bad Rat
Bryan Talbot: 1995 Dark Horse Comics (graphic novel)

In print and available from Dark Horse or from bookshops

Very well-known graphic novel (i.e. collected, paperback-bound comic). An absolutely serious story about a teenage runaway coping with the after-effects of sexual abuse: but Beatrix Potter and the heroine's pet rat also have starring rôles. The artwork is realistic and beautiful.

For more information, sample artwork etc. visit the Official Bryan Talbot Fanpage's One Bad Rat homepage.