Man vs Bookshelf

Man vs Bookshelf: Discworld (1-5)

This entry is part 79 of 104 in the series Man vs Bookshelf

It’s Monday.

Isn’t it always?

Well, no, I suppose not. Yesterday, for example, was Sunday. Get a few of those now and then.

I planned to write this blog on that Sunday. I knew there would be plenty of time and it’s easier to write at my desk at home rather than during my lunch break at work. Trying to race through the words before its time to clock back on, as it were.

Before I got into the blog, though, I had a couple of chapters to edit for my latest James Perry novel – All Your Secrets. I didn’t think these would take too long, given it was chapters two and three that needed doing and the early part of the book is in a far better state than the latter. So there would be plenty of time for my blog.

Book 2

The chapters didn’t take long. I was able to get through a third chapter before dinner, too, and the plan was to write the blog after my bath.

Lately, though, I’ve been struggling with the editing of my novel. I’ve been trying to force it through, and nothing has been going right.

But yesterday, things were different. Everything was slotting into place. The editing was going well, and I was excited. It’s been so long since I’ve ended a day feeling positive about the book and I wanted to make the most of it.

So, I tossed the blog aside and edited chapters five and six instead.

The blog, I decided, could wait.

Until now.

Sir Terry Pratchett and me

For the Discworld portion of this challenge I had the first five novels in the humorous fantasy series to get through, as well as many of the articles written by Sir Terry throughout his career, collected in the book A Slip of the Keyboard.

It is this collection I will use to help me discuss Sir Terry Pratchett in this author and me segment.

I suppose I became aware of Terry Pratchett in the first instance because of Ted, my step-grandad.

Enter his house (not uninvited), and you’ll find them all lined up, bright and papery. Most of them older than me, and all are worn and falling apart with use.

I don’t remember when I first read Sir Terry. I know I had The Amazing Maurice and his Technicoloured Dreamcoat (wait, that might not be quite the right title) when I was a child, but I don’t think I ever read it.

At some point, someone must have bought me The Colour of Magic – the first Discworld novel. This I remember reading when I was a youngster – or trying to read before dropping it after I couldn’t get into it.

It wasn’t until a couple of years ago I returned to The Colour of Magic, re-read it, and this time loved it. I quickly went on to buy the next four books in the series, the first two of which I read soon before taking six months off to try to read The Stand.

I will delve into what I loved so much about The Colour of Magic and the other Discworld novels below, but first, a bit on Sir Tezza himself.

I was aware he had passed away from Alzeihmers a few years ago, but it was only in reading his collection of articles for various papers and associated compiled across his career that I came to know a bit more about him.

As would be expected of a successful and popular writer, these articles were well written and engaging. But many of them were also heartbreaking.

Plenty of the articles he wrote after December 2007, after his diagnosis with early-onset Alzheimers and plenty dealt with his anger at his inability to receive treatment because the NHS viewed him as too young.

There is also a lot on assistant suicide, which he was also in favour of, and again at his anger that Brits had to go abroad if they wanted to end their own lives legally and safely.

It wasn’t all so depressing though. I promise. Throughout the articles, there was the sense of utter joy Pratchett had for his chosen genre – fantasy, as well as for the worldwide fanbase of Discworld. He spoke of his desire to subvert the tropes of the genre with his comedy as well as his desire to reflect the real world with Discworld.

You’d perhaps expect an author to be passionate about a series they have spent so many years writing, but it was still great to see that come through in his non-fiction writings, and I would recommend A Slip of the Keyboard to anyone interested in Sir Terry the man, beyond his works of fiction.

Discworld Books 1-5

I have spoken recently on humour in novels and how it feels that comedy novels can get away with having a weak plot because people are too distracted by the laughs to realise they are being short changed.

As I have written, Douglas Adams was into this. He seemed to go into a book with a story then jump off onto all different topics in the pursuit of whatever joke he thought of next.

A lot of this was diffused in the Hitchhiker’s Guide of the Galaxy through the use of the Book – which allowed Douglas to build in his comedic nonsense while keeping it as (almost) part of the story.

Sir Terry never strayed as far from his story as some authors, nor did he forget one completely.

Except for the first Discworld Novel (The Colour of Magic, which didn’t really bother with a plot at all) the ones I read (The Light Fantastic, Equal Rites, Mort and Sourcery) each novel had a plot of sorts. The stories were not always the strongest, but they allowed Terry to impart his unique and incredible sense of humour while staying within the frame of a proper plot.

The one area he does fall down is the classic fall down area. It’s something I’ve written about a lot concerning even some of the most popular shows and authors – such as Doctor Who and Stephen King.

That is the third act problem.

I found in each of these five novels the story either petered out or had a hard end. The problem is these are comedies, so there are not going to be any significant fight scenes or wars or any of that, but Sir Terry sets up big fantasy scenarios. The kind you would expect to end in a dramatic conclusion.

Instead, Terry usually sweeps the problem under the carpet and plays it off with a joke. This is something I found frustrating, but now I’m going to fall into the same trap as everyone else by allowing the Discworld books off – because they’re so funny.

What elevates these stories beyond their plots is the humour, which comes mostly from the satire of our own world, and a brilliant set of characters.

It begins with Rincewind – an utterly incompetent wizard and total coward, who is thrown into adventure and spends entire books trying to stay out of danger, and failing. A lot of commentators as well as Sir Terry himself have spoken in less than glowing terms of Rincewind. Calling him boring. Saying his lack of desire for adventure means there is little you can do with him. 

I disagree. I think the fact Rincewind hates adventure but cannot get out of it is what drives his stories, and sets up great conflict throughout all of the books. He is also a sharp, sarcastic, character and what’s not to love about that? He made the three books he fronted out of these five an utter joy to read. 

In terms of popular opinion, Granny Weatherwax, the lead of book three – Equal Rites – is one of the most popular characters in the serious, and it’s easy to see why. She’s no nonesense, formidable, and intelligent. Her understanding of witchcraft (or headology) is brilliant. 

Beyond Granny there is also Esk, a young girl who causes the central conflict through most of the novel by being a wizard (when everyone knows women cannot be wizards) and she was my favourite character throughout the five books, by being smart yet innocent, brave yet naive, and everything else a great child character should be. 

Of all the main characters the weakest just so happens to be the one who has a book named after him – Mort. He’s a little bland, but that’s because he’s more of a facilitator for the real star of this book – Death. Probably the most popular (As well as the most often appearing) character in all of Discworld. Death is a wonderful creation. I can’t even explain how. Just pick up one of the Discworld books and find out for yourself. You won’t regret it. 

Which I suppose is as good a place as any to end the review. There’s lots more I could say, I’m sure. One of the things I intended to talk about was how Pratchett has created a world that is such a brilliant reflection of our own, while being so completely different. 

The humour here is mostly satirical, taking the piss of our own very human beliefs, as well as poking fun at many of the standard tropes of fantasy. 

I wanted to go into all of that, but I probably wouldn’t have spoken very eloquently about it anyway so…

Next Time

I should point out that, when I started writing this blog it was Monday – see top. I have two blog slots a week which are Wednesday at seven PM and Saturday at two PM. I was a little worried I would not hit that Wednesday slot. 

It’s not Saturday, and not only have I missed the Wednesday slot but it’s quarter past two, so i’ll have to arrange for this to go out at three. Bit annoying. 

And it gets even worse. I’ve just realised I was supposed to be doing the outro for my wicked successful course on how to win at authouring today so that will have to wait a week. 

What a disaster…

Anyway, next time we’ll be doing the book Fifty Shades Damper. It’s a little comedy book and it’s about fifty pages long, so God know’s what I’ll do for that.

You’ll have to wait and see. 

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International worst-selling author Mark Ayre has been writing since before he could pick up a pen (somehow). An author of mystery and suspense novels including the James Perry Series of mysteries.

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