Though his book is wildly inventive, Savage is far from the first novelist to anthropomorphize a rat. Firmin stands out for presenting literature as sustenance for the body as well as the mind - as Firmin eats his way through the books, the thoughts, words and deeds contained consume him with intoxicating curiosity.
For every work of literature that contains a positive description of an anthropomorphized rat, there are probably at least a couple where rats come off less well; they seem to do especially poorly in books 'peopled' only by animals where they tend to be typecast as villains or outcasts.
From the rats of Hamlin to Dilbert's co-employee Ratbert, rats feature far and wide, although not nearly as widely as mice. Here's a quick run down of a few of the better known literary rats.
Interestingly, the Western view of rats is at odds with the view of the rat in Chinese culture, where it is considered a symbol of good luck. People born in the year of the rat are expected to possess the qualities associated with rats including honesty, generosity, ambition, quick-wit and even temper. If you were born in 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972 or 1984, you were born in the year of the rat.
This article is from the January 21, 2009 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.
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