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The Man and the hat, a.k.a. Terry Pratchett
by Jarkko Vaheristo
2008-04-28 09:44:56
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My first encounter with Terry Pratchett's literature was in 1997. At the time I was in England as an exchange student, and walked into a Barnes and Noble bookstore. I was looking for a book, any book, not anything in particular. Somehow my feet carried me to the fantasy department, and there I was, like Alice in Wonderland or, to be honest, more like a kid in a candy store.

But anyhow, as I said, I was in the fantasy department browsing through the covers of the books. And then, it hit me! It shone like a beacon in the night, very colourful covers among the other dull black and black and still black covers. I picked it up, and it was Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett. I'd never heard of him, but the cover was so intriguing with a picture of the strangest luggage I'd ever seen. The luggage had dozens of tiny feet and next to the luggage was a wizard wearing a tall pointy hat, and he looked kind of lost. Not a normal cover for a fantasy novel, I thought, and decided to give this guy a chance and I bought the book. The next day I came back and bought another, and the day after that, I was in a very bad mood - couldn't really tell why - until I went and bought a third book. I was hooked.

Who is Terry Pratchett?

Terry Pratchett is a British fantasy writer and he is most well-known for his Discworld fantasy series. He was born on April 28th 1948 in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, UK. Terry lives in Wiltshire, in his own words, 'behind the keyboard' and he has said that his education was Beaconsfield Public Library. As a child he didn't know what he wanted to do with his life, so he read everything he could get his hands on. He wanted to be an astronomer, but he was no good in mathematics, but this led to an interest in British and American science-fiction and nowadays his work includes some science fiction books, as well as fantasy.

His first book, The Carpet People, was published in 1971, and after that he has written numerous novels, short stories, fantasy books, science-fiction, and young adult books. However, he is most famous for his Discworld series. At this time the series contains 36 novels, and more are coming. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the series, the first book, Colour of Magic, was published in 1983. In 25 years the series has become a brand of its own, with miniature characters, stage adaptations, companions, maps and far more.

His style of writing is unique, mixing fantasy with humour; it could be described best as Tolkien meets Monty Python. His characters are unique, funny and sometimes a bit on the stupid side. Somewhere around 45 million of his books have been printed worldwide and have been published in 35 languages. That really makes him one of Britain's best-loved writers. He also holds the record for the most shoplifted author in Britain.

Discworld - A short introduction

Discworld, in short, is a world in a bowl carried on the backs of four elephants (named Berilia, Tubul, Great T'Phon, and Jerakeen), who stand on the back of a giant turtle named Great A'Tuin that is swimming through space. The disc itself is very flat geographically, but in the exact centre of the disc stands Cori Celeste, a 10-mile high spire of rock. Cori Celeste is also the location of the many, many gods of Discworld. The Discworld mythology consist of gods for everything; a god for wine, who is always drunk, and then of course the counter-god, Oh my god of hangovers. And he obviously has to suffer the consequences for the wine - he has a terrible hangover all the time. But back to the geography.

The Disc consists of four continents, which resemble our different continents, like Africa, Asia, Europe, and there has to be the odd one out, which resembles our loner e.g. Australia. There is also a few major political regions on the disc, the major one being Ankh-Morpork, the capital of the disc. Ankh-Morpork is also the scene for many of Terry's books, it includes the disc in miniature size, so you can find anything in the city, and I mean anything! There are bars for dwarfs, who like to sing about gold, and it seems, are incapable to sing about anything else but gold. You can also find bars for trolls, where the drinks are a bit on the exotic side, as well as the customers.

Introduction to some of the Discworld characters:

Librarian: Librarian used to be a wizard in the Unseen University, but a spell gone wrong turned him into an orang-utan. Nobody remembers what his name was or what he looked like, and nobody even cares. He is a great Librarian, since he can climb the shelves so fast, but never ever call him a monkey. It really makes him mad. (Terry himself is very concerned about the orang-utan's future and he is a trustee in the Orang-utan Foundation UK.)

Death: Obviously people die, in Discworld too. And then comes the Grim Reaper, the man in the black robes, the one, the final call, Death. Riding a white horse, carrying a scythe, Death is a skeleton, dressed in black, speaking in capital letters. You can almost hear his hollow voice in your head when you read the books. But Terry has made death a very humanistic character, he tries to be more and more human, and live a normal life, but he doesn't quite get it. He does have a house, all black, a garden, filled with black roses, but still he doesn't quite get the hang of it, while being dead and Death doesn't help too much either. (One of the funniest books, in my opinion, of the Discworld series is, Mort, where Death decides to take a vacation and gives the job to Mort. This leads to many amusing situations, since Mort doesn't really know how to handle the job.)

Rincewind: is a wizard, and he spells it with two z's, has no skills, has no interest in anything, and is a very unlikely hero. But still he just stumbles across adventures which lead him to many, any and all different locations on Discworld. A major spell, supposedly left by the creator, is lodged in his mind and this makes it impossible for him to learn any other new spells. Since Rincewind is dressed as a wizard, everybody thinks he must be really dangerous. But he is mostly dangerous to himself. He usually just turns minor problems into major disasters. But, if he may not be dangerous, his travelling companion Luggage is.

Luggage: Luggage is a luggage, with hundreds of little legs, and it follows Rincewind everywhere. It is built from a magical wood, and this makes it 'alive'. It is Rincewind's bodyguard, and luggage, and it could also be described as a butler. It protects Rincewind fiercely, and attacks anyone and everyone who it thinks might be a threat to its owner. And everything and everyone IS a threat to Rincewind. Luggage can attack a monster, eat it and the next time it opens, it hands you a nice pair of clean underwear. Luggage can follow Rincewind everywhere; it is not restricted by the normal laws of physics or even laws of being. On several occasions it has followed Rincewind into his mind.

Town watch: also known as Night Watch. The Town Watch of Ankh-Morpork is a fictional city police in Terry's books. It was supposed to have a minor role in the books, but has grown into a larger 'character'. It consists of many unordinary characters, such as one undead constable, one constable who is a werewolf, one troll and a six-foot-two-inch dwarf. They keep the city safe, and mostly they keep themselves safe, and out of trouble. The watch has grown into a major influence in the city, and they have become targets of the parties they annoy.

Claude Maximillian Overton Transpire Dibbler, usually known as Cut-Me-Own-Throat-Dibbler: where-ever there is a gathering of more than two people CMOT Dibbler is there, selling food, or something that distinctly looks like food and he calls it food, but is mostly inedible, and might be of very questionable origins. He always sells so cheap that it's 'cutting his own throat'.

The Discworld style

Terry's writing style has many layers; it seems to be just light and humoristic storytelling about the characters in Discworld and the funny things happening to them. But it is not just about the witty use of words and funny characters and laughter. The reader can find so many references to real life, movies, music, other books, TV and so on. It is really nice to find those little things in his books and it is even nicer when you realize it.

He takes a topic like rock and roll and twists it in a very Terry Pratchettian way, and transforms it into a Discworld story. Rock and roll becomes The Music With Rocks On. The drummer is a troll who beats larger rocks with smaller rocks, and the singer who looks a bit like Elvish, but he is not elvish, he just looks like it.

The other layer and topics in his books are more of about human nature, problems and how to deal with them; death and loss, and even political issues, and the philosophical issues are very common in his works. But it is best to read about them in his books. It's all there, you just have to look.

Terry's life at the present

Terry has still a few years to write, no, he doesn't know his time of death, even though he created Death in his books, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease, a very rare form of it, called Posterior Cortical Atrophy, but since I'm not a doctor and this is not about the disease, I'll leave it at that. Terry himself is taking the situation with mild optimism, and says that he does have time for a few more books. He has also donated money to the research of Alzheimer's, so a cure could be found some day, or a drug to slow the disease. Let's just hope something can be done, since it would be a huge loss if he couldn't write anymore.

Final words

I love Pratchett. I love his style and the topics he writes about. I strongly and fondly and warmly recommend his books to anybody who has an interest in fantasy. But don't take his books too seriously, since I don't think it is his point. It's comedic fantasy, and it is fun. Be careful where you read the books though, you might get a few suspicious looks if you read him on a full Undergound train or in a public place. People tend to be careful about you if you laugh out loud with no apparent reason, I know I've had those looks, but I don't care, I just laugh harder and smile to people looking at me. You'll also love Pratchett, if you don't take fantasy or yourself too seriously. Check him out.

The web and libraries are filled with articles and pages and books about Terry Pratchett and Discworld. Here is just a few of those, I'm sure that you can find a page for any character or place in Discworld. The Discworld is so rich and full of details, so you can spend, and I hope you will spend, aeons of time getting to know it. Happy journey to you, my friend, and may your life be filled with tears of joy and laughter.

Oh, why the headline 'The Man and the hat?' Well, it's for me to know and for you to find out. Just pick up one of his books and look at Terry's picture. There's the answer for you.

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Asa2008-04-28 12:08:52
I read 'Wyrd Sisters' a long, long time ago and this article has now reignited the flame... I shall seek some Pratchett out forthwith.

Alex2008-04-28 22:27:27
I love Terry Pratchett's books. I was an on and off reading fanatic until I started reading his books. Now if I have one of his books, I read them until I'm done, then I order the next one and wait. I hadn't heard about his illness. It will be a sad day with no more Terry.

Mirja2008-05-03 21:23:29
Hei Jarkko ;oli pintaliitaen uskomattoman monivivahteinen, hieno selostus -ihan kaikkea ei aikani tai karsivallisyyteni antanut nain loman kiireissani periksi lukea -ihan ajatuksella nailla vain.Terveisia Mirja

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