Seems incredible that I began reading Terry Pratchett only a year or so ago. Methodical soul that I am, I have now nearly completed the Discworld series. Having bored everyone witless by tom-tomming Pratchett’s virtues from the rooftops, little wonder that a friend recently took malicious pleasure in informing me that my current author no. 1 has been diagnosed with a very rare form of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
But I am not going to talk about that at all. I want this post to be about the joy of a Discworld book. And why I haven’t laughed out loud this often while reading, since my Wodehouse days (too long ago to count).
And that’s curious, because Pratchett relies overwhelmingly on anti-climax to keep things funny, as Wodehouse did on situational comedy. One would have thought that the repeated use of a single technique would begin to pall, but of course it does no such thing.
The thing about Pratchett is that he brings so much more to the table than Wodehouse or any other comic writer I’ve read. There’s his satire, for one thing, and very acerbic he can be. I’ve always wondered why he is called a fantasy writer when he obviously isn’t one. It’s like calling Gulliver’s Travels a work of fantasy. Like Jonathan Swift, a fantasy world is simply a handy tool for Pratchett to give vent to his satire.
And, of course, there’s the genuine humour. As illustration, sample some of my favourite Discworld passages:
“Vimes pounded through the fog after the fleeing figure. It wasn’t quite so fast as him, despite the twinges in his legs and one or two warning stabs from his left knee, but whenever he came close to it some muffled pedestrian got in the way, or a cart pulled out of a cross street. This always happens in any police chase anywhere. A heavily laden lorry will always pull out of a side alley in front of the pursuit. If vehicles aren’t involved, then it’ll be a man with a rack of garments. Or two men with a large sheet of glass. There’s probably some kind of secret society behind this.” (Feet of Clay)
“Ankh-Morpork had dallied with many forms of government and had ended up with that form of democracy known as One Man, One Vote. The Patrician was the Man; he had the Vote.” (Mort)
“The vermine is a small black and white relative of the lemming, found in the cold Hublandish regions. Its skin is rare and highly valued, especially by the vermine itself; the selfish little bastard will do anything rather than let go of it. (Sourcery)
“A number of religions in Ankh-Morpork still practiced human sacrifice, except that they didn’t really need to practice any more because they had got so good at it.” (Guards! Guards!)
“In retrospect, Victor was always a little unclear about those next few minutes. That’s the way it goes. The moments that change your life are the ones that happen suddenly, like the one where you die.” (Moving Pictures)
And so on.
Finally, I have read all about Discworld conventions, but they wouldn’t admit a prosaic soul like me. I need to work on my acerbic tongue (or lack thereof), I’m sure.