I just spotted this question which reminded me of a short story with some similarities in English that I read in the late 1980s (it was reprinted in a primary school textbook as part of a comprehension exercise so I have no idea about the cover, I'm afraid). It definitely isn't the rats of NIMH.

It was written in the form of a series of letters written by a scientist documenting the rapid increase in intelligence of an individual rat or small group of rats on an island. I think he was experimenting on it/them in some way, but I can't be sure about that. The tone of his letters grows increasingly alarmed. The final letter, written in suspiciously broken English (possibly also described as in terrible handwriting), then says (paraphrasing) "all the rats have suddenly died out and I am about to kill myself, nothing to see here, probably best if you do not visit this island again".

Does this ring any bells with anyone?

  • 2
    "The Lysenko Maze" has intelligent rats, but it's not epistolary. scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/122613/…
    – FuzzyBoots
    Jan 23, 2018 at 17:38
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    I'm wondering if it is the short story 'Barney' by Will Stanton? It's from the 50s so could have made it's way into a collection of short stories at a later date and reads like a chronological journal and the scientist logging it finds Barney to be smarter and smarter than he thought. The difference here is that the story only revolves around 1 rat on an island.
    – Wintermute
    Jan 23, 2018 at 17:42
  • 1
    Also how odd - I've seen that name before, but "was the protagonist of The Dark Is Rising named after 1950s author Will Stanton" is *definitely a separate question :)
    – tardigrade
    Jan 23, 2018 at 23:08
  • 1
    Came here to say "NIMH", shot down immediately. :) Unrelated, but it also reminded me of a favorite (webcomic) story with a koala learned to talk after government-sponsored vivisectionists messed with his brain. Warning - the koala is far less benevolent or politically correct than the rats of NIMH.
    – brichins
    Jan 24, 2018 at 0:45

3 Answers 3


I'm wondering if it is the short story Barney by Will Stanton? It's from the 50s so could have made its way into a collection of short stories at a later date and reads like a chronological journal and the scientist logging it finds Barney to be smarter and smarter than he thought. The last entry is indeed the narrator apologising for his bad handwriting:

I sprayned my wrist is why this is written so bad.

and the narrator says:

Do not look for my body as I will caste myself into the see.

The only difference here is that the story only revolves around one rat on an island.

  • 5
    I added a couple of extracts from the story to support your answer. Please feel free to roll back my change if you don't like it. Jan 23, 2018 at 18:23
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    It does look like Barney has been used as an English-class exercise in critical thinking/reading, which jives with OP saying it was reprinted in a textbook.
    – Sam Skuce
    Jan 23, 2018 at 21:06
  • I know you're supposed to wait before accepting but the quotes clinched it for me. Thanks!
    – tardigrade
    Jan 23, 2018 at 22:59

Could it be Flowers for Algernon?

The story is told through a series of journal entries written by the story's protagonist, Charlie Gordon, a man with a low IQ of 68 who works a menial job as a janitor in Donnegan's Plastic Box Company. He is selected to undergo an experimental surgical technique to increase his intelligence. The technique had already been successfully tested on Algernon, a laboratory mouse. The surgery on Charlie is also a success, and his IQ triples. He realizes his co-workers at the factory, who he thought were his friends, only liked him around so they could tease him. His new intelligence scares his co-workers, and they start a petition to have him fired, but when Charlie learns about the petition, he quits.


As Charlie's intelligence peaks, Algernon's suddenly declines—he loses his increased intelligence and mental age, and dies afterward, buried in the back yard of Charlie's home. Charlie realizes his intelligence increase is also temporary. He starts to experiment to find the cause of the flaw in the experiment, which he calls the "Algernon–Gordon Effect". When he finishes his experiments, his intelligence regresses to its original state. Charlie is aware of, and pained by, what is happening to him as he loses his knowledge and his ability to read and write. He tries to earn back his old job as a janitor, and tries to revert to normal, but he cannot stand the pity from his co-workers, landlady, and Ms. Kinnian. Charlie states he plans to "go away" from New York and move to a new place. His last wish is for someone to put flowers on Algernon's grave.

  • 10
    Still worth leaving the answer here for people who search for "intelligent rats" though :) Jan 23, 2018 at 23:55
  • 2
    Yep - it isn't Flowers for Algernon but I agree that's worth leaving up for future visitors (and maybe partly because it's one of my all-time favourites). :)
    – tardigrade
    Jan 24, 2018 at 7:06
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    Please avoid summarizing the entire story. That will ruin it for anyone who has not read it yet! At least hide the story summary, so that the user has to mouse over it to see it. Jan 24, 2018 at 15:30
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    @WillCrawford As far as I can see, the only point that matches is "intelligent rats", the stories are completely different otherwise; and the OP's question had more detail than just "intelligent rats". I don't think this is the place to collect all the intelligent-rodent stories in the world. (Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH? "The Star Mouse"? "The Lysenko Maze"? "Giant Killer"? There are lots of them.
    – user14111
    Jan 25, 2018 at 11:37
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    @mgillesp Good point. The actual story "Flowers for Algernon" was very different from "Barney", but not so very different from the OP's description. I stand corrected.
    – user14111
    Jan 27, 2018 at 0:35

The story is by Will Stanton and was published first in "Fantasy and Science Fiction" in 1951 and last in "Crime Fiction" by Ernst Klett Sprachen GmbH, a German educational publisher with an emphasis on the teaching of languages, as well a few times in between those two dates.

  • 4
    Hello and welcome to SFF! It would appear this has already been answered and accepted with that appears to be the same story (though you fail to include the name of the story, only the author). Your answer could also be improved by editing in any details which match the OPs description. Lastly, you say you are author's daughter but we have no way to verify this nor does this help the OP see if the story matches so I have edited it out.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Apr 16, 2018 at 12:01
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    But man... if you could provide some additional insights on the story by virtue of your relation, and be able to source them a bit, that would be a nice added answer.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Apr 16, 2018 at 12:07
  • @FuzzyBoots if they can also prove the relation. Simply claiming it is not enough.
    – Edlothiad
    Apr 16, 2018 at 12:21
  • 1
    @Edlothiad: That is true, although any information that is also backed up by additional sources works either way.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Apr 16, 2018 at 14:58

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