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.
Luckily for the city they have the City Watch, local coppers led by Commander Vimes. A working-class born, man-of-the-people, with policing in his blood who has through marriage become, very reluctantly – not reluctant about the marriage just the titles — His Grace, The Duke of Ankh, Commander Sir Samuel Vimes and most recently His Excellency, Ambassador for Ankh-Morpork. Vimes is Dirty Harry with more dirty and less harry. Ffeeling the city in his feet, through his boots, Vimes seems to believe that the city lives and breathes and he can tell when it’s holding its breath.
Helping Vimes is a rag-tag group who truly represent the multi-culturalness of the city and includes watchmen from all ethnic groups including dwarfs, trolls, werewolves and the undead. Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson is the muscle bound, six-foot-six, always-cheerful, unfailing honest dwarf – adopted by dwarves when he was a baby – who is possibly the lost heir to the throne of Ankh-Morpork. Carrot helps keep peace along with his girlfriend Sergeant Angua von Überwald – werewolf.
And if that isn’t character enough there is always Cecil Wormsborough St. John "Nobby" Nobbs. The only human in the city of Ankh-Morpork to carry a certificate signed by the Patrician himself, verifying that Nobby is indeed a human, and probably the only person to need it. Nobby is the kind of man who steals from the dead, in fact he makes a habit of it. And he possesses the wisdom of every flat-foot through the ages which equals nil, particularly by mouth.
And keeping all this barely contained anarchy running smoothly is the Patrician, Lord Havelock Vetinari. With an interesting array of by-hook-or-by-crook tactics — usually by crook as they work harder when the other option is death – which includes letting Guilds run certain aspects of city life, i.e. The Assassins Guild, The Thieves Guild and most importantly The Seamstresses Guild – the kind of seamstresses who walk the streets and charge less if you use protection, if you get my point.
This is only one of the beautifully diverse places on Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. His Discworld is as diverse as our round world, mirroring our societies with sarcasm and irony like only a Brit can; making fun of everything from the nature of belief, to the character of human nature using colourful characters and whimsical story telling as his props. He expertly and viciously points out all the ridiculousness that we cling to everyday, in a way that is intelligent, charming and inoffensive. Terry Pratchett is a man among gods. Small gods yes but gods notwithstanding.
All graphic art by Paul Kidby.Powered by Sidelines