Terry Pratchett – one of my favourites

posted in: On writing, Reviews | 9

Bookshelf full of booksI first met Terry Pratchett’s books in a news agents at Perth airport. I was looking for a book to read on the 5 hour flight to Sydney and idly picked up a paperback with a colourful cover showing all sorts of grotesque creatures. I read the first page (as you do) and discovered this novel was about a disc world carried on the backs of four elephants which stood on the carapace of a Star Turtle. So far so good. Then I read about the star turtle’s journey through the heavens. Some scientists believed in the ‘steady gait’ theory, in which the turtles journeyed unendingly through the multi-verse, never changing pace. Others contended that the turtles were travelling to a meeting place, where they would mate and create more star turtles. This was known as the ‘big bang’ theory.

After I’d wiped tears of laughter from my eyes, I made my way to the counter and bought the book. Since then, I’ve bought hard copies of every book Sir T has written and enjoyed them all, some more than others. Why? Because I like them.

That, dear reader, is the only reason I read books. However, I shall go a little further. Sir T breaks every rule in the Little Red Book of Writing. He uses ‘there was’ all the time. He indulges in great swathes of apparently superfluous narrative, such as regaling us with the amount of food etc consumed in the city of Ankh-Morpork. He writes in accents. Sometimes he has prologues which serve no other purpose than to bring the reader up to speed. And so on.

What I love about his work is the way he can brew an eclectic mix of myth, folklore, history, archetypes and pure, hard science, all laced with a shrewd understanding of human nature and politics, and make it funny. Mind you, much of what he writes has a darker, more serious side. He examines racism frequently, using the on-going tensions between dwarves and trolls, people and paranormal people like vampires, werewolves and zombies to mirror our own behaviour in our round world. Sir Terry has sent up just about every icon we hold dear – he seated the four horsemen of the apocalypse around a table and had them learning how to play bridge; he examined what happened to heroes like Conan the Barbarian when they get old; he has mocked sexism (in ‘Men at Arms’ and ‘Monstrous Regiment’ to mention two).  The church, academia, Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci, Machiavelli’s Prince – you’ll recognise them all in the Discworld.

In the midst of all this he creates believable characters such as the reformed alcoholic, reluctant member of the peerage Sir Samuel Vimes; Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax the tyrannical witches; the wizards at Unseen University and their Simian librarian. (The librarian was turned into an Orang Utan by a random discharge of magic in an early book and has since steadfastly avoided any attempt to persuade him to return to human shape.)

Sir Terry examines truths and mores as if they were rocks in a field. He picks them up, turns them over, looks underneath. Take Christmas, that iconic Christian festival. Sir Terry’s version is Hogswatch, when the Hogfather comes down from the north in a sleigh drawn by wild hogs. Except Death has to take the gig because the Hogfather is missing and we wouldn’t want to disappoint the kiddies, would we? So the archetypal Death wraps himself in a red coat and does the department store ‘meet the kiddies’ thing, which is absolutely hilarious. However, Terry digs deeper. Underneath that rock labelled ‘Christmas’ we find the meaning of that red coat, blood sacrifice to bring in the turning of the year.

There are so many examples. I could analyse every book and find serious messages hidden amongst the hilarity. It saddens me more than I can say to know Sir Terry has Alzheimer’s Disease. Long may he hold back its ravages.

9 Responses

  1. DeathIsACatPerson

    Yes, I also love Terry Pratchett! The first book I read was Thud! I love the way I read his books and end up laughing, and at stuff that is really “serious” in the “real world”. He shows us how irrational humanity and the world in general is, but also lets us accept that that’s the way it is, so we might as well get in a few laughs. When I read Thud! I immediatly fell in love with Discworld. I, too, feel that Wintersmith is really deep and still easy and enjoyable to read, a feat which no other writer I know has achived.

  2. sapphyredragon

    I’m going to have to read Pratchett. Only book I’ve read is Good Omens which I thoroughly enjoyed.

    My father passed away from Alzheimer’s. I too was sad to hear Sir Terry was also afflicted. Devastating disease.

    Thanks for the post, Greta. This makes me want to read Pratchett even more. 🙂

  3. Kathryn Scannell

    Pratchett is wonderful. I think my favorite is Going Postal – it’s such a wonderful sendup of the whole dot com frenzy. Although I love Wintersmith in a more serious vein. There are some deep spiritual truths hidden in there.

  4. Pat Brown

    I absolutely love Terry Pratchett. I’ve had the odd book that can make me laugh occasionally, but with Pratchett’s Discworld books I can’t stop laughing. I mean grave, frightening Death rides a horse called Binky. He tried the fearsome fiery steeds all the stories said he needed, but they kept setting the hay on fire.

    I pretty well read Hogfather every December and laugh every time. The skeleton rat riding with the raven called Quoth who’s always on the lookout for a delicious eye to munch on. Good Omens is another one I reread repeatedly.

    I also loved his take on Hollywood in Moving Pictures. Heck, they’re all good, some better than others like you said.

    • Greta van der Rol

      I just laughed again at Binky. And yes, the Death of Rats. I loved the final exam for the Assassin’s Guild in ‘Pyramids’ too. Being an Australian, I can’t go past ‘The Last Continent’. It sends up everything we hold dear. Thanks for the reminders. 🙂

  5. Kat Duncan

    Hi Greta, I also have enjoyed Terry Pratchett. I read Good Omens, the book he wrote with Neil Gaiman. It was my first Neil Gaiman and I got all distracted reading Gaiman’s works. Thanks for the lovely reminder that I should return to that first step and pick up some more of Terry Pratchett’s work.

    • Greta van der Rol

      I loved Good Omens, too. It’s there on the bookshelf with the others. Terry’s earliest books aren’t the best; they tend to ramble a bit. I like the ‘Watch’ series and the ‘Witches’ series. In ‘Witches Abroad’ we even have a cameo appearance from Gollum. ROFL

      • Kat Duncan

        Nice! Thanks for the tips…I’m heading over to see if my library has them…

        • Greta van der Rol

          They’re sure to have. The first one is called ‘The Colour of Magic’ – but they are pretty much stand-alone. Try ‘Hogfather’ if you can find it.

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