Mr Bunnsey is the book I mean and I agree - them losing it was the best thing that could happen. Or at least them learning what it really was. It meant they had to start thinking for themselves.
I have to disagree with the idea that loosing the the Mr. Bunnsey book meant they had to start thinking for themselves. They were thinking for themselves long before they lost Mr. Bunsey and Thoughts. They had already started writing their own book "Thoughts" in Rat well before they lost both of the books. But "The Changelings" are different. (See last sentence of Chapter 3.) [Incidentally, the publishers of this book must have had real fun coming up with a way of printing in Rat; I suppose they did it as they would do a black and white illustration.] The Clan or the Changelings are, then, rats who are not exactly rats.
It's true that Pratchett is anti-organized religions. I'm not at all sure that he is anti-spiritual. The ideas he puts forward through Dangerous Beans primarily are philosophical. They are about right and wrong, and about the dark and the light, about life after death. These ideas are certainly spiritual, and not the sole purview of any organized religion.
is a fascinating book, incorporating many of the ideas Pratchett has used before (i.e. - stories v. reality). It's not, as you said, Pooh, a roman a clef for Obama. But it's a good deal more than what most people think of when they say "It's a children's book." It's interesting that this book followed The Thief of Time
because in some respects the question of what makes one human is a central theme in both books. Only in this book, the central question appears to be "What makes us Changelings?"
The first thing that makes these rats different is that they have become self-aware, and from that they have developed their skills of thinking into the beginnings of a philosophy. They have learned to think, to speak, and to read and this has set them apart from the keekees
. Ironically, Maurice has come to the same stage of self-awareness from eating one of the changelings. Thus he is no more an "ordinary cat" than they are "ordinary rats."
It seems to me that what Pratchett has done here is to take several old stories, weave them together, and create something new that because it is entertaining makes us think. And good stories are a way to look at life in a different way, a way that makes the self-aware think about what is right and wrong, and what is real and what is not. That's why the central characters in this book (contrary to the title) are the Educated Rodents. Yes, there are humans and there is a cat and there rats. But most of all, there is The Clan.
Because we are all brought up to think that rats are bad, nasty, and deserve to be disposed of as quickly and completely as possible, when Pratchett makes them the central characters we find ourselves identifying with beings that we have been taught to see in a totally different and negative way. We are used to thinking that killing rats, or using them for sport is not only justified, but the only way to see rats. But by making the Educated Rodents the central characters, Pratchett allows us to explore what binds all of us together and how we can learn to live together without trying to kill each other.
In this way Pratchett is able to explore a great many ideas because he can draw on all kinds of stories and traditions. For example, The Rat King has turned himself in his own perception into a kind of god who thinks for the other rats, but not of the other rats. The other rats that he has always controlled and manipulated do not have the ability to think because they are not self-aware. They are "traditional rats" as Hambone defines them "Teeth, Claws. Tail. Run. Hide. Eat. That's what a rat is." And the best of them survive and grow stronger. But they don't think of the Rat King as a god because they don't think. They just follow the voice in their heads and are used by the Rat King in his attempt to extract vengeance on the humans that made him a Rat King.
Because Pratchett uses the Educated Rodents as central characters, he is able to deal with a good many of the other questions that humans face in the course of the novel. Some are practical (like what makes a good leader) and some are funny - like tap dancing and stage struck rats. But he can also suggest that we, like Maurice, can behave in ways that are totally "uncatlike". We are capable of changing ourselves and becoming beings who are willing to give up our lives for others.
Pratchett has changed the ending of the Pied Piper story, because his book is more than a story. His novel doesn't end with all the rats going away (or for that matter all the children going away). It doesn't even end with "And they all lived happily ever after." It involves drawing up a contract, a very detailed agreement of how rats and humans can live and prosper together. Of course, it's not really just a funny book about rats and cats and humans at all--it's much more than that.
That is Pratchett's talent--"to take us boldly where no man has gone before" and to see things in a totally different way, a way that makes us think and makes us better. That's why the book got the Carnegie Medal. It's officially a children's book, but really it's a humans' book.