Terry Pratchett and Discworld

10Nov10

Life’s been hectic, but in a good way–weddings and significant birthdays all over to attend and enjoy–but it does make keeping up with a blog a bit hit or miss, and I confess to missing more than I ought. On the positive side for the blog, at least, I’ve been doing airport reading, and I stumbled on Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. I’ve read Unseen Academicals, The Fifth Elephant and Men At Arms, as well as The Wee Free Men and I Shall Wear Midnight, which were marketed as YA novels. I’m currently in the middle of Witches Abroad, which I want to talk about a bit . . . after just talking about how much I like Terry Pratchett in general and the series in particular. I do feel that I’ve cheated myself a bit by reading the last of the Discworld books first, since they’re in roughly chronological order. And I should have gone to Terry Pratchett’s website or Discworld’s Wikipedia page to figure out that I ought to have read A Hat Full of Sky and Wintersmith between The Wee Free Men and I Shall Wear Midnight.

cover art by Josh Kirby

I first stumbled on Sir Terry Pratchett years ago with Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter,Witch, which Pratchett co-wrote with Neil Gaiman. Pratchett has written roughly 38 Discworld novels plus a number (a number that I can’t come close to pinning down exactly) of adult sci-fi and fantasy novels, children’s and YA novels, short stories and video games. Tell me if I left anything out. He’s only 3 years older than I am and I’m just in awe . . .  Sir Terry was recently diagnoses with Alzheimer’s, I understand, which is causing problems with reading and writing, so he dictates his books and feels that he has a few more left in him.

As I said, I’m in the middle of Witches Abroad and I want to talk about it; I want to talk about it because it’s a book about story. The story begins with the death of an old fairy godmother, a fairy godmother who knows that it’s her time but is left with one unfinished task: she must prevent the marraige of the beutiful young maiden to the handsome prince at all costs. She leaves her magic wand to a young untested witch, trusting that if she tells her not allow Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg to come with her to do this, they will, of course, do so. They do.

Still, before the story begins the book opens with a discussion of the importance of story itself, of the evolution of story . . . “the strongest have survived and they have grown fat on the retelling . . . stories, twisting and blowing through the darkness.” Stories shape our reality: “. . . their very existence overlays a faint but insistent pattern on the chaos that is history.” Sir Terry postulates a theory of narrative causality.

So a thousand heroes have stolen fire from the gods. A thousand wolves have eaten grandmother, a thousand princesses have been kissed. A million unknowing actors have moved, unknowing, through the pathways of story.

It is now impossible for the third and youngest son of any king, if he should embark on a quest which has so far claimed his older brothers, not to succeed.

Perhaps story does shape reality, though it may not wear an impression in a stone stair through endless retellings over the generations. But we do, our feet do, and story is the tool we use to make sense of the presence of the stairs and to understand that the generations of feet that wore the depression in the stairs belonged to people with the same hopes and dreams and humanity that we have. And after all is said and done, no one builds a staircase without a place for those stairs in a story.

More later.

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