Tag Archives: Terry Pratchett

A Tribute to the Man in the Awesome Hat

85610That would be Sir Terry Pratchett (28 April 1948 – 12 March 2015).

My tribute is late, and by now I’m certain everyone who is anyone has said everything there is to say about Sir Terry’s life and legacy and how generally smashing he was. But since adding to the noise is what writers do, I’d like to say a few words in honor of the man who gave me more belly laughs than any other writer on God’s green earth. Yes, even Wodehouse.

I read The Color of Magic when I was fifteen and became a fan of the Man in the Awesome Hat instantaneously. Forays into Discworld are now a literary staple for me. It’s a bonkers place – not unlike a Monty Python sketch from the hand of J.R.R. Tolkien, assuming the latter had been smoking something besides tobacco while writing it. (This is where everyone raises an eyebrow and wonders why this blog isn’t rated R for drug references, too. “Mercy!”)

Sir Terry – like his friend Neil Gaiman, like Lewis and Chesterton and Alexander before them – was a reminder to me that the imagination is a terrible thing to waste. Feed it well. Gorge it. Make it fat. “Stories of imagination,” Pratchett observed, “tend to upset those who don’t have one.” For the love of God, don’t be one of those people. It’s a sorry way to think.

Another thing: laughter really is good medicine. I’m not talking about school girl titters, either. I’m talking about busting an almighty gut. I’m talking about dropping the book because your stomach hurts and you can’t read through the tears. Cue howls and labored breathing. People look at you with a mixture of wonder and alarm because, let’s be honest, you appear to be dying and having the time of your life doing it.

Cracking the cover of a Discworld book is a one way ticket to all this and more. Abdominal pain guaranteed. It’s a great feeling. You should try it.

It Had Maps In It, They Said

I’ve been a fan of Discworld for several years running, but I only recently discovered Terry Pratchett’s non-fiction. His book A Slip of the Keyboard offers a wonderful glimpse inside one of the biggest, most imaginative brains to ever grace Elfland. One of my favorite bits is where he describes his first encounter with The Lord of the Rings. I believe Tolkien would smile if he were around to read it.

I can’t remember where I was when JFK was shot, but I can remember exactly where and when I was when I first read J.R.R. Tolkien. It was New Year’s Eve, 1961. I was babysitting for friends of my parents while they all went out to a party. I didn’t mind. I’d got this three-volume yacht-anchor of a book from the library that day. Boys at school had told me about it. It had maps in it, they said. This struck me at the time as a pretty good indicator of quality.

I’d waited a long time for this moment. I was that kind of kid, even then. What can I remember? I can remember the vision of beech woods in the Shire; I was a country boy, and the hobbits were walking through a landscape which, give or take the odd housing development, was pretty much the one I’d grown up in. I remember it like a movie.

There I was, sitting on this rather chilly sixties-style couch in this rather bare room; but at the edges of the carpet, the forest began. I remember the light as green, coming through the trees. I have never since then so truly had the experience of being inside the story. I can remember the click of the central heating going off and the room growing colder, but these things were happening on the horizon of my senses and weren’t relevant.

I can’t remember going home with my parents, but I do remember sitting up in bed until three a.m., still reading. I don’t recall going to sleep. I do remember waking up with the book on my chest, and finding my place, and going on reading. It took me, oh, about twenty-three hours to get to the end. (pp. 57-58)

Book Review: Good Omens

GoodOmensCoverI say, old chap, did you hear the news? The world’s going to end on Saturday. Next Saturday. Just before dinner.

All this according to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, a ponderous tome which happens to be “the world’s only completely accurate book of prophecies written in 1655.” Armageddon is almost here and the hosts of Heaven and Hell are gathering. The Divine Plan is coming along splendidly… except for two itsy-bitsy problems.

First: a fastidious angel named Aziraphale and his pleasure-loving demon buddy Crowley aren’t actually looking forward to the apocalypse. In fact, they’re on a mission to stop it.

Second: a bunch of Satanic nuns have misplaced the baby Antichrist.

*cough*

Okay, so maybe the Divine Plan isn’t coming along so splendidly after all.

I’ve been a fan of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series for a few years now. Barring the inimitable P.G. Wodehouse, no writer in the English language has been responsible for more belly laughs on my part than he. More recently, I’ve come to love Neil Gaiman’s work. Just read Coraline and you’ll see why.

All that to say: I couldn’t just ignore a book written by Pratchet and Gaiman. That would be like ignoring a plateful of pie and… more pie. Or ignoring a movie with the Governator and the Italian Stallion.

Well, I could ignore the last one actually. But still. You get the idea.

Good Omens isn’t just about the world gone wrong (as most apocalyptic fiction is). It’s about the apocalypse gone wrong. And with Pratchett and Gaiman running the show, the whole thing is predictably insane. And predictably hilarious.

A lot of it, anyway.

I love madcap and thoroughly British humor. Always have. And Good Omens has some cracking good laughs. If you can listen to the Four Horsepersons of the Apocalypse talk business with each other and not bust a gut, there’s something very wrong with you.

But interspersed with the hilarious is other stuff that’s about as funny as hell. By which I mean, not very.

I can see the fingers pointing my way now. “Look, look! Another Christian who doesn’t have a sense of humor! Another Christian too pious to laugh at religious jokes! Another Christian who takes himself too seriously!”

With regard to the first charge, that I have no sense of humor, the answer is quite simple: I do. It just has boundaries. With regard to the second, I don’t mind jokes about religion, but I do expect the jokes to be good ones. With regard to the third, I try not to ever ever ever take myself very seriously at all. Why should I? I am human, ergo I am absurd, ergo you may aim your satirical peashooter at me all day long and I will laugh right along with you.

But watch it when you start aiming at things above your head. Like God, for instance.

That explanation probably won’t clear me of anything, but hey, I didn’t really expect it to. Christians throughout the ages have been known for taking seriously what others take lightly, and for taking lightly what others take seriously. I’m in good company.

The wisecracking about heaven and hell and humanity and angels and demons and God and the Devil – most of it is really just a childish (and strangely self-important) attempt at making fun of Christianity. I’ve seen the book called “thought-provoking” by a number of reviewers, but I must confess the only thought it provoked in me was that Messrs. Pratchett and Gaiman really don’t know much about the faith they so gleefully deride.

Good Omens, as a comedy, sets out to make ridiculous that which is not; to trifle with many things which should be left alone; and to encourage a troubling flippancy toward some very serious ideas. And of course, you have to love a book that presents God as a petulant deity with an overeager desire to wipe out mankind. Never mind that business on the cross two thousand years ago, with His Son and all.

If this review were a short, a very short, letter, it would probably go like this:

Dear Mr. Pratchett and Mr. Gaiman,

Y'all are great writers and funny chaps. 
But you suck at theology. Like, seriously.

Sincerely,
this guy

The Wit and Wisdom of Terry Pratchett

images-49“Some humans would do anything to see if it was possible to do it. If you put a large switch in some cave somewhere, with a sign on it saying ‘End-of-the-World Switch, PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH’, the paint wouldn’t even have time to dry.”

“If cats looked like frogs we’d realize what nasty, cruel little bastards they are. Style. That’s what people remember.”

“Speak softly and employ a huge man with a crowbar.”

“If you trust in yourself… and believe in your dreams… and follow your star… you’ll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy.”

“Of course I’m sane. When trees start talking to me, I don’t talk back.”

“There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.”

“I’ll be more enthusiastic about encouraging thinking outside the box when there’s evidence of any thinking going on inside it.”

“If complete and utter chaos was lightning, then he’d be the sort to stand on a hilltop in a thunderstorm wearing wet copper armour and shouting ‘All gods are bastards!'”

“Human beings make life so interesting. Do you know, that in a universe so full of wonders, they have managed to invent boredom.”

“He moved in a way that suggested he was attempting the world speed record for the nonchalant walk.”

“Using a metaphor in front of a man as unimaginative as Ridcully was like a red flag to a bu… was like putting something very annoying in front of someone who was annoyed by it.”

“She got on with her education. In her opinion, school kept on trying to interfere with it.”

“Taxation, gentlemen, is very much like dairy farming. The goal is to extract the maximum amount of milk with the minimum amount of moo.”

“Steal five dollars and you’re a common thief. Steal thousands and you’re either the government or a hero.”

“I don’t think I’ve drunk enough beer to understand that.”

“Always remember that the crowd that applauds your coronation is the same crowd that will applaud your beheading. People like a show.”

Book Review: Pyramids

Unlike most boys his age, young Teppic doesn’t spend his time chasing girls or hanging out at the mall. Instead, he trains at a famous school run by the Assassins’ Guild, where he learns the ancient art of inhumation (otherwise known as “bumping off”). No sooner does he pass his exit exam, however, than he learns that his father, King Teppicymon XXVII, is dead – leaving Teppic the sole heir the throne of Djelibeybi.

But that’s not the worst of it: Teppic has absolutely no clue about what it means to be a pharaoh. Of course, the first thing to do is to build a worthy resting place for Dad – a pyramid to end all pyramids. Then there are numerous other administrative duties he must attend to, such as dealing with mad priests and sacred crocodiles, not to mention making the sun rise each morning. As if that’s not enough, the teenaged pharaoh uncovers deceit and betrayal at the very heart of his realm.

Having steeped myself in several volumes of rather bleak fiction (ala Lord of the Flies), I felt I needed a break. I wanted a funny book, one that didn’t take itself so seriously. Somehow or other, Terry Pratchett’s name appeared on my list of to-be-read-authors. I did a bit of research, dropped by the library, and borrowed Pyramids. It fit the bill perfectly.

Part of the bestselling Discworld series, Pyramids is an outrageous send-up of ancient Egypt (and to a certain extent, ancient Greece). It’s a fantasy adventure loaded with hilarity and satire, and hardly a page goes by that won’t have the reader smiling, laughing, or in stitches. Think Monty Python meets J.R.R. Tolkien, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of the fantastical funniness of this book.

Throughout the story, we are introduced to a number of memorable characters: Teppic the boy King; Ptraci the brash and flirtatious handmaiden; Dios the mad priest; Ptaclusp the architect; a group of neo-Athenian philosophers who can’t seem to agree on anything; and my personal favorite, a mathematically-inclined camel with a crabby temper. As another critic so aptly put it, “What makes Terry Pratchett’s fantasies so entertaining is that their humor depends on the characters first, on the plot second, rather than the other way around. The story isn’t there simply to lead from one slapstick pratfall to another pun. Its humor is genuine and unforced.”

Along with the memorable characters come some equally memorable scenes. My favorite one occurs when the gods of Djelibeybi begin to fight over the Sun. A priest, witnessing this epic contest, proceeds to commentate on the struggle in sports-announcer fashion:

“It would appear,” said the high priest of Cephut, the god of Cutlery, who felt that he could take a more relaxed view of the situation, “that Thrrp has fumbled it and has fallen to a surprise tackle from Jeht, Boatman of the Solar Orb.”

There was a distant buzzing, as of several billion bluebottles taking off in a panic, and a huge dark shape passed over the palace.

“But,” said the high priest of Cephut, “here comes Scrab again… yes, he’s gaining height… Jeht hasn’t seen him yet, he’s progressing confidently toward the meridian… and here comes Sessifet, Goddess of the Afternoon! This is a surprise! What a surprise this is! A young goddess, yet to make her mark, by my word, what a lot of promise there, this is an astonishing bid, eunuchs and gentlemen, and… yes… Scrab has fumbled it! He’s fumbled it!… and… what’s this? The elder gods are, there’s no other word for it, they’re cooperating against these brash newcomers! But the plucky young Sessifet is hanging in there, she’s exploiting the weakness… she’s in!… and pulling away now, pulling away, Gil and Scrab appear to be fighting, she’s got a clear sky and, yes, yes… yes!… it’s noon! It’s noon! It’s noon!”

Silence. The priest was aware that everyone was staring at him. Then someone said, “Why are you shouting into that bulrush?”

“Sorry. Don’t know what came over me.”

Who should read Pyramids? Everyone… over a certain age, that is. While most of the humor is quite clean, there are several instances of sexual innuendo/suggestive dialogue, making it a book that I think is best reserved for readers ages 15 and up.