Are you sick of Discworld posts? Is that even possible? Well, try and stop me. Actually, you’ll probably be successful at that, since I am planning to wrap it up with this post.
Maybe you haven’t read any of Terry Pratchett’s work yet. If that is the case, you should really stop what you’re doing an binge-read the fourty-odd books right now. Stop everything, don’t go to work, don’t eat–you’ll be fine, trust me.
If you haven’t read a Discworld novel, Unseen Academicals is probably not the place to start. It’s part of a mini-series of books with recurring characters–the wizards–which you should probably have some sense of before jumping in. It’s also not as good as many of the other books. While I loved this book, as I have loved all the others, I think I’d rank it pretty low on the list.
I still think Small Gods is the best place to start learning about the wonderfulness that is the Discworld. It’s a stand-alone novel that does not connect directly to any of the others. Thus, you need no knowledge of the series going in, and there is no compulsion to continue if you did not enjoy it because you are clearly a gang of squirrels in a trench coat. (Thought I didn’t know?)
My favorite book is still Monstrous Regiment, which also is a decent stand-alone book, and would not be a bad place to start, especially those who like works with a slight feminist slant.
When I was younger, I was a crazed fan of Star Wars, in all its incarnations. I dove deep into the Expanded Universe novels and played all the games. And while I still love Star Wars, the Discworld has overshadowed the Galactic Republic as my favorite place to spend my time.
There is one very good reason for that–Terry Pratchett creates characters that are deeper, more memorable, and more meaningful than any I have encountered elsewhere. His writing is not the best–a bit too many adverbs and fancy dialogue tags–but his stories, and his characters are peerless.
In this book, the characters Nutt and Glenda are the best, in my opinion. One of the things that makes Pratchett so great is his ability to take any sort of genre–from prose fiction, but also film, TV, stage–and craft a great new version of it that walks a fine line between honest interpretation and parody. In the case of Unseen Academicals, the obvious genre being parodied is the sports film, which Pratchett does in an almost cinematic way. But there is also a sub-genre of romance that colors the plot, particularly between Nutt and Glenda.
To highlight this sub-plot, and to offer an bit of insight as to why Pratchett is so popular, to those who haven’t experienced his storytelling yet, I’d like to share my favorite little scene from the book. As is typical with his best, this scene offers philosophical insight into the way people think and live. The people of the Discworld are not so different from us. And in the end, it’s just a lovely, emotional exchange between two people who care for each other but can’t get around that social awkwardness that is all too real.
from Unseen Academicals, by Terry Pratchett
‘Why were you running away?’
‘Because I know what will happen,’ said Nutt. ‘I am an orc. It’s as simple as that.’
‘But the people on the bus were on your side,’ said Glenda.
Nutt flexed his hands and the claws slid out, just for a moment. ‘And tomorrow?’ he said. ‘And if something goes wrong? Everybody knows orcs will tear your arms off. Everybody knows orcs will tear your head off. Everybody knows these things. That is not good.’
‘Well, then, why are you coming back?’ Glenda demanded.
‘Because you are kind and came after me. How could I refuse? But it does not change the things that everybody knows.’
‘But every time you make a candle and every time you shoe a horse, you change the things that everybody knows,’ said Glenda. ‘You know that orcs were—’ She hesitated. ‘Sort of made?’
‘Oh, yes, it was in the book.’
She nearly exploded. ‘Well, then, why didn’t you tell me?!’
‘Is it important? We are what we are now.’
‘But you don’t have to be!’ Glenda yelled. ‘Everybody knows trolls eat people and spit them out. Everybody knows dwarfs cut your legs off. But at the same time everybody knows that what everybody knows is wrong. And orcs didn’t decide to be like they are. People will understand that.’
‘It will be a dreadful burden.’
‘I’ll help!’ Glenda was shocked at the speed of her response and then mumbled, ‘I’ll help.’
The coals in the forge crackled as they settled down. Fires in a busy forge seldom die out completely.
After a while, Glenda said, ‘You wrote that poem for Trev, didn’t you?’
‘Yes, Miss Glenda. I hope she liked it.’
Glenda thought she’d better raise this carefully. ‘I think I ought to tell you that she didn’t understand a lot of the words exactly. I sort of had to translate it for her.’ It hadn’t been too difficult, she reckoned. Most love poems were pretty much the same under the curly writing.
‘Did you like it?’ said Nutt.
‘It was a wonderful poem,’ said Glenda.
‘I wrote it for you,’ said Nutt. He was looking at her with an expression that stirred together fear and defiance in equal measure.
The cooling embers brightened up at this. After all, a forge has a soul. As if they had been waiting there, the responses lined themselves up in front of Glenda’s tongue. Whatever you do next is going to be very important, she told herself. Really, extremely, very important. Don’t start wondering about what Mary the bloody housemaid would do in one of those cheap novels you read, because Mary was made up by someone with a name suspiciously like an anagram for people like you. She is not real and you are.
‘We had better get on the coach,’ said Nutt, picking up his box.
Glenda gave up on the thinking and burst into tears. It has to be said that they were not the gentle tears they would have been from Mary the housemaid, but the really big long-drawn-out blobby ones you get from someone who very rarely cries. They were gummy, with a hint of snot in there as well. But they were real. Mary the housemaid would just not have been able to match them.
So, of course, it will be just like Trev Likely to turn up out of the shadows and say, ‘They’re calling the coach now—Are you two all right?’
Nutt looked at Glenda. Tears aren’t readily retractable, but she managed to balance a smile on them. ‘I believe this to be the case,’ said Nutt.