Tag Archives: Terry Pratchett

A third anniversary

Attribution below

Today, 12th March, is the third anniversary of the death of Sir Terry Pratchett, author of the Discworld series, a number of books not set in Discworld, and co-author of three books bringing serious science to the masses (The Science of Discworld). He was only 66. During his life he authored many books. There are 41 in the Discworld series alone. He received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth, had a number of honorary doctorates from universities, and won a number of literary awards.

 

 

 

The librarian at Unseen University was turned into an orangutan and has avoided all attempts to turn him back into a human

I am a Terry Pratchett tragic. I have all his books in hardback in a glass-fronted book case to protect them from mould (which is a constant problem here in the sub-tropical north). An orangutan keeps watch over my office from his perch on one bookshelf, a job he shares with Darth Vader, a stormtrooper, and Princess Leia, who preside above the glass-fronted bookcase. (Which probably tells you a few Things About Me.) I’m sure he won’t mind me not using his title, though. I don’t think he was ever that kind of guy. Although apparently he was so disappointed that he didn’t get to keep the sword after he got his knighthood, he made one for himself – literally, right down to digging up the iron ore and making a kiln. You’ll find the details of that story here.

Terry was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2007 and departed arm in arm with Death in 2015 – having written another seven books before he succumbed. Although he was a great advocate of voluntary euthanasia, he died naturally. Alzheimer’s is a horrible disease and I would not wish it on anyone but I find it particularly evil that this man of words had words stolen from him at such a young age (58). While Death is the great leveller, disease is a torturer.

A documentary about him, called Back in Black, was made after his death. Here’s the link to the version on Youtube. Actor Paul Kaye did an excellent job of portraying Terry, complete with his unusual accent. Sure, there were talking heads. His great friend, Neil Gaiman, his personal assistant, Rob Wilkins, Discworld’s illustrator, Paul Kidby, his daughter, Rhianna, and others all contribute information about the man they knew. But a lot of the facts were delivered by Pratchett himself (through Paul Kaye). The stand-outs for me were as follows:

  • Terry wasn’t a child prodigy. When he was six years old his headmaster told him he would never amount to anything. That put a fire in his belly that never left him.
  • He left school at age 17 and never attended higher education.
  • He had an accident as a small child which left him with a speech impediment. And he also had a stutter. As a result, he was bullied.
  • He got a voluntary job in the local library where he read everything he could get his hands on. Books were his friends.
  • Over time he collected all those books he would subsequently write into his head. At one stage he was publishing three books a year. And it seems he also worked on as many as three books consecutively. Wow. Just wow.

Terry Pratchett’s Death – a seven-foot skeleton wearing a black robe, carrying a scythe and riding a white horse called Binky – is among Terry’s most popular characters. He stars in several of the Discworld books – Mort, Reaper Man, Hogfather, and Soul Music – and has a cameo appearance in most of the others. Death is fascinated by humans and their foibles. Terry can ask himself questions such as what would happen if Death took an apprentice? What if he decided to be a short-order cook instead of doing the Grim Reaper duty? What I particularly like about Death comes from the little cameos where he turns up to take a life. The recently-departed asks about where they’re going. “Will there be [insert folk belief of choice]” to which Death replies, “Do you want there to be?”

The results are funny, sure. But most of Terry’s books are character-driven. The Discworld is just a nightmare’s distance from our own, but the people are us. He shines a light on prejudice, where trolls and dwarfs substitute for Arabs and Jews or whoever we don’t like at the moment. He talks about women’s rights in Equal Rites, Men at Arms and in fact many other books. He pokes fun at Academia through the (male, celibate) wizards at Unseen University, and contrasts them with the worldly-wise witches, who perform the simple magic of midwifery, medicine and plain common sense.

All that reading Terry did in the little country library stood him in good stead. He often picked up a legend and shook it around to see what fell out. Hogfather, which was made into a terrific little mini-series, is about Christmas – what it used to be, as opposed to what it has become. The Hogfather (Father Christmas) has been kidnapped, so Death (seven-foot skeleton riding a white horse called Binky) assisted by his grand-daughter, Susan, takes on the job of doing the Christmas run, including the obligatory appearance in a department store. Elves are given their treatment in a few books, notably Lords and Ladies. For Terry, they weren’t the noble master race you’ll find in Tolkien. He goes back to earlier times, when they were nasty individuals, prone to playing tricks on people – and not in a nice way.

So today is a day of mourning for me. I’ve read and re-read Terry’s books since that day when I first read the prologue to The Colour of Magic in a newsagency at Perth airport back in the late 1980’s.

I’ve copied this list of his achievements from his Wikipedia page to save you the trouble of looking it up. Not bad for a kid who’d never amount to anything.

Photo by Luigi Novi, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org w/index.php?curid=22449958

A time of endings and beginnings

illustration, white cat

illustration, white cat

I’ve just finished reading the last Discworld novel. “The Shepherd’s Crown”.  The tile of this post comes from the book’s blurb.

A SHIVERING OF WORLDS

Deep in the Chalk, something is stirring. The owls and the foxes can sense it, and Tiffany Aching feels it in her boots. An old enemy is gathering strength.

This is a time of endings and beginnings, old friends and new, a blurring of edges and a shifting of power. Now Tiffany stands between the light and the dark, the good and the bad.

As the fairy horde prepares for invasion, Tiffany must summon all the witches to stand with her. To protect the land. Her land.

There will be a reckoning . . .

Endings and beginnings… It starts with an ending. An ending that stopped my bed time read. I wasn’t ready for… that. In the morning I tried again. With numerous breaks to clean tear-splattered glasses, or blow my nose one more time.

But as we all (should) know, every ending is a beginning. There’s a gathering of witches, the Feegles – it’s a Tiffany Aching story so that’s hardly a surprise – and a number of surprises. Oh – and laughs. Many, many laughs.

There’s a page at the end of the book, written by Terry’s editor. He’s anticipated the question so many of us must have asked ourselves as we read page one. How much of this is REALLY Terry? Yes, he wrote it. You can feel it, especially in that early part, where he writes about ending. “Nation” was published in the year his Alzheimer’s was diagnosed. It wasn’t Discworld, it wasn’t a part of any of Terry’s lexicon. And it was a hard read. So much death. So much pain. So much “why me?” “The Shepherd’s Crown” is much gentler, as though he’d come to terms with his mortality. It gathers together characters, and themes, from many of his earlier works. Although only one wizard, and none of the Watch, made the cut.

A reviewer on Amazon commented that some things were left hanging, things that might have been finished if only he’d been given more time. Even now, just writing about the book I feel the tears pricking. But it was a good ending. I’ll read it again. Hey – it’s a Terry Pratchett book. I’ve read every single one many times. I’m pleased to know there won’t be another Discworld novel. Terry’s legacy might not live forever – forever is a very long time – but it will last for as long as his die-hard fans live. And if something like Star Wars is anything to go on, new fans will read his work, and so it goes. Just like Shakespeare, Dickens, Asimov, Verne, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, he has a form of immortality. And now I’m blathering, so I’ll stop.

Oh, by the way, there’s a cat.

Sir Terry has left the planet #pratchett

Mort-coverI wrote most of this post a few years ago, when we first learned Sir Terry had Alzheimer’s. Today he and Death walked through that final door, no doubt with cats curling around their legs. I have a bookcase full of hard backs with his name on the cover. Goodnight, Terry Pratchett. Your name will live on.

I’ll always remember the first Discworld book I read. I was kicking my heels in the domestic terminal at Perth airport, browsing for a book to read on the long flight to Sydney. I’d seen the book with the cartoon cover in the SF section a few times before, but had skipped over it for spaceships and things. This time, I picked it up and read the blurb. Then I read the prologue, in which TP introduced everybody to the great space-going turtles that carried worlds on their backs. It was an Indian legend that I’d come across in my studies.

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.

***************************************************

It wasn’t for very long at all. He was just 66. His ghost will loom large in that cavalcade I wrote about in a previous post.

What is it with vampires, anyway?

Sorry. I just don’t get it. Why would anybody find a vampire sexy? C’mon, folks. They ‘live’ in coffins during the day and crawl out at night to suck people’s blood. I don’t mind vampires per se, you understand. In the right context and all that. Like Dracula, who wasn’t nice, anymore than the lovely gentleman upon whom I believe he was based (that would be Vlad the Impaler). And Terry Pratchett’s vampires, such as the family of vamps in Carpe Juggulum. They’re not nice, either.

But this fascination for blood-sucking fiends as sexy heroes is- sorry – just plain weird. I mean, do you find mosquitoes sexy? They come out at night and suck your blood and while they’re at it, they can leave you a nice little reminder like malaria or Ross River fever. Same thing, really; admittedly without any gratuitous sex but that would be really kinky, wouldn’t it?

I haven’t read Dracula the book but I did have a go at Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire. For me it was a DNF* but I skim-read and I found the early parts particularly interesting where she describes the MC being ‘converted’ and his experience of draining a man’s blood. For me, she concentrated on what the MC gave up to be a vampire; normal meals, human companionship, daylight. I felt it was pretty sad, really. A shadow existence albeit for hundreds of years.

I don’t have the same WTF feeling about some of the other paranormals, like shape-shifters. I can imagine it would be cool to be able to change into a wolf or a tiger and I can see lots of sexy elements in there. Take Sir Terry’s werewolf, Angua. She’s a beautiful woman most of the time but she can change into a wolf at will. And yet to Terry’s credit, that dark side of the original legend shines through. Angua is constantly fighting her other nature and The Fifth Elephant goes deeper into her family and her past and her very disturbing brother, Wolfgang. As I write, some of the images from the movie An American Werewolf in London come to mind. Seriously not sexy.

Maybe it was the introduction of tuxedos and virgins in flimsy white nightgowns in Hollywood that has led to the sexification (sorry) of vampires. I noticed at least four movie versions of the classic Dracula book, the most recent in 1992 directed by no less than Francis Ford Coppola. But the idea of a one hundred-year-old vampire at a high school? It’s all beyond me. What about you?

* DNF = Did Not Finish

Hogfather the movie. A mixed experience

I’ve finally had a chance to watch ‘Hogfather’ the movie – based on Terry Pratchett’s book. After I’d watched the first episode (the second will be on Saturday) my other half said “I didn’t hear much laughter.” So true. I’ve had some time to think about what I’d seen and how it affected me. I also went back and re-read the book.

I have to say I don’t think the book translated well to the screen. It’s just too complex and it’s actually a rather dark tale. Mister Teatime (pronounced ‘Te-ah-tim-eh’) is an evil nutcase, superbly played, I must say, by Marc Warren in the film. Teatime isn’t somebody like the fearsome Mrs Bucket (Boo-kay). A baby-faced young man whose only outward appearance of madness is his weird eyes, he murders for amusement, kills people for whom he has no further use. Lord Downey, head of the Assassin’s Guild, charges Teatime with the task of inhuming the Hogfather, a commission he has received from the shadowy ‘auditors’.

Sure, there are some genuinely funny parts to the book. Pratchett ‘gets’ kids and the whole sitting on Santa’s knee stuff, and the little ‘s’ which is a shy kid’s ‘yes’. The notion of a real, raw wood Santa sledge drawn by four wild boars replacing the curly sleigh and the pink papier-mâché pigs in the department store’s Santa grotto is hilarious. The kids LOVE the boars, which pee on the floor, generally stink and scare the bejaysus out of management. And the notion of Death, a seven-foot skeleton with a scythe, taking over the Hogfather role is mind-boggling. Only TP could have come up with that. But while there’s plenty of amusing by-play on the sides (the death of rats, the raven, the Cheerful Fairy, the oh-god of hangovers, the wizards, Ponder Stibbons and HEX etc etc at its heart, ‘Hogfather’ is a serious story with an interesting message. You might say it examines the real meaning of … not so much Christmas, but the ceremonies of the winter solstice. The more recent religions have tacked their message onto a primeval fear, that the sun will not return. In fact, that fear is stated – if the Hogfather is not found, the sun will not rise tomorrow.

This isn’t the only deep-seated belief Pratchett uses in this book. The Tooth Fairy looms large in the plot. I hadn’t really thought about it before, but the concept of giving a child money for a tooth may very well stem from the fact that if the wrong people collect the teeth, the child could be in jeopardy. The analogy is to hair and nail clippings, which are used in spells to control people. In fact, the whole book is about fear and belief.

I can quite believe people who had not read the book would find it very difficult to follow the thread of the movie. Even I had to work at it, and I’ve read the book several times. I think perhaps the people who made ‘Going Postal’, the more recent transfer of a Pratchett novel to the screen, learnt a few lessons. ‘Going Postal’ deviates from the book in several ways, simplifying the plot for a TV audience. I can’t help but feel that the resulting screenplay lost rather a lot in translation but it was probably wise.

Which all goes to show why I’d rather read a book. You can uncover so many more layers.

Terry Pratchett – one of my favourites

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.