Evil Splinter; ‘The Rats’ by James Herbert [1974]

trGenerally, I am not one for Horror stories – I have this marvellous ability to scare the crap out of myself. I only decided to read The Rats by James Herbert, because Twitter told me he had died.

For millions of years man and rats had been natural enemies. But now for the first time – suddenly, shockingly, horribly – the balance of power had shifted and the rats began to prey on the human population.Synopsis from Goodreads.


Centering on East End Art Teacher, Harris, The Rats follows a sickening tale of aggressive mutant rats killing the residents of post-war London.

While the story itself was an uninteresting one, Herbert’s talent lied in his characterisation and mutant rats. Each character that dies is gifted with a rich character profile, detailing their lives almost from beginning to end. This enabled an element of sympathy for their deaths, which you might be deprived of with other en-mass killings – you become emotionally involved in the story.

Harris is an idealistic, but settled, man; working class and wanting to educate children with his social background, he is a have-a-go hero of sorts. At a time when government dissatisfaction was prevalent, having a hero like Harris was an interesting move. Harris represents the identifiable everyman, who, considering his education, solves a problem with relative ease that the Government was unable to.

It has been argued that Herbert reinvented the Horror genre, however, while I wasn’t expecting The Rats to be greusom, it did not scare me. This leads me to wonder if, in this modern era of Saw, The Walking Dead and The Ring, I am desensitised to what was at the time of publication a very graphic novel.

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5 Comments on "Evil Splinter; ‘The Rats’ by James Herbert [1974]"

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Charlie
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Regarding the detailing of those who die, how does that affect pacing? I’m assuming it’s far from info-dumping, yet if this is en mass I can’t help but wonder how it works (which it sounds it does). I think you’re right about our modern day, likely our films would be far more horrifying to generations past than it could ever be even to us.

Kya
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Now I am curious. :B Hopefully there is not a book called The Moths, I know that would scare you. :O Arrrh.

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[…] The Rats by James Herbert “While the story itself was an uninteresting one, Herbert’s talent lied in his characterisation and mutant rats. Each character that dies is gifted with a rich character profile, detailing their lives almost from beginning to end. This enabled an element of sympathy for their deaths, which you might be deprived of with other en-mass killings – you become emotionally involved in the story.” […]