Ratman's Notebooks is a 1969 short novel by Stephen Gilbert. It features an unnamed misfit who relates better to rats than to humans. It was the basis for the films Willard, Ben, and the 2003 remake of the original film. After the release of the original film, the book was rereleased with the title Willard.
The book is set as a series of journal entries, where the unnamed narrator goes back and forth between his life with the rats and his work, in a low-level job at a company that his father used to own. In these entries, the young man dwells on the hatred he feels for his boss, the stresses of caring for his aging mother, a nameless girl he becomes fond of and above all the families of rats which he has befriended and which he uses for company and companionship.
Eventually, the young man trains the rats to do things for him. His favourite is an Agouti Berkshire rat (normal wild rat colour, only with white markings on the belly), who in the film adaptation was portrayed as a white rat, which he calls "Socrates". A rival to Socrates is "Ben", a large rat that the narrator grows to despise when it refuses to listen to him. The young man uses the rats to wreak revenge upon his boss, and havoc amongst the local shop owners and home owners, whom he has robbed with the aide of his rat pack. His "ratman" robberies become a newspaper sensation in the area, and the man makes quite a stash of money for himself and for the girl he is courting at work. After his mother dies, the young man inherits the house.
When Socrates is killed at the young man's work place by his boss Mr Jones, the young man is forced to use Ben in his criminal escapades. He devises a plan to have the rats kill Mr Jones, avenging Socrates's death. He then abandons all the rats at the scene of the crime, ridding himself of that part of his life. Eventually, as his relationship with the office girl moves towards marriage, Ben and his pack return, chasing the girl out of the house and trapping the young man in the attic.
The book ends with the young man madly scribbling about the rats chewing away at the door.
- Canby, Vincent (June 24, 1972). "Ben (1972) Film: In 'Ben,' a Boy Befriends a Rat". The New York Times.