Perfect circles – an apology

I owe Terry Pratchett an apology.

As a kid, I utterly loved science fiction and fantasy – the worlds, the quests, the violence, the imagination, the weird. I came to Pratchett thanks to my wonderful local library, in Tullycarnet, east Belfast. After a year (a huge chunk of time when you are 11 or 12) of endlessly rereading The Dragonlance Chronicles or Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire – both of which I loved but books I can confidently predict Have Not Aged Well – I needed something more. Something, well, disc-shaped.

Enter Terry Pratchett. Not just Terry Pratchett – there was Douglas Adams, John Wyndham, Jeff Noon’s Vurt, Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age a bit further down the line, Iain M Banks, Grant Naylor’s Red Dwarf books.

But Pratchett stood above them all. I can’t remember which one I picked up first but I can still remember my favourite author biography – ‘Terry Pratchett was born in 1948 and is still not dead’. His description of sex in Equal Rites – ‘count the legs and divide by two’. The absolute absurdity of the Discworld and the sharp comic genius that drove his novels. The ones I loved – Mort, Guards Guards, Soul Music, Equal Rites, Interesting Times – and the ones I didn’t – I remember virtually nothing about The Light Fantastic except it is my immediate answer to the question ‘what Discworld book should I not start with?’

I still have no idea why I picked them up – whether it was the glorious Josh Kirby Corgi covers, which I still love, a librarian recommendation, or that glorious feeling of accidentally stumbling over something you swiftly realise you will come to love – but for several years afterwards, I pretty much lived Discworld.

Of course, then the absolute stupidity of teenagers kicked in and Terry Pratchett was definitely ‘not cool’. I didn’t like Discworld, I liked Bret Easton Ellis. I liked Jack Kerouac. I liked Irvine Welsh. Not once did it dawn upon me that it was ok to like all of it at the same time.

But Pratchett was clearly the bridge between the excessive geekery of my youth reading habits and what I read now. When I read about airborne toxic events, videotapes so entertaining the viewer ends up abandoning all life in pursuit of The Entertainment, clockwork bees as the world’s greatest doomsday device, all of those roads started with a world held up by four elephants stood on the back of a gigantic space turtle.

I’ve been thinking about this recently and whether Discworld is one of those bold lines from my childhood that set what I would love as an adult. Roald Dahl is one of those lines. Twin Peaks another. Star Wars and Marvel Comics a third and fourth. I decided to revisit Discworld, the whole thing, start to finish, both old favourites and brand new books and see what lay there for me as a thirtysomething.

What this is also is my long-winded way of making amends for dumping Pratchett when I did, a project aided by some late night alcohol fuelled eBaying and the decision to buy his entire back catalogue on the cheap.

I’m hardly the first to do this – the Vacuous Wastrel complete Discworld reread project has been a neat way of pushing me into embarking on the same journey. I’ll start with The Colour of Magic and move forward one book at a time, writing my thoughts about each in some convoluted long-form essay. New posts will go up each Friday.

I’ll also be trying to read other books at the same time – in order not to drive myself completely crazy – and could well talk about those too. And maybe other things. I may not have given this enough thought, as seems fitting with someone who impulse buys 40 something books in a weird fit of nostalgia. But we’ll work it out as we go along.

Thanks for joining me – you can get started with my thoughts on The Colour of Magic.

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5 Comments

  1. Good luck!
    And awwh, gee whiz. This may be the first time I’ve even remotely, partially, lead to someone (whoever you are – do I know you?) doing something! [not counting the times I nagged my housemate into watching some film or other]

    I’m really glad I’m doing my re-read. So far (halfway through) almost all the books have been better than I remembered, and they’ve also benefited from being read in order.

    Ironically, I’d bet a sizeable amount that a century from now we will still be reading Pratchett, but we won’t be reading Easton Ellis. Not only that, but people will study Pratchett in university and there will be whole books discussing his works. I originally said this facetiously, but the more I think about it the more I’ve started to think it’s actually true: Pratchett is the Dickens of our age. We can’t predict the future, of course, particularly the future of taste… but if anyone is a new Dickens I think Pratchett is the best bet. He’s an incredibly rare combination of accessability and depth, and as a result even now an incredibly rare combination of broad readership, fanatical fandom, and critical acclaim. Yes, there’s a lot of contemporary references and significance… but there’s also a lot that’s timeless, and it’s not like Dickens wasn’t full of pop culture references himself.

    Of course, when you’re reading “The Light Fantastic” you’re going to be thinking that this ‘Pratchett is the new Dickens’ thing is utter bollocks. But you just wait until you get up into the golden age stuff…

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    1. Thanks! Very kind.

      I’m up to Moving Pictures now and it’s interesting how the *real* Pratchett novels kick in around books four or five.

      I suppose the counter argument to Pratchett as Dickens is how the latter was writing about contemporary London, whereas Pratchett isn’t (aside from behind a heavy veil of fantastical irony). It’s always weird who gets forgotten and who is held as a classic of the time.I hope he is because of how great a writer he is. I feel it’s probably easier to be remembered now than it was, given the joys of the internet and digital books. I’m somewhat jealous of what today’s readers can easily discover. Not in my day etc…

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      1. Interesting – I’d say one problem with Pratchett is that all of his books seem just to be talking about London. Particularly in the early books, where it’s all London-vs-the-Countryside.

        But in any case, that might be a difference from Dickens, but I don’t think it’s an important one. If dickens had been writing about Ankh-morpork, his setting would be about as relevant to modern londoners, I think!

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  2. Coming across this blog now, on Sir Terry’s birthday, makes it feel all the more poignant. I finished Pyramids (The Book of Going Forth) today for the first time, and have Lords and Ladies to start next – I’ve been borrowing them in dribs and drabs from my parents whenever I visit home. Really looking forward to seeing someone else’s enjoyment of them too, and perhaps recommend which ones I have (or haven’t!) missed out on yet!

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  3. Recently stumbled upon this after starting my own chronological re-read of all the Discworld novels. I’m just starting Wyrd Sisters now. So I guess we’re in this together, sort of 😛

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