The Unfair Treatment of Rats in Novels

My Pet RatsLook at how adorable these two little creatures are! (Yes, I made them pancakes. So cute!) These are my pet rats, Bliz and Min. They are such amazing pets. Seriously. Believe me! I’m not lying! Rat’s are unfairly judged to be icky, but really they are just like miniature dogs. You can teach them lots of tricks and they can be really cuddly (once they are done exploring their surroundings that is). They are super intelligent (unlike other rodents… *cough* hamsters *cough*) and they are super clean (as long as you keep their cage clean!).

Anyway, I am bring this up because I am an avid reader of fantasy. Well, just of books in general. And it is an extremely rare occasion to read about rats that are portrayed in a good way. The only book I can think of off the top of my head is The Witches by Roald Dahl. Oh wait, I actually think those were mice. Which is just ridiculous because mice don’t tightrope walk… Pssssh!

Well, that just makes me even more convinced. I need to write a book that contains rats as cute and cuddly pets. Not grotesque sewer rats that are slimy and stinky. Not disease ridden stow aways on an Atlantic voyage. But rats that are loved and clean and intelligent.

This is my new task. Yes.

What animals do you think get a bad reputation in novels (or just in general) and why? Do you think you could write about them in a more positive manner?

Leave a comment below! Byeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

About the author

Leetah Begallie

Leetah is a writer and graphic designer who lives on Vancouver Island in Beautiful British Columbia. She enjoys reading, hiking, and spending time with her husband (Matt), her dog (Isla), and her three pet rats (Avi, Lily, and River).

She writes mostly fantasy but enjoys tying in other genres to her stories.


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  • I can’t think of any other animals that are as ripped off as rats. Most other animals have had roles in cartoons and can talk, and they’re smart. Rats barely ever get that treatment, which is unfair because they are up there with the sweetest, most intelligent animals. The only movie I can think of with a slightly positive spin on rats was Charlotte’s Web! And even then, all Templeton did was scavenge for food and he was totally uncuddly and not the cute monkeys are rats are!

    • I forgot about Templeton! But, yes, even he was supposed to be gross and stinky…
      Everything I think of turns out to be a mouse… I thought of Reepicheep from The Chronicles of Narnia… Yupp, he is a mouse… Darn it!

  • The best one I can think of is the Secret of Nymh. That story actually addresses this stereotype. The mouse family is at first afraid of the rats, and the farmer doesn’t like the rats much at all. But then we find out that a lot of the rats are honorable, and they work together to move the mouse house to the lee of the stone.

  • My friend had a couple of rats and I’d let them ride on my shoulder one at a time. They liked it under my hair 🙂 They really aren’t that bad if they are your pets, but the disease they can carry outside of that? That’s what gets me.

    I’m reading The Wheel of Time series and in the first book there are some rats that are killed by breaking them in half! So when I saw this post I thought you had channeled into my brain and found out what I just read. 😉

    • Pet rats are amazing! 🙂 They really do like hiding in hair 😛

      The Wheel of Time is my favourite series…

      I hate that rats are used as spies for the Dark One 🙁 And that they are snapped in half in that scene 🙁 But I suppose if they are spies for an evil force then I would want them dead/gone as well. lol!

      Just not if it was in a dream and I woke up to find it was real… Creeeeepy!

  • It’s unfair because rats have become domesticated? Why?

    I think that the portrayal of rats in literature is due to the historical context revolving around rats and their amazing talent of spreading diseases and spoiling food (e.g. Black Death and various other health epidemics, particularly in the UK).

    Also, rats can’t read, so who is it really unfair to?

    • lol, it is true that rats can’t read, but what about rat owners? Many children have pet rats these days and they read. How is it fair if a child can only find their pet in the role of a bad guy?
      But also, I understand why they are represented in a poor light due to the historical context but I think that, with domestication, they should also be treated fairly in books where it makes sense. (Obviously, if the point of your story is the spread of a disease than it wouldn’t make sense!) Like in books with talking animals, why do the rats always seem to be bad guys? (There are exceptions, I just wish there were more!)

  • Well, that was a rhetorical question.

    If you saw a rat in the woods, would you pick it up? How about a snake you couldn’t identify or a spider? Death lurks around these animals. It makes sense that they would be the ones cast most often as the villains. Allegories will never be fair. It’s not in their nature. Symbols are meant to exaggerate and stylize in order to deliver a message bigger than the symbols themselves.

    If a someone becomes offended by the depiction of a certain animal in an allegory, then they aren’t ready for those kinds of stories. It doesn’t take much wit to realize that the evil, villainous rat is only an image used to represent the larger concepts of greed and selfishness and is not a commentary about how all rats are greedy and selfish.

    • I also wouldn’t pick up a rabbit, dog, or cat that I saw randomly in the middle of the woods.
      Anything can be depicted as the villain in a story, but that’s not really the point of my blog post. The point is that there are not many depictions of rats in a positive role. It does not mean that they should not be villains or disease ridden ever. Just that I would like to see more positive roles for rats.

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