Recently I decided to do something I haven’t done for quite some time – read a book because I wanted to. I know this may not sound like a big deal but when you review books all the time, there isn’t much time for reading for pleasure.
I had, for several months, been craving — if you can crave reading a book — to read something by Terry Pratchett, so that is what I picked up. A couple of days after I began reading my chosen novel – Going Postal in this case (Terry Pratchett is the author of more than forty books so choosing one can be fairly time consuming) – I was at the coffee shop, book in tow, having a coffee with friends.
When asked what I was reading – when you’re a critic everyone wants to know either what you’re listening to or what you’re reading – and I told my friend, she got a look on her face rather like she had been eating a lemon and said simply “I’m not into fantasy.”
It was then that I wondered how many intelligent, well-humoured, highly literate people are missing out on one of the wittiest, most talented, and engaging authors currently living simply because some publishing house dickhead decided that writing stories about a place where magic is real and that take place on a flat world, riding on the backs of four giant elephants, who are standing on the shell of a giant turtle named A'Tuin, as it slowly swims through space, is fantasy.
OK, in retrospect it can sound a bit fantasy-esque, but his stories aren’t. Well no more than any stories filled with wizards, witches, small gods, gnomes, golems, elves, the undead, werewolves, vampires and even death. And by death I mean DEATH the man, the anthropomorphic personification of death. You know the fella’, the Grim Reaper, The Angel Of Death, the guy with the long black cloak and scythe who will come for you when you die.
In Pratchett’s novels DEATH rides a giant white steed with a mane of blue flame named Binky (And what would you name your horse if you were DEATH?). Terry Pratchett’s DEATH is a rather sweet, kindly old-gentleman type man…person…whatever, who is rather curious about people and has a real love of humanity. And he is probably the most intelligent, multi-faceted and charming character in Pratchett’s entire arsenal of unforgettable and engaging characters; an array that is truly mind boggling.
The fact that Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series are only actually a series because they all happen on the same world seems to have escaped many. But by this definition anything written by John Grisham or Stephen King would be a series because they all happen on Earth.
Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels are as much fantasy as Monty Python’s Life of Brian is a biblical epic. Yes, a few are about regular, recurring characters but they aren’t ALL about the same set of characters. And although they can swim through novels in which they are not the primary character this just serves to demonstrate what a rich, complex universe Pratchett has created.
One example would be the city of Ankh-Morpork, a city-state that is as corrupt as its river is polluted. The river Ankh is so polluted you can walk on it and even slice it into sections; it’s a river that oozes rather than flows. Ankh-Morpork is the largest city and spiritual and economic capital of the Discworld as well as being the home of the Unseen University, the only magical university on the Disc. Ankh-Morpork has the feel of a working medieval city with flavours of the Flintstones, or Gilligan’s Island. With ingenious gadgets galore, frequently aided by magic of course, to make life that much sweeter.
It is also the scene of much, rather comedic violence as it is also one of the few cities on the Disc that is multi-cultural. And in this instance multi-cultural means Dwarf and Troll, Vampire and Werewolf living side by side, all natural mortal enemies of course – think cats and dogs with battle axes, clubs, blood-sucking fangs and nasty claws.