Saturday Waffling (March 14th, 2015)

(29 comments)

I feel like we should talk about Terry Pratchett this weekend, no?

Comments

Slow Learner 2 years, 3 months ago

I still want to weep.

I am offering to send out Discworld books to any of my friends who haven't read him.
His humour, his love, his rage, we have lost one of the greats. He was younger than my father, lost far too soon.
I'm not entirely coherent about it. I'm hoping to get there.

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Chris 2 years, 3 months ago

I have a pretty bad memory for details in books I have read, and sometimes if I've read a particular book at all, especially when it is part of a larger series. This leads to a lot of re-reading, but... I have never stopped reading a Pratchett book just because I realize I had read it before. Always a joy, never a slog. I often think I should keep a list of which ones I've read, but that would stamp a definitive end on his work, and I'd rather read Pratchett forever.

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Alex Antonijevic 2 years, 3 months ago

One of my first experiences with the fantasy genre. Terry Pratchett has been a favourite of mine for so, so long. Many of these books I can read over and over. And I might do a Discworld re-read at some point, or maybe even a Pratchett re-read.

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iWill 2 years, 3 months ago

I didn't start with Discworld. I started with the absolutely wonderful Johnny Maxwell series, and only got around to 'Wyrd Sisters' and 'Guards, Guards!' this year. One of Britain's greatest comic writers. He was Douglas Adams if he could hit deadlines more reliably, and I mean that as nothing but a complement. I'll miss him.

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David Anderson 2 years, 3 months ago

I was once (round about Witches Abroad) at a talk by Terry Pratchett, in which Pratchett told us that his publishing company were once so concerned that he was writing too many books that they locked him in a hotel room. I think the comparison with Adams had occurred to him.

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Sean Dillon 2 years, 3 months ago

I was first introduced to the man's work when I was a kid. I loved to read back then (and I still do) and one of the books that my library had was "Only You Can Save Mankind". As I recall, I liked the book but I didn't think to see if there were other books in the series. A few years later (back then, I was in elementary school, here I'm in High School) I had to make a video on a poem about Death. As such, I perused DeviantArt for pictures to use in the video and found a short comic recreating a scene from Hogfather. The page had a link to a clip of the portion, so I decided to watch it, and it was just as lovely as the comic. I looked up Hogfather and found the other Discworld stories written by this guy whose name seemed familiar (I had not until later connected TP to the coauthor of Good Omens, a book I loved) and I perused the wikipedia page to find other things by him. One book in particular caught my eye and I instantly (I say instantly, but it was more after having already watched Hogfather among other things) went to the library to check out the book. Over the course of a week (or was it two, I only had time to read in between classes) I read what I soon realized Reaper Man was one of my favorite books (at the time Neil Gaiman's Ocean has since taken that book off of my top 5, but I still love it dearly).

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David Anderson 2 years, 3 months ago

I don't think any of his books are quite as funny as the best of Wodehouse's (though of course the underlying comedy is far more serious). I don't think he's quite as good as creating comic characters as Austen or Dickens (though he has more variety than Austen and fewer dull patches than Dickens).
I praise with faint damns.

He reinvented himself at least twice, and I think he was beginning to reinvent himself a third time before the Alzheimer's came on. There's the shift from the picaresque parody of Colour of Magic to the serious storytelling of Wyrd Sisters. I think at the point at which the Wyrd Sisters mode was beginning to run out of steam, he found a new mode, of which I think the high point is Hogfather. I think some of the later books - the ones with the original Paul Kidby covers - represent a third style, though I'd find it difficult to say why.
That's just the mainline Discworld stories: I'm not even thinking about the difference in style in the Tiffany Aching stories.

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prandeamus 2 years, 3 months ago

The third phase, I think, has its genesis in 'Sourcery' in which the protagonists decide that not using magic is in a way more powerful than invoking it. There, it's a plot point of sorts. But several books down the line he seemed to take it to heart. "Feet of Clay" has background magic, but a lot is about the way we treat machines and what happens if they become sentient. "Small Gods" is obviously about decay of institutionalized religion. "Guards, Guards" and "Men at Arms" are wonderful character pieces. The character of Sam Vimes is so true, he's more real than most.

Pratchett was at his funniest when taking a sackload of tropes (vampire stories, or detective fiction) and dumps them on the disk: a true genre collider. But he's at his deepest when dealing with people and their emotions.

Strangely, I have been unable to finish "Raising Steam", although it has been at my bedside for a year now. There was a sense to me that the story was about to end. And yes, I knew like most of his fans of his condition, so perhaps I was reading my own feelings into the book.

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TheSmilingStallionInn 2 years, 3 months ago

I posted this on another site after learning of his death:
To Azrael, from 'Reaper Man':

LORD, WE KNOW THERE IS NO GOOD ORDER EXCEPT THAT WHICH WE CREATE…

THERE IS NO HOPE BUT US. THERE IS NO MERCY BUT US. THERE IS NO JUSTICE. THERE IS JUST US…

ALL THINGS THAT ARE, ARE OURS. BUT WE MUST CARE. FOR IF WE DO NOT CARE, WE DO NOT EXIST. IF WE DO NOT EXIST, THEN THERE IS NOTHING BUT BLIND OBLIVION.

AND EVEN OBLIVION MUST END SOMEDAY. LORD, WILL YOU GRANT ME JUST A LITTLE TIME? FOR THE PROPER BALANCE OF THINGS. TO RETURN WHAT WAS GIVEN. FOR THE SAKE OF PRISONERS AND THE FLIGHT OF BIRDS…

LORD, WHAT CAN THE HARVEST HOPE FOR, IF NOT FOR THE CARE OF THE REAPER MAN?

I'll write about my personal experience in a moment.

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Eric Gimlin 2 years, 3 months ago

I'm remembering the bit where Death is explaining to Susan why believing in the Hogfather and such is important.

YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.

"So we can believe the big ones?"

YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.
...
YOU NEED TO BELIEVE IN THINGS THAT AREN'T TRUE. HOW ELSE CAN THEY BECOME?

Pratchett will be missed; but I honestly believe his words will continue to be read for a very, very long time indeed.

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Matt 2 years, 3 months ago

I read his early books as a teenager in the 80s. Mort made a particular impact, perhaps because its protagonist was a teenage boy thrust into the world of manhood. In the 90s, I did still occasionally read his books but I was largely put off by his fans. They tended to be young men with beards, capes, black fedoras, glasses, long hair in pony tails, doc martins and pints of real ale. While they may have copied his appearance, they lacked the wit and charm of their hero while focusing on some of his more conservative elements.

Because Pratchett was, like Gaiman is, a somewhat conservative (Burkean perhaps?) writer. He stories view the existing social order as unjust and unfair but better than the alternatives. His villains are those who attempt to upend the social order (at the expense of the lives of people around them). And his heroes are often those that maintain it - e.g. Sam Vimes. That said his world is a world in which change is possible at both a personal and social level.

My impression is that like many popular writers, he was actively disliked by the UK literary establishment. Being both fantasy AND comedy there is no way he could have gained respectability. Altho he indicated exactly what he thought about that by proudly printing a derogatory quote from Tom Paulin at the front of his books.

His Stakhanovite work ethic meant that jokes often got recycled across books but I find him a charming and humane writer and mourn his passing.

Now, this is all very cosy. Can we get a witness for the prosecution?

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Andrew Plotkin 2 years, 3 months ago

(After all the DW discussion I've read, it's Pratchett which gets me to post? Okay.)

I'd say the "third phase" is taking his creation seriously as a world, and asking -- having his characters ask -- what's next? Where are we going with this? What are we building?

The genesis of *that* is _Guards, Guards_, where Vetinari decides to create a respectable police force out of Sam Vimes. It becomes dominant with the Undertaking, Moist von Lipwig, and (on a different axis) Young Sam. And Tiffany Aching coming into her own.

Those books are the answers to the questions, "What happens when Vetinari dies?" and "What happens when Granny Weatherwax dies?" In the earlier books, the answers are clearly "Society collapses, chaos, ruin." But those two characters won't stand for *that*.

_Raising Steam_ *should* have concluded that run, at least as far as Vetinari and Ankh-Morpork were concerned. It should have implicitly answered the question "What happens when Pratchett dies?" Tragically -- I guess inevitably, but tragically -- that's when he reached the point where he couldn't hold the story together.

(Folks may disagree, but I'd say _Raising Steam_ fails completely.)

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Matthew Celestis 2 years, 3 months ago

I was a big fan when I was 18 and very enthusiastic about fantasy. I read one book after another.

But at some point in my early 20s, I just got tired of his books. I'm not competely sure, but I felt like I had read enough. Maybe I was tired of his cynicism. I also find that his books get too confused and messy towards the end, which was always a frustration.

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Nick Smale 2 years, 3 months ago

Can we get a witness for the prosecution?

I read the first disc-world book in the the 80s and thought it was terrible, so I didn't bother with any of the others.

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David Anderson 2 years, 3 months ago

There might be something in the idea that the late phase represents a turn towards a more materially and socially oriented world after the more philosophical middle period. It's true that (leaving the Tiffany Aching books to one side) they almost all have at least cameos from Vimes in them. And there aren't any Death books after Thief of Time.

(I agree that Raising Steam is sadly not very good. If the late phase is more materially oriented, it's rather a rehearsal of the late period's faults.)

I think I Shall Wear Midnight is the canonical farewell to the Disc as far as I am concerned.

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Anton B 2 years, 3 months ago

A lot of people seem to like his work, many more seem to like him as a human being. He was a populariser of the written word which is a good thing. Like Adams and Rowling (and to a certain extent, Gaiman) he appears to be liked a lot by people who don't normally like reading or literature and provided them with many 'hilarious' insights to quote ad nauseam at me in pubs when they ran out of Python sketches.
I read a couple of his books, I forget which, and found them twee and irritating and like eating too much marzipan.
I'm certain he was a really nice chap though and I hope he now resides happily in whatever afterlife he created.

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Aylwin 2 years, 3 months ago

I read the first disc-world book in the the 80s and thought it was terrible, so I didn't bother with any of the others.

I don't want to do that fan-evangelism thing, but the first book (The Colour of Magic) is extremely unrepresentative. If you ever have the inclination to give it a fair shake (not saying you should, just if), try Wyrd Sisters or Guards! Guards! If you don't like that, you'll at least have a reasonable idea of what the thing you don't like consists of.

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Aylwin 2 years, 3 months ago

Because Pratchett was, like Gaiman is, a somewhat conservative (Burkean perhaps?) writer. He stories view the existing social order as unjust and unfair but better than the alternatives. His villains are those who attempt to upend the social order (at the expense of the lives of people around them). And his heroes are often those that maintain it - e.g. Sam Vimes. That said his world is a world in which change is possible at both a personal and social level.

I think that's overstating the conservatism quite a bit. He was pretty systematically in favour of social change (and, as has been said, increasingly preoccupied with it), he just saw the sort of change that actually makes things better as tending to be gradual and laborious, human-scale and bottom-up. Which is to say, he tended to be against revolution, and more broadly against the sort of grand ideological systems that make revolutions. I suppose Feet of Clay is the key book there, rejecting both inherited (most obviously religious) and revolutionary ideologies. He's very much in the English liberal tradition. Which of course is also anathema to the "up against the wall motherfuckers!" tendency, but is not at all the same thing as conservatism.

Also, while Vimes defends the established order, the forces he defends it against are reactionary rather than radical.

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Aylwin 2 years, 3 months ago

Well, mostly. Lupine Wonse has a revolutionary tang to him ("And we will overthrow the cold tyrant and we will usher in a new age of enlightenment and fraternity and humanism and people like Brother Plasterer will be roasted over slow fires if I have any say in the matter, which I will"), but distinctly reactionary methods.

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Ombund 2 years, 3 months ago

‘Goodbye,’ Mort said, and was surprised to find a lump in his throat. ‘It’s such an unpleasant word, isn’t it?’
QUITE SO. Death grinned because, as has so often been remarked, he didn’t have much option. But possibly he meant it, this time.
I PREFER AU REVOIR, he said.
Mort

It's difficult to add anything of my own really. Terry Pratchett was easily the most important author in my development as a reader. For a period of about 10 years I was never more than a book or two away from reading or re-reading my next Pratchett, and I was constantly writing and drawing my own stuff set on the Discworld. When I was in primary school I even sent him one of my stories and received a very nice letter back advising me to use! less! exclamation! marks! A lesson I've heeded to this day.

Despite what some might expect, I also think there's a very good chance he was responsible for broadening my reading tastes. Because really, after reading Tolkien and then Pratchett, what was the point of reading many of the other fantasy novels around? I’d already seen them seemingly perfected and then parodied, so instead I could move onto the other literary influences Pterry pointed me towards - Shakespeare, Dickens, Austen and numerous others.

But it’s Pratchett’s prose style that remains seared deep inside my brain, and I find myself unconsciously imitating it pretty much daily. I’ve started reading Small Gods in his honour and may finally do that big re-read of all the novels I’ve been promising myself for the last few years. I can’t wait to spend time on the Discworld again, in the company of Sam Vimes, Granny Weatherwax, CMOT Dibbler, Tiffany Aching and DEATH, and re-reading classics like Mort, Men at Arms, Maskerade, Feet of Clay and I Shall Wear Midnight. What an incredible legacy to have left behind. Thank you, Terry.

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David Anderson 2 years, 3 months ago

If he was a conservative, he was (as Phil says of Robert Holmes) a liberal's conservative.
Perhaps Vetinari gets a bit too cuddly as time goes on, and perhaps the genre of 'drop a modern day social innovation into Ankh-Morpork' is inherently a bit cosy; but Pratchett never sides with people hitting down.

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Daru 2 years, 3 months ago

I was pointed towards his books by friends in my twenties to read his books and I gave a few a good go (I did finish them). His writing didn't work for me though, on the written page the humour came across as forced. I *really* did want to like his books as I thought he was good guy and his ideas were superb.

Years later I discovered and listened to some audio plays of his books on iPlayer Radio, and I found that when his work was either dramatised or read aloud it sparkled and came to life for me. That was a lovely experience as I did love his comic takes on religion and other topics.

Such sad news as I think he came across as a lovely man and he has given such a lot through his work.

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elvwood 2 years, 3 months ago

Sir Pterry has been the mainstay of our bedtime reading for years. Although there have been many other authors - including, recently, a long run of Bujold - we keep coming back to him. It will be another sad day when we run out, but I continue to treasure what we have.

Raising Steam was the book where you could clearly see his illness at work for the first time, and it doesn't quite hold together; like William Hartnell in The Three Doctors - or indeed, either of my parents in their final years - it still had a touch of the old spark, but I will remember him for what came earlier.

Fare well, Pterry. And thanks.

(BTW, Andrew Plotkin is an Eruditorum reader? cool!)

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Daru 2 years, 3 months ago

There's a lovely wee video of Terry here from 1995 -

http://www.denofgeek.com/tv/doctor-who/34493/when-british-daytime-tv-and-geek-heroes-collide

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quislibet 2 years, 3 months ago

I always got a sort of "people individually, with all of their flaws, are more important than institutions, but people collectively are kind of terrible" vibe from Pratchett, especially reading characters like Sam Vimes and Granny Weatherwax -- characters whose disillusionment causes them not to give up, but rather to risk all sorts of terrible personal consequences to do what's right, under the assumption that no one else will. In other words, there are certainties arguably worth dying for, but none really worth killing for. It makes me think, in different ways, of Montaigne and Camus.


I leave you with two relevant quotations.

"And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That's what sin is."
— Granny Weatherwax, Carpe Jugulum.

-----
"People on the side of The People always ended up disappointed, in any case. They found that The People tended not to be grateful or appreciative or forward-thinking or obedient. The People tended to be small-minded and conservative and not very clever and were even distrustful of cleverness. And so the children of the revolution were faced with the age-old problem: it wasn't that you had the wrong kind of government, which was obvious, but that you had the wrong kind of people.

"As soon as you saw people as things to be measured, they didn't measure up. What would run through the streets soon enough wouldn't be a revolution or a riot. It'd be people who were frightened and panicking. It was what happened when the machinery of city life faltered, the wheels stopped turning and all the little rules broke down. And when that happened, humans were worse than sheep. Sheep just ran; they didn't try to bite the sheep next to them.”
? Terry Pratchett, Night Watch

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Andrew Plotkin 2 years, 3 months ago

Oh, irregularly, irregularly.

(Had to buy _Recursive Occlusion_, didn't I?) (On the other hand, I thought "Kill the Moon" was awful.)

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Simon 2 years, 3 months ago

Having also lost Daevid Allen from Gong on Friday I spent much of the weekend revisiting favourite songs as well as parts of Pratchett books. The two came into my life at much the same time about 30 years ago and provided me with much entertainment along with insight, new directions to explore and a sense of what things are actually worth fighting for.

I will miss them both equally, and am pleased to have shelves groaning with their legacies.

For anyone wanting to checx Pratchett out as a novice, I can highly recommend diving in to Mark Oshiro's readings of the Discworld books (also Good Omens) starting from the beginning with The Colour Of Magic here: http://markreads.net/reviews/tag/the-color-of-magic/page/2/

It has been a joy over the last year to revisit the early works in the company of someone unspoiled by later developments and helped me to remember what I saw in them in the first place. People have commented above how the series gets better, but I have been reminded that actually the early books are good - just different from what came after.

My only real problem with the series as a whole (other than jokes which 25 years on no longer seem so appropriate) is the way certain factions of Dwarfs have become explicit analogues for fundamentalist Muslims by the time of Raising Steam.

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peeeeeeet 2 years, 3 months ago

Being both fantasy AND comedy there is no way he could have gained respectability

A Midsummer Night's Dream would like a word...

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Matthew Blanchette 2 years, 3 months ago

That's because "Kill the Moon" WAS awful.

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