All Hail the Rat King …

Earlier today the children’s book world was squirming in unison from a tweet sent by Jennifer Laughran.  It was a link to a Wikipedia article about something called a “rat king.”  Rat kings are clusters of rats whose tails have become intertwined — either with blood, excrement, dirt, or plain-old tangling.  Apparently they continue to live in these large co-joined packs for quite some time.

The Wikipedia article features a photo of a mummified rat king which is pretty disgusting.  I warned Mary not to click on the link, but she could not resist.  She saw the page for all of half-a-second before screaming and almost dropping her computer.  When she looked up again, I was already hunched over my journal, drawing away:

Don’t be surprised if one of these things ends up in a book of mine one day.  You have been warned.

11 Comments Leave a Comment

  • NotNessie says:

    That might be the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen or heard of, and I didn’t even click the Wikipedia link.

  • Kaethe says:

    If you haven’t yet read The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett, you’re in for a rat treat!

  • kbryna says:

    I clicked the link, because I can’t help myself. And WOW. was that disgusting.

    Like staggeringly disgusting.
    If you have not clicked the link, really: Jonathan’s sketch gives you everything you need without making you vomit. The photo, on the other hand, will make you feel physically unwell. Psychological scarring is almost guaranteed.

    calling that mass of revulsion “rat king” is very, very odd, as well. those rats make a plural, not a singular. and I’ve never seen anything less regal than that mass o’ rats.

    there are photos of mummified rat kings online, and yet people are more worried about kids seeing nakedness and porn on the internet.

  • Kbryna,
    I think you hit the nail on the head in terms of creepyness — the idea that what should be plural becomes singular is so alien and inhuman. Same goes for when it’s reversed, like the demoniac from the bible declaring “We are Legion”, or the “Sleer” from THE GRAVEYARD BOOK. Come to think of it, doesn’t Gollum talk in the plural, too?

  • Sean Epstein-Corbin says:

    Clearly, you never watched the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles growing up. They have a villain, the Rat King, who is just such a thing. Grrrosss.

  • Leuinda says:

    I read _Rats_ by Robert Sullivan when I moved to the city and according to numerous rodent experts / rat specialist, the rat king is an urban legend. I recommend his book. An example of how great non-fiction can be.

    Interesting that Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman both come up in your comments. They wrote a brilliant book together, _Good Omens_. I second the _Maurice_ recommendation although I recently read _The Wee Free Men_ and found it delightful and imaginative beyond a lot of his latest work. Great female YA protagonist, but Pratchett has always been good at that.

  • kbryna says:

    What’s VERY weird is that I cannot find anything to verify whether or not rat kings are urban legend or actual thing. there are museums with mummified specimens, and there appears to be evidence for both verifying them as real, and for proving they are fakes. they also seem to have been cropping up in folklore since at least the middle ages, and definitely have a substantial mythic/folk existence (if not a physical existence).
    I’m thinking of doing a day of cryptozoology to round out my semester of teaching myth & folktale. maybe I’ll scar my students for life and teach them about this monstrosity.

    And China Mieville’s novel King Rat evidently uses the (folkloric) figure of the rat king. Which means I will NEVER be able to read it. Not after seeing that photo.

  • Bri says:

    Rat kings feature fairly prominently in Scott Westerfeld’s (of Uglies fame) Peeps, as I recall.

  • Anonymous says:

    I read Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents too. Apparently, the rat king in the novel can not only survive and thrive despite its fusion, its rat bodies are controlled by a single collective entity, like a hive mind. This hive mind can also exert some degree of psychic control over creatures that are not part of the rat king’s collective bodies, especially other rats. Of course, the “psychic control” is fiction (if it were possible, the government would have used it on us already). However, is it possible that the rat bodies in the rat king are controlled by a hive mind? This could explain why some rat kings are able to survive for a long time instead of every rat pulling in opposite directions and dying because of a lack of cooperation.

  • I was a bit uncertain of what I thought of Jonathan s work from listening to this podcast, but I checked out one of his books, The Night Gardener, from our library.

  • Ha! I’m glad you gave Night Gardener a chance … hope you enjoy!

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