Lots of people I know, including my wife, keep telling me that I really ought to like Terry Pratchett, and I’ve tried a few times but haven’t. Except for I just finished reading the Tiffany Aching books (“for younger readers”, it says) and loved them.
The Problem · It’s just that I haven’t cared much about the people in the books. I admire the cynical wisecracking, often brilliant, and the sparkling imagination in the literary set construction and scene-painting. I mean, what if Death did have an apprentice?
But too often, the sequence I’m reading feels like a an elaborate setup for a (usually very good) punchline, and I’m not sure that Pratchett actually cares about the people he’s put on the pages, and what happens to them. So why should I?
Nac Mac Feegles · These are the Wee Free Men of the first book’s title; a tribe of tiny troublesome undisciplined nosy warriors who serve sort of as the chorus does in a classic Greek play. They’re a blast.
The protagonist is Tiffany Aching, a young witch where witching is serious business; serious as in sometimes dreary and scary and wearing.
And yes, Pratchett fans, there’s all the cynical wisecracking anyone could want. But he takes way more care than in his “adult” stories to keep the focus on his people; what they see and hear and feel and fear. And one does (or, well, I did) come to care quite a lot about the underappreciated Ms Aching and her problems.
Highly recommended. And now my 13-year-old is powering through them, so they work for kids too.
Comment feed for ongoing:
From: Michael (Aug 26 2012, at 00:26)
Don't know if you count it as Pratchett or have already read it, but his collaboration with Gaiman, <i>Good Omens</i>, is delightful.
From: Masklinn (Aug 26 2012, at 03:13)
I'm not sure I can agree with you, but for the earliest stories maybe. I'm currently re-reading the series chronologically (from "The Colour of Magic"), and while up until "The Wyrd Sisters" the books are very much story-driven with only low insight into the characters themselves ("The Wyrd Sisters" actually start providing more of it I say) that book and Pyramid start a transition — initially through the mechanism of very present ghosts — of deeper insight and involvement of the characters, which start blooming in "Guards! Guards!". I think Guards! is one of the first Discworld books which looks deeper into its characters and how they reveal themselves and evolve within the story.
I think that later book, and more generally the City Watch storylines, is why Discworld readers like the Watch so much: it's very much about the people within the story.
At the end of the day, I don't agree with you, and I think Pratchett — past the earliest books and after hitting his stride — cares very much for his characters. I think that also shines in The Bromeliad Trilogy (which, incidentally, was released around the time of Guards).
> Highly recommended. And now my 13-year-old is powering through them, so they work for kids too.
Which can only make sense, along with "The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents", they're the 5 YA Discworld books so far.
That said, I completely agree that the Aching series is outstanding, and the Feegles are amazing.
From: David Magda (Aug 26 2012, at 06:34)
Pratchett has been writing for a few decades now, so there are quite a few "key" characters running around the giant turtle now. Most of the books revolve around a key character with a supporting case, which is a good way to build-up a fictional universe IMHO: Rincewind, Death, the Witches (which make cameos in the 'Tiffany-series'), Sam Vimes/City Watch, Tiffany Aching, and most recently Moist von Lipwig.
If you're just starting out with Pratchett, then the City Watch series is probably a good set of characters to begin with (as recommended to me by the proprietor of Bakka-Phoenix here in Toronto):
You'll get a feel for Pratchett's writing, and as the "sub-series" has been developed over twenty years and eight books, there's character development as Sam Vimes rises through the ranks, and the Watch changes from an incompetent force to a thing of civic pride.
Personally I also like the Moist von Lipwig sub-series which has only recently started, and so there hasn't been as much development. But the current two books are fun little romps, and one has been adopted into a live action mini-series which is entertaining if you can find it:
There was also TV mini-series of "Hogfather" and Pratchett's very first book "The Colour of Magic":
The former had Michelle Dockery as the heroine, but she is now more well-known for her role as Lady Mary in "Downton Abbey".
From: Stephen (Aug 26 2012, at 06:38)
If you have only read Pratchett's early books, I would agree that they lack "heart".
It's particularly noticeable in Color of Magic/Light Fantastic, but probably any of his first six books would qualify (the fact that you reference Mort makes you think you mainly read early Pratchett).
From Pyramids on, the characters gain in importance over the wit. Interestingly, this even applies to older characters in newer novels; compare Wyrd Sisters (a pretty obvious Shakespeare parody) to Carpe Jugulum (where Granny Weatherwax has become a fully-formed, if often contradictory, character with backstory and lore to rival some comic strips).
From: Ethan (Aug 26 2012, at 17:06)
I'll second the several recommendations for the City Watch books and also recommend the Witches/Wyrd Sisters books. Both have considerably more heart than the ones focusing on the wizards. The Death books are lovely but you're asked to empathize with an entirely other being, which isn't a bad thing, but can lend itself to a one-joke plot.
From: Tony Fisk (Aug 26 2012, at 22:12)
I'd agree with most the others: start with later Pratchett (Wyrd Sisters, or Guards! Guards!)
For the record, we had the audio version of 'A Hatful of Sky' on a long car trip. 9yo not overly taken with Tony Robinson's falsetto rendition of the wee Nac Macs (I think he would have been been sounding naturally hoarse by the end of it as well!) However, she adored Derek Jacobi's telling of 'Farmer Giles of Ham'
From: Paul Morriss (Aug 28 2012, at 03:18)
The only Tiffany book I've read so far is "Wintersmith" and I think it's my favourite non-classic book ever (so far). I couldn't put into words the difference between his adult and younger readers books, apart from "more focused", but I think you've hit the nail on the head.
From: Elliotte Rusty Harold (Sep 20 2012, at 09:46)
Try Monstrous Regiment for a very character driven, relatively self-contained Pratchett novel that's not just a setup for satire and jokes. (There's plenty of satire and jokes too, but it's not the only thing.)