Monday, June 07, 2004

A Hat Full of Sky

By any rational assessment, Terry Pratchett is England's 'best' living author. I put the word 'best' in inverted commas because you can substitute your own preferred superlative and the statement will nearly always remain true. The only thing that isn't true is to say that Pratchett is the author 'most widely admired by the literary establishment'. But since no one in full possession of their senses gives a tinker's cuss what the literary establishment thinks about anything, that need hardly detain us.

It may be, however, that you are not one of Mr Pratchett's admirers. If that is because you've never read any of his books, then kindly read on because you will be encouraged, I hope, to do so. If it's because you've read a couple of said works and they didn't 'take', well that's a pity. But, as I have doubtless remarked before, we all have different frames of reference, and what works for one reader will not necessarily work for another. This circumstance does not, please note, tell us anything whatever about the absolute value of the underlying work. And, for the benefit of those who have only just joined us, the reason why it doesn't tell us anything about the absolute value of the underlying novel is because there is no such thing as an absolute value for a work of fiction. There is no such thing as a Great Novel, divorced from its readers, or an absolute stinker of a novel either, for that matter. There are only novels, and readers; and sometimes the two form a happy pair, and sometimes they don't.

But back to Mr Pratchett. I myself was put off reading him for some years, because I didn't like the cover illustrations on those early books. Yes, I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover -- and I do remember hearing that before, somewhere -- but with so much to choose from I put the books on one side for while. Eventually, however, I saw the light of day.

For the record, Pratchett writes what might, perhaps, be called science fiction or fantasy novels about a place called the Discworld. The Discworld is best thought of as a parallel universe in which things don't happen in quite the same way as they do here. In particular, the Discworld is a place of magic, witchcraft, and a pleasing lack of technology.

Pratchett has an official web site, set up by his publishers. And I should bloody well hope so too, because he makes enough money for them. On that site, the author tells us that the Discworld 'started out as a parody of all the fantasy that was around in the big boom of the early '80s, then turned into a satire on just about everything, and even I don't know what it is now. I do know that in that time there's been at least four people promoted as "new Terry Pratchetts" so for all I know I may not even still be me.'

This is no place to tell you more about the Discworld than that. But this is the place to tell you that Pratchett has so far written more than 30 novels about his imaginary world, and that the latest is called A Hat Full of Sky. I hope and believe that I have read all Pratchett's books, some of them twice, and I have just finished this one.

Sky, to abbreviate it, is about Tiffany Aching, an 11-year-old trainee witch who goes off to begin her apprenticeship in magic. She is accompanied by a number of Nac Mac Feegles, who are men (mostly) about six inches high. The Feegles are extremely aggressive, so they're good to have on your side, and they speak, oddly enough, with a pronounced Scottish accent.

Which is as much as you need to know, really. It may not sound very interesting, but it certainly entertained me.

Most of the Discworld books are aimed at adult readers (not that there is anything remotely 'adult' about them), but Sky is technically a YA, or young adult book. It is hard to say quite how it differs from the other ones, but there is, admittedly, a slightly different tone to it.

Before reading Sky you might, perhaps, wish to read The Wee Free Men, which is about the same characters but comes first in the series.

You can also, if you wish, read an interview with Pratchett on the Locus magazine site.

Pratchett's next book is to be entitled Going Postal. 'Folk myth believes,' says the author, 'that there’s something about working for the post office that drives people around the bend.' Well yes, quite, quite. I well remember working in the post office at Christmas, all those years ago. Not sure I ever recovered. It could account for quite a lot, now that I come to think about it.

1 comment:

Matthew Dalton said...

Nicely put.

By the way, I think one of the sentences from this article is being used as an example in the online Oxford Dictionary Pro. Look up the word 'either' in the dictionary and view all the examples.