Since satire is at the top of everyone’s mind right now, we found our discussion veered towards Terry Pratchett, satirist extraordinaire, and his latest book. Of course, his is satire of a very different kind than what is topical. The only serious repercussions of it are likely to be the sudden bursts of demented, snorting laughter from the reader which scare people around them.
For those of you who haven’t heard of Terry Pratchett we feel sorry for you and yet at the same time we are envious. The former because you have gone through life without hearing about one of the most amazing writers ever and the latter because you still have all those amazing books to read for the first time.
Terry Pratchett has sold over 85 million books worldwide in 37 languages and if that doesn’t come within the category of a phenomenon then we don’t know what does. But the whole problem of being classified as genre fiction is that your readership gets limited to the people who are interested in that genre. So, although Terry Pratchett has often been ‘accused of literature’, he is overlooked as far as the awards are concerned. This is despite the fact that (to quote Terry Pratchett himself), “Fantasy isn’t just about wizards and silly wands. It’s about seeing the world from new directions.” Of course, being ignored for awards like the Booker didn’t prevent him from being knighted. We often wonder if it was mandatory for the Queen to read one of his books before she knighted him.
In his Discworld series Terry Pratchett manages to show us the world from diverse new and hysterical directions. There’s ethnic conflicts, minority relations, ecological issues, equality, woman’s rights, the rights of inanimate objects and the rights of the differently abled. The stories are full of the foibles of Gods (monotheistic and pantheistic), Dictators, Kings, Queens, barbarians, wise women in pointy black hats, portly academic men in universities, monks in remote monasteries, law enforcement officials, tourists and luggage (yes, even luggage has a personality). There are large cities and small kingdoms, philosophy, physics, media, economics, science and technology. And often, in the midst of it all, there is DEATH (who rides a horse called Binky, lives in a black and white mansion full of cats, has a granddaughter called Susan and a retired wizard called Albert as his man servant).
All of the above happens on a world that is a flat disc, with waterfalls cascading off the edge, sits on the back of four elephants which in turn stand on the back of a massive world bearing turtle swimming ponderously through space. Despite its dramatically different appearance, the Discworld is a parody of our own world and the novels satirise anything and everything to the fullest.
Raising Steam is the 40th Discworld novel and, as with each new release, we worry it may be the last. It is about a boy who invents a steam engine and takes his prototype to an angel investor in the large metropolis of Ankh Morpork. The idea takes hold and tracks are laid to the nearby cities thereby bringing them closer. The citizens of Ankh Morpork are soon converted to the idea of the railways and its attendant benefits, like getting fresh sea food and taking seaside holidays.
PS: The problem with talking about any of Terry Pratchett’s books is, how does one say anything other than ‘I love’. One of my friends, after reading the first few books, declared that Terry Pratchett was God as far as she was concerned.
LL: I find that people who adore Terry Pratchett are the easiest to get along with. Maybe it’s because they are, somewhere in their heads, in another world.
PS: Also because they enjoy the sheer madness. Perhaps because they are themselves a little bonkers.
LL: It’s fascinating how he can take something like the invention of the steam engine and build an entire book around it and around train mad people.
PS: I really like the way Raising Steam is a commentary on the nature of technological inventions; how you never realise you need something and then once you start using it, you can’t imagine your life without it.
LL: It’s also about the setting up of Joint Stock Companies which is so effortlessly built into the story, without the reader even realising that’s what it is.
PS: The only really fantastical thing about this book is the lawyer who is absolutely honest and can actually represent both sides in a commercial transaction. I much preferred the Slant, the lawyer in the earlier books who was a bloodless zombie.
LL: Going by that yardstick a hardnosed businessman who is not out to just make money but to help people is also pure fable.
PS: The other fabulous parts of the book are the snazzy loos in the locomotives run by the Hygienic Railway Co. That really stretches the boundaries of fantasy in my opinion.
LL: And, of course, it is something we will not see in India for the next 100 years.
PS: Every writer of fantasy, as a rite of passage of sorts, is, at some point or the other, compared to JRR Tolkien but to the best of my knowledge Terry Pratchett hasn’t been. And that is simply because he is incomparable.
On a totally different topic, we want to say how happy we were to receive a like for our post ‘In Favour of Bookshops’ from the Hemingways of Hermanus Bookshop, in South Africa; a shop with a lot of character from the looks of it. It’s wonderful to hear about independent bookshops around the world. May their tribe increase. If we ever find ourselves in South Africa, we shall certainly visit it.