Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Series features a cavalcade of characters and environments. Often hilariously funny and, at times, deeply moving, they surely qualify as modern-classics.
We live in strange times. Social distancing and isolation, lockdown, doing all your interactions via the internet and never seeing a soul from one day to the next. I’ve occupied my time with many things: starting new projects, finishing old projects, and reading and re-reading the books on our shelves.
In our crime book group we’ve been talking about some of our favourite authors and trying to put into words what it is about them that we like. And that got me thinking about some of the non-crime authors I’d recommend.
I’ve always enjoyed sci-fi, ever since my father introduced me to the great Isaac Asimov. I loved his books and devoured as many as I could lay my hands on. To an extent I also like fantasy, although much of that genre is too fantastical for my liking. But there’s one fantasy author whom I love – the late, much missed, Terry Pratchett.
I was first introduced to him by my daughters when they were teenagers. They told me to read the Bromeliad Trilogy, consisting of Truckers, Diggers and Wings. A deceptively simple story of a tribe of little people who live in the carpets of a department store and manage to escape from it to find their way in the outside world. Very funny, and already showing some of the profound ideas which came to characterise the later Pratchett books in the Discworld series (there are 41 titles in the series!).
For the uninitiated the Discworld exists somewhere in the universe. It is, as the word says, a disc, flat as a pancake, complete with mountains, oceans, deserts and people, and is really a fairly thinly disguised version of our world – apart from the flat bit, of course. The disc rests on the backs of four massive elephants, who in turn stand on the back of the turtle, A’Tuin; he (or maybe, she) who swims slowly through the universe and thinks deep and unknowable thoughts.
On the disc live many different people, some of whom we get to know well. There’s the City Watch (the police, in other words) in that great metropolis Ankh-Morpork, a city which has never been conquered. Mind you, that’s not for lack of trying. It’s just that any would-be conqueror is welcomed with open arms, relieved of most of his gold by some of the city’s honest or not-so-honest traders, and is eventually absorbed into the city. Many nefarious occurrences happen there, including murder and mayhem.
From witches and vampires, to werewolves, dwarves, golems and death, there are so many different characters and environments in Discworld that it’s impossible to do them justice here. To enjoy them you would need to read the master’s own words.
I do not, of course, like all the Discworld books. But I have my favourites. I enjoy most of the Ankh-Morpork ones, particularly the City Watch ones and the stories of the witches. But my absolute favourite is Monstrous Regiment.
It’s a slightly standalone story in that there are very few references to the other peoples of the Disc. It takes place in the remote Ramtop mountains. There’s a war brewing between two small kingdoms and a recruitment drive is on in all the little villages. In one of these lives an inn-keepers daughter, Polly, who’s bright but has no future where she is. So, she does what any self-respecting plucky girl would do – she dresses in her brother’s clothes, cuts off her hair and goes to war pretending to be a boy.
What follows is a hilarious and often deeply profound story of Polly and all the other new recruits, some of whom are also girls in disguise – hence the title of the book. Some of the happenings are quite surreal.
A sense of the profound
But that’s one of the things I like so much about Pratchett’s books. Yes, they are hilariously funny at times, but they’re also moving. There’s a real sense of the profound underpinning the stories, which usually makes me think about our own world, and how we live in it and treat it. Another thing which I like very much about the books is how Pratchett brings all the characters to life and makes them feel so real.
I know these books aren’t to everyone’s liking. I tried to get my husband to enjoy them but he gave up after reading just one. But my daughter and son-in-law are firm fans and, like me, own virtually every book Pratchett ever wrote. It was a sad day when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and later died.
Like many of us now, I’ve been living virtually under house arrest and so I’ve re-read some of these Discworld books – and laughing just as much this time around as I did when I first read them.
I give Monstrous Regiment 5-Stars. The other Pratchett books I rate from 3 to 5-Stars but there are more fives than threes!
Review by: Freyja