01/01/1998

Terry Pratchett

"The wind howled. Lightning stabbed at the earth erratically, like an inefficient assassin. Thunder rolled back and forth across the dark, rain-lashed hills.

"The night was black as a cat...... In the middle of this elemental storm a fire gleamed among the dripping furze bushes like the madness in a weasel's eye. It illuminated three hunched figures. As the cauldrom bubbled an eldritch voice shrieked: 'When shall we three meet again?'

"There was a pause.

"Finally another voice said, in far more ordinary tones: 'Well, I can do next Tuesday'."

So begins Terry Pratchett's brilliant novel, 'Wyrd Sisters', which manages to be a spoof on MacBeth and Hamlet at the same time as being the sixth in his ever-popular Discworld series.

I first came across Terry Pratchett when my son saw a children's TV programme called 'Truckers'. I was told that it was based on a book of the same name, so we found and bought the book. My son was about six at the time and found the book too long-winded when I tried to read it aloud. But I found it superb - the story of some 'nomes' (certainly not 'gnomes') who lived in the wild, and went on a kind of evangelistic campaign to some store-dwelling nomes whose store was about to be demolished, but who did not believe in the existence of anything beyond the store and its hallowed founder.

Some of the humour appealed at one level to children (though perhaps not as young as six) but much of it relied on word-play and a knowledge of the world - and formal documents - which only adults could appreciate. I was hooked, and delighted to find that 'Truckers' had two sequels ' Diggers' and 'Wings'. When my older son was 9 and my younger son 7, I tried again reading Truckers aloud, and found it a great success, as were the sequels.

But still I had not come across Pratchett's better-known (and better-selling) adult series, set on a flat, disc-shaped planet populated with realistic (if unlikely) characters of a wide variety of races and species. The pictures on the front covers did not inspire me and it was not until I had run out of other reading matter that I decided to pick up a Discworld book. I started with Equal Rites, the story of a girl called Esk who was the eighth child of an eighth son, and destined to become a wizard. Yet she was in a world where only men became wizards; indeed, only men went to universities. Women's brains were supposed to overheat if they studied anything complicated. There was a medieval morality and belief structure combined with a modern girl's determination to succeed, and the story races along, making excellent points and building characters, many of whom recur in later novels, spiced with the wry comments and dry humour for which Terry Pratchett has become famous.

Our library was well-stocked and we had plenty of second-hand bookshops, so it was not long before I had read my way through the entire series to date. The genre is unique. Some have compared Terry Pratchett to Douglas Adams, of Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy fame, since Adams was perhaps the first author to succeed in combining humour with science fiction. Yet Pratchett's works are more fantasy than sci-fi, set in a pre-technological society, parodying many issues of society, inventing surprisingly modern 'machines' powered by small imps who paint rapid pictures (in discworld cameras), or inform their owners when their appointments are scheduled (in discworld pocket organisers).

The witches of discworld are herbalists who rely on 'headology' to keep their status; the wizards are bumbling academics who achieve little but occasionally put the world in danger. The police force, or 'watch' are a delightful medley, including a brighter-than-usual troll, a six-foot tall dwarf, and an attractive female werewolf. Death - who always speaks in capital letters - appears in every book to usher characters into the next world as appropriate. In the earlier novels of the series he seems cold and unfeeling, but gradually develops a strong - even emotional - character, explored with great depth in Reaper Man, one of my favourite of the books.

In later novels - which appear at the rate of one per year - Terry Pratchett looked at the dilemma faced by Asimov-style robobs, better known as Golems in the Diskworld (in Feet of Clay) explored racism and preconceived cultural bias (in the vampires of Carpe Jugulum), and the origins and initial discovery of Australia (in The Last Continent). Each new novel is an unexpected delight, full of humour and meaning, each one different from the last.

There were rumours that he would stop at the twenty-fifth book - which came out in 2000 - and move on to something different. Perhaps he was worried about getting stale, or boring his readers. Yet so far there is little sign of that; the thirtieth Discworld book appeared in 2005. Each time a new one is released, his books continue to hit the best-selling lists as predictably as Harry Potter.

Discworld:
1. The Colour of Magic
2. The Light Fantastic
3. Equal Rites
4. Mort
5. Sourcery
6. Wyrd Sisters
7. Pyramids
8. Guards, Guards
9. Eric
10. Moving Pictures
11. Reaper Man
12. Witches Abroad
13. Small Gods
14. Lords and Ladies
15. Men at Arms
16. Soul Music
17. Interesting Times
18. Maskerade
19. Feet of Clay
20. The Hogfather
21. Jingo
22. The Last Continent
23. Carpe Jugulum
24. The Fifth Elephant
25. The Truth
26. Thief of Time
27. Night Watch
28. Monstrous Regiment
29. Going Postal
30. Thud!

Disworld (children's):
1. The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents
2. The Wee Free Men
3. A Hat Full of Sky
4. Wintersmith

Bromeliad Trilogy (for children):
1. Truckers
2. Diggers
3. Wings

Johnny series (for teens)
1. Only you can Save Mankind
2. Johnny and the Dead
3. Johnny and the Bomb

Novels:
The Carpet People
The Dark Side of the Sun
Strata
The Unadulterated Cat
Good Omens (with Neil Gaiman)

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