Archive for July 11th, 2009
According to BBC, Terry Pratchett is the seventh most popular author in the world. So there’s no longer any particular distinction in claiming him as a favorite author. Except that I was there early, with the publication of his first Discworld novels, The Color of Magic and The Light Fantastic. They were classic parodies; episodic, loosely structured, with the plot, such as it is, a framework on which a series of jokes could be strung. But from there he developed as a writer of force and power, who uses humor as a tool.
Today, his writing is funnier than Mark Twain’s, and generally less bitter. The social commentary that he provides doesn’t bludgeon like George Bernard Shaw’s, or lecture like Ambrose Bierce. His plotting, characterization and phrasing are outstanding. His work is at once highly literate and highly accessible. I have attended classes given over to analyzing how Pratchett constructs a paragraph.
Most of his writing is set on the Discworld, the famously flat world that rides on the back of four elephants who in turn stand on the back of a world-sized turtle. The Discworld is like a fun-house mirror, reflecting a distorted version of our world that allows Pratchett to show our world to the reader in a new light. Pratchett has taken on everything from rock and roll music (Soul Music), newspapers (The Truth), the post office (Going Postal), Hollywood (Moving Pictures) and even economics (Making Money). He makes subtle and not so subtle comments on racism (for example, Feet of Clay), popular culture and religion (Small Gods).
His writing is human and humane. A villain, to Terry Pratchett, is someone who treats people – whether humans, dwarfs, trolls, vampires, werewolves or even stranger critters – as “things,” as objects. “Acceptable losses” is anathema to Pratchett. Manipulation of a society for a higher purpose is acceptable; one of his recurring characters is the ruler of the city of Ankh-Morpork. The Patrician has breathtaking abilities to twist events to his advantage. But he never treats people as things. Pratchett is also scornful of racism (“speciesism,” on the Disc), religious intolerance and sexism.
And over the course of his novels the characters evolve and develop. Sam Vimes, the police chief of Ankh-Morpork; Tiffany Aching, the young witch of the Chalk country; Detritus, the troll who started as a splatter (like a bouncer, only harder) and is now a sergeant in the City Watch. The city of Ankh-Morpork itself grows and adapts.
In addition to the adult-themed books, he has written delightful children’s novels, including a send-up of fairy tales (The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents) and the amazing Tiffany Aching novels, Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky and Wintersmith.
These are stories you can read and re-read with pleasure and delight. And did I mention that Pratchett can be hysterically funny, if it serves his purpose. Pratchett is the proverbial book-on-a-desert-island author. My only problem would be deciding which of his 40-plus novels I’d take.