Today’s post celebrates Terry Pratchett.
If you haven’t read any of the works of the late Sir Terry Pratchett, you have been seriously missing out. His Discworld novels, for which he is best known, are not merely fantasy, they are about the world we know, they send up everything from Hollywood to opera, Shakespeare to the vampire novels of Ann Rice.
Discworld is flat and rides on the backs of four giant elephants, which are on the back of an even bigger turtle, as in Asian mythology. It contains countries that are the equivalents of countries on our world, but the main venue for the novels is the city of Ankh-Morpork. This city has been invaded in the past, but sent off the invaders with much lighter purses and wondering why they have been persuaded to buy so much junk. When anything dramatic happens, they sell hot dogs and souvenirs in the streets, because it’s regarded as steeet theatre.
But they are more than just funny books. If that was all they were, well, there are plenty of funny books out there, some of them excellent. These are about people - ordinary people. If your idea of fantasy is a quest by a wizard, a dwarf, a couple of elves and a long lost prince, to find a magical object before the villain does, you will be disappointed. Pratchett’s wizards are lazy, interested in nothing but having huge meals and avoiding their students. His dwarfs all have beards, even the women(and by the way, this was Tolkien’s idea - he actually said in one of his essays that dwarf women have beards!) and have only one word in their songs: “Gold!” and a lot of uses for their bread, except actually eating it. One long lost prince in the series refused the throne of his tiny kingdom to keep his career as an actor. Another ignored the fact that he was the rightful heir to the throne because he felt he was doing a good enough job as a policeman, and that the city was doing fine without a king. As for the elves, the less said the better - they are evil and insane! And accurate, by the way - Pratchett knew his folklore, and the fairies and elves of European folklore were indeed scary.
So, most of his characters are ordinary men and women. They fight with the neighbours and have family feuds going on. They run small businesses. They are shopkeepers and farmers - not the kind who turn out to be Chosen Ones either, just shopkeepers and farmers. Some of them even do Morris Dancing or historical re-enactment.
Witches are the local village wise women, there to do medical stuff and use “headology” to persuade their patients that the sugar water they have been given has healed them. They do ride broomsticks, usually built by dwarfs, which often don’t work properly. The witches really don’t like working together, but do enjoy having an annual event called the Witch Trials, as in sheepdog trials.
There are a number of standalone novels, which are used to have fun with a specific thing from our world. Newspapers are the subject of The Truth. Pyramids is about the kingdom of Djelibeybi (pronounced “Jelly baby”, of course!), the Discworld answer to ancient Egypt. There are some hilarious happenings when the mummies revive and thousands of gods are walking the streets. In Moving Pictures the Discworld folk discover how to make films and nearly bring through Lovecraftian creatures from the Dungeon Dimensions.
There are also story arcs, with characters who grow and develop in the course of their series. My favourite story arc is the City Watch series, whose heroes are the police force, led by Sam Vimes, who is passionate about social justice, even while he declares he hates everyone.
The three witches, Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick, start in Wyrd Sisters, a novel celebrating and sending up a certain Shakespeare play. They continue on through several more, though hippyish Magrat marries the king and is replaced as the third witch by Agnes Nitt, a girl with a powerful singing voice who has run off to join the Ankh-Morpork opera company(Maskerade), giving the author the chance to send up not only Phantom Of The Opera but specifically the rock opera of that.
There is also the Death series, beginning with Mort and continuing with the adventures of Death’s granddaughter Susan.
Even Death is a lovable character in these novels.
Look, you have probably read these novels and want to have your say on them, so I will stop here and invite comments about your favourite characters and story arcs. I could probably write a post on each individual character or novel. That would be too much, but Tansy Rayner Roberts has written a book of essays on Pratchett’s women if you are interested. It’s available in ebook, in Apple Books and probably also for Kindle. I don’t agree with everything she says, but it’s an interesting read. The book is called Pratchett’s Women: Unauthorised Essays on The Female Characters of Discworld.
If you have read these books, what do you think? If not, what are you waiting for?