JM Williams

A home for all things fantasy and sci-fi.

My Review of “I Shall Wear Midnight” by Terry Pratchett

Feb
23

I Shall Wear Midnight (Discworld, #38; Tiffany Aching, #4)I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t really like this book as much as some of the other Discworld novels. Of course, dislike is a relative thing–not liking a Discworld book is very different from not liking, say, a Stephen King book.

This novel has a very straightforward, linear plot. The easiness of this book is certainly due to its younger target audience. I found the climax to be rather anti-climatic, an event that just sort of happens as other things happen. Tiffany manages to defeat the threat that follows her through the entire book a bit too easily. This devalues the prior tension quite a bit. The relationship “twist” at the end is rather expected, but I was delighted to see it happen nonetheless. I would have been rather mad if Pratchett turned away from the implied romance, though was happy it wasn’t stuffed into the core narrative.

I find Pratchett is at his best when the plots are complex, the story is scattered and even a bit confusing at the start. The best books start out with you wondering for a bit what exactly is going on, but at the end all the threads come together. The Watch novels are probably the best example. This book lacks in such complexity.

Even so, the book does have some interesting things to say. Pratchett always uses his books to examine and satirize the real world. This is one of the things that makes his work so enduring. In that case of I Shall Wear Midnight, Pratchett digs at power relationships, hierarchy, and the concept of duty. At its center is the question of what it means to be a witch, and where such a person (or any person) falls into the established order. This question takes up most of Tiffany’s time, and results in the most relevant satire in the work.

In general, a decent book but more appropriate for the clear young adult target audience than for someone like myself. Not in my top ten of the Discworld novels, but a good effort.

View all my reviews

Quotes from Discworld 38, Part 2

Feb
18

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I haven’t made a whole lot of progress on the book since the last post. Other things have been taking up all my time. There was the Lunar New Year, which is big here in the East, though not as much for my wife’s family. Still we had to go out to meet people and eat too much food. Not that I can complain about the latter part.

I also worked on the drafts for two new Storm Hamilton stories, which I plan to send out at the end of the month. The stories actually came to mind when I stumbled on a couple new publishers.

But I did make some progress on I Shall Wear Midnight. Pratchett’s skill at description,  both of characters and situations, stood out to me this time. Sir Terry always had the uncanny ability to write something completely ridiculous and yet perfectly clear and appropriate. At times his crazy way of approaching descriptions works even better that a straight-forward method would.

For example, there is this passage where he is describing Letitia, the mean duchess’s wishy-washy daughter (and Tiffany’s rival for the attention of the young baron Roland):

Her hobby, and quite possibly one activity in life, was painting in watercolours, and although Tiffany was trying, against the worst of her instincts, to be generous to the girl, there was no denying that she looked like a watercolour – and not just a watercolour, but a watercolour painted by someone who had not much colour but large supplies of water, giving her the impression of not only being colourless but also rather damp. You could add, too, that there was so little of her that in a storm it might be quite possible that she would snap. Unseen as she was, Tiffany felt just the tiniest pang of guilt and stopped inventing other nasty things to think. Besides, compassion was setting in, blast it!

This description is so dense; there is so much here. When we first meet Letitia, she is portrayed as bland and emotionless–in other words, colorless. She is also see as weak, being pushed around by her mother and others (“there was so little of her”). But this passage marks a turning point in how Tiffany, and the reader, views the girl. Letitia begins to deepen and even shine as a character. Over the stretch of the entire story, her development is masterfully done.

Another thing that Pratchett does well is dialogue and character interaction. He has great pacing and the humorous descriptive bits in between what is said serve to amplify the tone of the dialogue.

This is my favorite exchange (in part because the duchess had it coming for a while):

‘You there! Yes! You there in the shadows! Are you lollygagging?’ [the Duchess said].

This time she [Tiffany] paid attention. All that thinking had meant that she hadn’t paid enough attention to her little don’t-see-me trick. She stepped out of the shadows, which meant that the pointy black hat was not just a shadow. The Duchess glared at it.

It was time for Tiffany to break the ice, even though it was so thick as to require an axe. She said politely, ‘I don’t know how to lollygag, madam, but I will do my best.’

‘What? What! What did you call me?’

The people in the hall were learning fast and they were scuttling as quickly as they could to get out of the place, because the Duchess’s tone of voice was a storm warning, and nobody likes to be out in a storm.

The sudden rage overtook Tiffany. It wasn’t as if she had done anything to deserve being shouted at like that. She said, ‘I’m sorry, madam; I did not call you anything, to the best of my belief.’

This did not do anything to help; the Duchess’s eyes narrowed. ‘Oh, I know you. The witch – the witch girl who followed us to the city on who knows what dark errand? Oh, we know about witches where I’m from! Meddlers, sowers of doubt, breeders of discontent, lacking all morality, and charlatans into the bargain!’

The Duchess pulled herself right up and glowered at Tiffany as if she had just won a decisive victory. She tapped her cane on the ground.

Tiffany said nothing, but nothing was hard to say. She could sense the watching servants behind curtains and pillars, or peering around doors. The woman was smirking, and really needed that smirk removed, because Tiffany owed it to all witches to show the world that a witch could not be treated like this. On the other hand, if Tiffany spoke her mind it would certainly be taken out on the servants. This needed some delicate wording. It did not get it, because the old bat gave a nasty little snigger and said, ‘Well, child? Aren’t you going to try to turn me into some kind of unspeakable creature?’

Tiffany tried. She really tried. But there are times when things are just too much. She took a deep breath.

‘I don’t think I shall bother, madam, seeing as you are making such a good job of it yourself!’

I don’t know what else can be said about this passage. It’s like a perfect joke. There’s the setup, and then, with perfect timing, the punchline. I was enjoying the work in audiobook format.  Stephen Briggs has been the primary Discworld narrator for some time, and his delivery is just perfect. 

It’s rather funny that this bit of conflict begins with a miscommunication and a differing understanding of the meaning of words. More humorous is the choice to use a word like “lollygagging” which is almost out of place in this setting. As a mid-19th century word, it is a bit recent, even for the industrialized Discworld. I don’t know if Pratchett is trying to suggest that the duchess is a person who tries to be on the top of fashion and culture trends. It does exemplify the cultural distance between her and Tiffany very well–not only in class and rank (at least in the duchess’s mind), but also in culture, urban versus rural.

But mostly, this is a great example of Pratchett giving us his usual morally-strong characters. Unlike the colorless Leticia, Tiffany is not willing to stand around and take the duchess’s abuse. For good or bad, Pratchett’s leads are typically morally straight and as this passage shows, morality is often an important aspect of the conflicts in his work.

I hope you enjoyed these two quotes. As I mentioned in the last post, if you haven’t read a Discworld novel before, I strongly urge you to give one a try. The best place to start, in my mind, would be with Small Gods or Monstrous Regiment, which are two of my favorites and are both stand-alone stories.

Thanks for reading!

~JM

Some Quotes from Discworld 38–Pratchett Talks Power

Feb
14
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38th Discworld Novel

I am currently enjoying Terry Pratchett’s 38th novel set on the Discworld, I Shall Wear Midnight. This is the fourth Tiffany Aching witch novel and, so far, is doing a decent job of further developing that character.

I don’t really like this book as much as some of the other Discworld novels. Of course, dislike is a relative thing–not liking a Discworld book is very different from not liking, say, a Stephen King book. This novel has a very straightforward, linear plot. I find Pratchett is at his best when the plots are complex, the story is scattered and even a bit confusing at the start. The best books start out with you wondering for a bit what exactly is going on, but at the end all the threads come together. The Watch novels are probably the best example. The easiness of this book is certainly due to its younger target audience.

Even so, the book does have some interesting things to say. Pratchett always uses his books to examine and satirize the real world. This is one of the things that makes his work so enduring. In that case of I Shall Wear Midnight, Pratchett digs at power relationships, hierarchy, and the concept of duty.

Regarding power relationships and protocol, there’s this humorous passage about arranging the meal table at the castle for a significant event:

And then there would always be the problem of seating. Most of the guests would be aristocrats, and it was vitally important that no one had to sit next to somebody who was related to someone who had killed one of their ancestors at some time in the past. Given that the past is a very big place, and taking into account the fact that everybody’s ancestors were generally trying to kill everybody else’s ancestors, for land, money or something to do, it needed very careful trigonometry to avoid another massacre taking place before people had finished their soup.

I just love how he points out the absurdity of holding on to past legacies and past grievances. Go back far enough and you can find justification for anything.

Here’s another funny passage:

There is a lot of folklore about equestrian statues, especially the ones with riders on. There is said to be a code in the number and placement of the horse’s hooves: if one of the horse’s hooves is in the air, the rider was wounded in battle; two legs in the air means that the rider was killed in battle; three legs in the air indicates that the rider got lost on the way to the battle; and four legs in the air means that the sculptor was very, very clever. Five legs in the air means that there’s probably at least one other horse standing behind the horse you’re looking at; and the rider lying on the ground with his horse lying on top of him with all four legs in the air means that the rider was either a very incompetent horseman or owned a very bad-tempered horse.

It is important to not here that Pratchett attributes this idea to “folklore” or what “is said to be a code” rather than delivering it as a certain fact, as he often does with funny details of life in the Discworld. It is clearly a conscious choice.  I think what he is getting at here is the ability of people to read meaning into things separate from any real truth or established fact. When you think of it logically, how could every artist in the world that ever sculpted a horse be in on this secret code? They couldn’t. But people believing in some hidden conspiracy in horse statues is quite possible.

And here’s one last bit that gets deeper on personal relationships and the ideas of duty and loyalty:

When Mr Aching had worked for the old Baron, they had, as men of the world, reached a sensible arrangement, which was that Mr Aching would do whatever the Baron asked him to do. Provided the Baron asked Mr Aching to do what Mr Aching wanted to do and needed to be done.

That was what loyalty meant, her father [Mr Aching, Tiffany’s father] had told her one day. It meant that good men of all sorts worked well when they understood about rights and duties and the dignity of everyday people. And people treasured that dignity all the more because that was, give or take some bed linen, pots and pans and a few tools and cutlery, more or less all they had. The arrangement didn’t need to be talked about, because every sensible person knew how it worked: while you’re a good master, I will be a good worker.

I will be loyal to you, while you are loyal to me, and while the circle is unbroken, this is how things will continue to be. And Roland was breaking the circle, or at least allowing the Duchess to do it for him. His family had ruled the Chalk for a few hundred years, and had pieces of paper to prove it. There was nothing to prove when the first Aching had set foot on the Chalk; no one had invented paper then.

Rulers try to claim ancient roots to defend their right to rule, but most are just momentary regimes in the larger scheme of things. It is the people who have true roots in the land, who have community and history, continuity.

Here is also an important lesson on leadership, relevant even in the modern age–“while you’re a good master, I will be a good worker.” A respected leader is one who offers respect in return. And a respected leader will always be more productive. Regardless of the rigidity of a hierarchy, there will always be a little back-and-forth between leaders and the led. Those on the bottom have as sense of what should happen, and if it doesn’t, there will be discord. Good leadership and proper rule is that which synchronizes the two ends of the rope, binding them into the “circle” as Pratchett describes it. Bad leaders break the circle and damage the relationship.

Well, that’s it for now. I still have about a quarter of the book to finish and will offer my final thoughts at that time. If you haven’t read a Discworld novel before, I strongly urge you to give one a try. The best place to start, in my mind, would be with Small Gods or Monstrous Regiment, which are two of my favorites and are both stand-alone stories. As many of the Discworld books are part of different series and use recurring characters, it would be best to start with a stand-alone.

Thanks for reading!

~JM

The Best Scene of Discworld 37

Sep
23

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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.

~J.M.


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.

Discworld 37 – Quotes on Horses

Sep
20

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I am nearing the end of the book, I think. It’s hard to tell with an audiobook, since never actually look at what track is playing. I always get a little sad when I know the story is coming to an end.

During my last listen-through, a particularly funny line caught my attention and then I ended up thinking about horses all day. Gods know why, I never cared much for horses myself. I’m more of a wolf person. But I even got a story stuck in my head that I’m going to write after this post. (Stay tuned!)

Anyways, here are a few Pratchett quotes about horses:

“Contrary to popular belief and hope, people don’t usually come running when they hear a scream. That’s not how humans work. Humans look at other humans and say, ‘Did you hear a scream?’ because the first scream might just have been you screaming inside your head, or a horse backfiring.”

This was the quote that made me chuckle. I don’t know what’s funny about a horse backfiring, whether it’s just the absurdity of it or that I can picture it regardless and even see the crotchety grey-haired old driver that is having problems with his cart. It’s also funny because it has nothing to do with its precedent. I don’t know how a person would confuse a scream with a backfire, but there’s a lot to the idea that screams do not, as the common wisdom suggests, bring people running.

“She had stopped pushing her luck a long time ago. Now it was out of control, like a startled carthorse that can’t stop because of the huge load bouncing and rumbling along behind it.”

This one and next are a bit philosophical. Here is a good metaphor for losing control, or letting your ego get ahead of you.

” ‘It’s rather like being a carthorse,’ said Vetinari. ‘After a while one ceases to notice, it’s just the way of life.’ “

One thing I love about Pratchett is his ability to distill human idiosyncrasies, the human experience, into easy to understand states by using ridiculous analogies. It is true that humans are creatures of habit, and they will stick to behaviors they are familiar with, even if those behaviors are negative or even harmful. Often in his books, the character Vetinari is the one offering these bits of sage advice.

Hope you guys enjoyed these quotes. I will be posting my horse-related story soon.

~J.M.

More Quotes from Discworld 37

Sep
16

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I’m about halfway through the book and wanted to share a few more quotes that jumped out at me this go around.

“And there were more flowers flying and people standing and cheering, and music, and in general the feeling of being under a waterfall with no water but inexhaustible torrents of sound and light.”

A waterfall without water is the most original and perfect description of heavy applause I think I have ever read. It captures the sound perfectly without any reference to the action or cultural context.

“Cunning: artful, sly, deceptive, shrewd, astute, cute, on the ball and, indeed, arch.  A word for any praise and every prejudice.  Cunning…is a cunning word.”

A great little examination of the flexibility, and ambiguity, of language.

“Arguing with her friend was like punching mist.”

Another example of what Pratchett does best–absurd metaphors that convey the intended meaning clearly, perhaps more clearly than standard language could ever hope to manage.

“Ponder plunged on, because when you have dived off a cliff your only hope is to press for the abolition of gravity.”

Sometimes Pratchett waxes philosophically, and usually his divergences are deep and on target.

Hope you guys enjoyed these quotes. Now back to the book.

~J.M.

A Few Quotes from Discworld 37

Sep
12

 

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It’s no secret I am a huge Terry Pratchett fan. Ever since I read, er…listened to the first book I was taken in by his whimsical world. I’m sure his influence can be readily seen in my work, either in humor or concept.

 

I just started Discworld book number 37, Unseen Academicals, and have been struck by just how good the prose is.  I  wanted to share a couple gems from the opening pages:

Mr Scattering then got a job in a pet shop in Pellicool Steps, but left after three days because the way the kittens stared at him gave him nightmares.

Classic Pratchet humor to turn mundane things on their head. I have no idea what sort of look from a kitten could cause nightmares, only that I never wish to see it.

There was so much silence you could hear it. Everywhere it went, it stuffed the ears with invisible fluff.  -and- Silence listened with its mouth open.

Silence can be a powerful tool for creating atmosphere or tension, or simply setting a scene. But all too often, the words come out cliche. “Dead silent” or “eerily silent” or countless other variations–many of which I’m sure I’ve used–fall flat. Leave it to Sir Pratchett to find clever new ways to convey an old idea.

From somewhere in the distance came a sound like a large duck being trodden on, followed by a cry of ‘Ho, the Megapode!’ And then all hell eventuated. -and- Then the thing disappeared down another gloomy corridor, incessantly making that flat honking noise of the sort duck hunters make just before they are shot by other duck hunters.

Sound is an important sense and one that is difficult to convey in words without going full-on phonetic, which can be off-putting. Here Pratchett manages to convey a distinct sound clearly, at least to me, and provide a laugh at the same time. Plus I just love the phrase “All hell eventuated.” Though, that might just be due to the fact that we don’t really use “eventuated” in that manner in American English.

Well those are just a couple bits that stood out to me, though the pages as a whole thus far have generally been great. It would take too much space to remark on all the little phrases that lit me up.

~J.M.

Pratchett’s Wintersmith – The Concept of Reader Baggage as Explained Through Sarcasm

Dec
13

I have been working my way through Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novel Wintersmith. As usual, it is a great tale, well-written with strong characters. One scene has stood out to me as being especially humorous, but also useful as commentary on writing.

In the scene, lead character Tiffany—an almost 13-year-old witch—discovers a book on her bed and begins to read. Pratchett’s clear intention in the scene is to lambaste generic romance novels for their ignorance of their and our worlds, and other excesses that pop culture has addresses countless times before.

But in his humorous attack on a generally disregarded genre of writing, he reveals a truth that is important to all authors. Readers all have their own personal experiences and knowledge. They bring this with them to the reading: it’s a sort of mental baggage. If any part of the story conflicts with this baggage, the reader can be lost.

In this specific case, the conflicts are with real world truths. The romance writer has made up a story about a farm girl with too many inaccuracies about real farm life and the natural world. This negatively affects the reader who knows better (Tiffany also has perspectives on gender that clash with the writing). Science Fiction authors face this danger regularly. If you try to dress your story up in pseudo-science, passing it off as real, you will bug your readers. If you try your hand at real science and get it wrong or are unconvincing, you face similar issues. I tend to worry about this a lot when I write hard S.F. I know a good bit about physics, but I’m no studied scientist.

But Pratchett’s scene also provides a bit of light though that dark tunnel of self-consciousness. If the story is good enough, you can overcome these other weaknesses. There is a deeper part of the human psyche that strives for sentimentality and melodrama, adventure and romance. If your story hits those buttons just right, you can maintain your hook even through the resistance of your reader’s baggage.

(This is perhaps another good reason to have other people read your stories as you revise them.)

It’s just something to think about. It’s amazing the places your can discover such truths on the craft.

Without further ado, enjoy Pratchett’s humorous little scene—


 

Tiffany was just getting ready for bed that night when she found a book under her pillow.

The title, in fiery red letters, was Passion’s Plaything by Marjory J. Boddice, and in smaller print were the words: Gods and Men said their love was not to be, but they would not listen!! A tortured tale of a tempestuous romance by the author of Sundered Hearts!!! 

The cover showed, up close, a young woman with dark hair and clothes that were a bit on the skimpy side in Tiffany’s opinion, both hair and clothes blowing in the wind. She looked desperately determined, and also a bit chilly. A young man on a horse was watching her some distance away. It appeared that a thunderstorm was blowing up.

Strange. There was a library stamp inside, and Nanny didn’t use the library. Well, it wouldn’t hurt to read a bit before blowing the candle out.

Tiffany turned to page one. And then to page two. When she got to page nineteen she went and fetched the Unexpurgated Dictionary.

She had older sisters and she knew some of this, she told herself. But Marjory J. Boddice had got some things laughably wrong. Girls on the Chalk didn’t often run away from a young man who was rich enough to own his own horse—or not for long and not without giving him a chance to catch up. And Megs, the heroine of the book, clearly didn’t know a thing about farming. No young man would be interested in a woman who couldn’t dose a cow or carry a piglet. What kind of help would she be around the place? Standing around with lips like cherries wouldn’t get the cows milked or the sheep sheared!

And that was another thing. Did Marjory J. Boddice know anything about sheep? This was a sheep farm in the summertime, wasn’t it? So when did they shear the sheep? The second most important occasion in a sheep farm’s year and it wasn’t worth mentioning?

Of course, they might have a breed like Habbakuk Polls or Lowland Cobbleworths that didn’t need shearing, but these were rare and any sensible author would surely have mentioned it.

And the scene in chapter five, where Megs left the sheep to fend for themselves while she went gathering nuts with Roger…well, how stupid was that? They could have wandered anywhere, and they were really stupid to think they’d find nuts in June.

She read on a bit further, and thought: Oh. I see. Hmm. Hah. Not nuts at all, then. On the Chalk, that sort of thing was called “looking for cuckoo nests.”

She stopped there to go downstairs to fetch a fresh candle, got back into bed, let her feet warm up again, and went on reading.

Should Megs marry sulky dark-eyed William, who already owned two and a half cows, or should she be swayed by Roger, who called her “my proud beauty” but was clearly a bad man because he rode a black stallion and had a mustache?

Why did she think she had to marry either of them? Tiffany wondered. Anyway, she spent too much time leaning meaningfully against things and pouting. Wasn’t anyone doing any work? And if she always dressed like that, she’d catch a chill.

It was amazing what those men put up with. But it made you think.

She blew out the candle and sank gently under the eiderdown, which was as white as snow.

Source: Terry Pratchett, Wintersmith, 2006.

 

Pratchett’s Thud!- Part 3, the Aftermath

Nov
24

So I am nearing the end of Thud! and the suspense is killing me, as usual. Pratchett does do a good mystery. I got past the part where Angua and the girls finally call an end to the night. It was too funny not to share:

“I’ve never been on a Girls’ Night Out before,” said Cheery, as they walked, a little uncertainly, through the night-time city. “Was that last bit supposed to happen?”

“What bit was that?” said Sally.

“The bit where the bar was set on fire.”

“Not usually,” said Angua.

“I’ve never seen men fight over a woman before,” Cheery went on.

“Yeah, that was something, wasn’t it?” said Sally. They’d dropped Tawneee off at her home. She’d been in quite a thoughtful frame of mind.

“And all she did was smile at a man,” said Cheery.

“Yes,” said Angua. She was trying to concentrate on walking.

“It’d be a bit of a shame for Nobby if she lets that go to her head, though,” said Cheery.

Save me from talkative druks … drinks … drunks, Angua thought. She said, “Yes, but what about Miss Pushpram? She’s thrown some quite expensive fish at Nobby over the years.”

“We’ve struck a blow for ugly womanhood,” Sally declared loudly. “Shoes, men, coffins … never accept the first one you see.”

“Oh, shoes,” said Cheery, “I can talk about shoes. Has anyone seen the new Yan Rockhammer solid copper slingbacks?”

“Er, we don’t go to a metalworker for our footwear, dear,” said Sally. “Oh … I think I’m going to be sick…”

“Serves you right for drinking … vine,” said Angua maliciously.

“Oh, ha ha,” said the vampire from the shadows. “I’m perfectly fine with sarcastic pause ‘vine’; thank you! What I shouldn’t have drunk was sticky drinks with names made up by people with less sense of humor than, uh, excuse me … oh, noooo…

“Are you all right?” said Cheery.

“I’ve just thrown up a small, hilarious, paper umbrella…Oh dear.”

“And a sparkler…”

It’s a good wrap up to the previous scenes (there’s a second bar scene, but it doesn’t add much to the first). The scene above clearly demonstrates the rapport developing between Angua and Sally, in that she felt secure enough to make fun of the stereotypical vampire accent.

In the Discworld, vampires speak with a very caricatured German accent, with Vs substituting for Ws. But this is the first time I recall characters being annoyed by it. Vimes does the same in an earlier scene in the book:

“Mr Vimes,” said Mrs Winkings, “ve cannot help but notice that you still haf not employed any of our members in the Vatch…”

Say ‘Watch’, why don’t you? Vimes thought. I know you can. Let the twenty-third letter of the alphabet enter your life.

In all, it’s turning out to be a great book. Pratchett is pushing gender a bit more than usual in this work, especially with the girls at the bar. He clearly making a statement about the fluidity of identity and the weakness of generalizations and stereotypes, here and throughout the book. I think people these days might benefit by giving the decade old book a go.

Pratchett’s Thud!, Part 1
Pratchett’s Thud!, Part 2

For decent discussions on Pratchett and gender, you can visit the webpage of Tansy Rayner Roberts

She offers a good gender-focused review of Thud! HERE. Though I have only read half of the article, since the second part reviews a book I haven’t gotten to yet.

Pratchett’s Thud! – Part 2, the Ladies Night Out Scene

Nov
23

Terry Pratchett is a master of fiction, and his Discworld novel Thud! is a masterpiece. While I am not fully though the book, I felt compelled to share this commentary while it is fresh in my mind.

One scene that stood out to me as representative of Pratchett’s humor and brilliant characters was the scene in Thud! where the main female cast goes bar hopping. Strangely, I often find myself drawn to Pratchett’s female characters. Being a male writer, I am often concerned with the portrayal of my female characters, where they ring true and honest. Writing from perspectives you have no experience with seems to be a gamble. It is one that Pratchett often wins.

(My discussion on the topic and more Pratchett analysis can be found here. )

Below I will share the text of the scene interspersed between my analysis and comments. Since I enjoy my Discworld in the form of audio books, this passage is derived from ear and from quotes found online. As such it may have different formatting from the original text.

The Ladies Night Out Scene:

The drinking had started in The Bucket, in Gleam Street. This was the coppers pub. Mr. Cheese, the owner, understood about coppers. They liked to drink somewhere where they wouldn’t see anything that reminded them they were a copper. Fun was not encouraged.

It was Tawneee who suggested that they move to Thank Gods It’s Open.

Angua wasn’t really in the mood, but she hadn’t the heart to say no. The plain fact was that while Tawneee had a body that every other woman should hate her for, she compounded the insult by actually being very likable. This was because she had the self-esteem of a caterpillar and, as you found out in any kind of conversation with her, about the same amount of brain. Perhaps it all balanced out, perhaps some kindly god had said to her: Sorry, kid, you are going to be thicker than a yard of lard, but the good news is, that’s not going to matter.

And she had a stomach made of iron, too. Angua found herself wondering how many hopeful men had died trying to drink her under the table. Alcohol didn’t seem to go to her head at all. Maybe it couldn’t find it. But she was pleasant, easygoing company, if you avoided allusion, irony, sarcasm, repartee, satire and words longer than chicken.

One great thing about Pratchett’s work is the incredible world he built. The city of Ankh Morpork–the core location of the Discworld where the Watch series and many other stories take place–is clearly based on London, though in a very warped and cynical way, the negative aspects of urbanism overpowering the positives. There is a river passing through the city, which is a key to its geography and identity. The headquarters of the Watch–the police force in the city–is located at Pseudopolis Yard. These are clearly drawn from real-world London.

Over thirty-odd years Pratchett was able to create a world of incredible depth–much like the development of Ankh Morpork itself–by building right on top of what was laid down previously. In the passage above we see him create a new space in his city, the Thank Gods It’s Open pub. This is added to already established locations such as The Bucket and Gleam Street. I would not be surprised to see it mentioned again in the future.

The scene continues:

Angua was tetchy because she was dying for a beer, but the young man behind the bar thought that a pint of Winkles was the name of a cocktail. Given the drinks on offer, perhaps this was not surprising.

“What,” said Angua, reading the menu, “is a Screaming Orgasm?”

“Ah,” said Sally. “Looks like we got to you just in time, girl!”

“No,” sighed Angua, as the others laughed; that was such a vampire response.

This was the exchange that stood out to me, which made me want to share this scene. The timing and rhythm of the joke is simply perfect, masterfully delivered by the audiobook narrator Stephen Briggs.

The whole purpose of this whole scene is to develop a character bond between Angua and Sally. Angua is tired, emotionally and physically, and Sally suggest going out for drinks and time off. Up until this point, their relationship always focused on the fact that one is a werewolf and the other a vampire, mortal enemies that could never possibly be friends. Here the animosity begins to break down.

The scene continues:

 “I mean, what’s it made of?”

“Almonte, Wahlulu, Bearhuggers Whiskey Cream and vodka,” said Tawneee, who knew the recipe for every cocktail ever made.

“And how does it work?” said Cheery, craning to see over the top of the bar.

Sally ordered four, and turned back to Tawneee. “So … you and Nobby Nobbs, eh?” she said. “How about that?” Three sets of ears flared.

The other thing you got used to in the presence of Tawneee was silence. Everywhere she went, went quiet. Oh, and the stares. The silent stares. And sometimes, in the shadows, a sigh. There were goddesses who’d kill to look like Tawneee.

“He’s nice,” said Tawneee. “He makes me laugh and he keeps his hands to himself.”

Three faces locked in expressions of concentrated thought. This was Nobby they were talking about. There were so many questions they were not going to ask.

“Has he shown you the tricks he can do with his spots?” Angua said.

“Yes. I thought I’d widdle myself! He’s so funny!”

Angua stared into her drink. Cheery coughed. Sally studied the menu.

This whole scene is about characters, and here we start to see how varied they can be. We get a impression of the main girls–Angua and Cheery–the reputation of Nobby (the ladies of the Watch assume him to be a lecherous hound, but we are given a different perspective here), and we start to unravel the new character Tawnee. All delivered with humor and great care.

The scene continues:

“And he’s very dependable,” said Tawneee. And, as if dimly aware that this was still not sufficient, she added sadly, “If you must know, he’s the first boy who’s ever asked me out.”

Sally and Angua breathed out together. Light dawned. Ah, that was the problem. And this one’s a baaaad case.

“I mean, my hair’s all over the place, my legs are too long and I know my bosom is far too…” Tawneee went on, but Sally had raised a quieting hand.

“First point, Tawneee…”

“My real name’s Betty,” said Tawneee, blowing a nose so exquisite that the greatest sculptor in the world would have wept to carve it. It went blort.

“First point, then … Betty” Sally managed, struggling to use the name, “is that no woman under forty-five…”

“Fifty,” Angua corrected.

“Right, fifty… no woman under fifty uses the word bosom to name anything connected to her. You just don’t do it.”

“I didn’t know that,” Tawneee sniffed.

“It’s a fact,” said Angua. And, oh dear, how to begin to explain the jerk syndrome? To someone like Tawneee, on whom the name Betty stuck like rocks to a ceiling? This wasn’t just a case of the jerk syndrome, this was it, the quintessential, classic, pure platonic example, which should be stuffed and mounted and preserved as a teaching aid for students in the centuries to come. And she was happy with Nobby!

Here we really start unpacking the character of Tawneee. She’s described as divinely beautiful, something that she doesn’t realize. She is clearly quite slow, but is kindhearted and humble in a way that defies revulsion.

We also see Pratchett’s take on gender in the concept of “jerk syndrome.” This is further defined later in the book, but essentially means the situation where a woman (or hypothetically a man) is so attractive that the opposite sex is too intimidated to ask her our, feeling he is far our of her league. In such cases, only a jerk who is too stupid to realize he is lesser than her will ask her out.

(A decent explanation of Jerk Syndrome can be found here )

Angua assumes Nobby is bad for Tawneee because he is remarkably ugly (the running joke being he must carry papers certifying he is indeed human) and she beautiful. This is how the main girls judge the situation, in very standard way, but Tawneee offers a quite different point-of-view. She appreciates Nobby for his kind personality (which seems to be, in fact, well established in Pratchett’s books). This clash of perspectives only helps to deepen the characters involved.

The scene concludes:

“What I’ve got to tell you now is…”she began, and faded in the face of the task, “is … Look, shall we have another drink? What’s the next cocktail on the menu?”

Cheery peered at it. “Pink, Big and Wobbly,” she announced.

“Classy! We’ll have four!”

Of course Pratchett felt the need to end the scene with a joke, which had me giggling. Its a good wrap-around to the original drink-name joke, and it also anchors the scene on its key discussion, sex and relationships. That is part of how Angua and Sally ended up at the bar, the former jealous of her significant other’s approval of the latter, the latter wanting to diffuse tensions with the former. What we get is an examination of the complexity of relationships and how simple concepts cannot fully explain human bonds and relationships. And we get some good humor at the same time.

This scene represents those aspects that draw me to Pratchett as a reader, as a devotee of strong and complex characters. The writing is not lofty, convoluted or self-important. It is direct, meaningful and humorous. That is the appeal of Pratchett. There is a reason why he has sold more than 80 million copies worldwide.

The literati might not like Terry Pratchett, but I love the man. I wonder how I will get by after finishing all the Dsicworld books. Only seven left. I get teary just thinking about it.

The scene analysis above is not thorough or deep, I just needed an excuse to share this great piece of writing with you!

Pratchett’s Thud!, Part 1