I realize that not many of you might know of Sir Terry, but he was, in my opinion, the finest English-language satirist of all time. His crowning achievement was the 40-books-full Discworld braid. It wasn’t a series, because the books weren’t necessarily designed to be read in any certain order. But they weren’t all stand-alone books either as each one used characters from other books. It was like life: Messy, busy and chock full of more amazing things than most people could find with both hands, a map and a GPS.
There are times in life when people must know when not to let go. Balloons are designed to teach small children this.
On the surface, the Discworld looked a lot like pre-industrial England, had a social structure of about the same, with lords and ladies and serfs and all, and resembled just about every single fantasy novel that had ever been written prior to Sir Terry beginning his work. You see, he enjoyed nothing more than taking the tropes and cliches of fantasy literature and subjecting them to the burning eye of daylight. He liked to rip away the cover of darkness, find the pomposity lurking underneath the silliness, and begin poking at it with very large, pointed sticks.
It was several books in to his Discworld braid that Sir Terry began to realize that the Discworld didn’t have to content itself with skewering only fantasy tropes, when there were so many cliches, so many horrible wardrobe choices, so many appalling people right outside his window that deserved to be finely skewered and roasted over the slow-burning coals of satire.
And it all started with the Discworld. A flat disc or a world, the round Discworld rested atop four gigantic elephants, which, in turn, stood astride a humongous turtle that swam through the depths of space. As silly as that seems, it once was one of the theories of what the actual Earth actually looked like. I like it much better when it’s serving as home to the characters that made these books come alive.
I have no use for people who have learned the limits of the possible.
There was a wizzard (spelled correctly. If you don’t believe me, just look at the man’s pointy hat.) who couldn’t do magic because one of the eight great spells that created the universe has set up camp inside his head and is blocking all lesser spells from getting in.
A clothing wardrobe named Luggage, with hundreds of horrible little legs, a snapping lid with a penchant for closing on the fingers (and toes and entire arms or legs) of the unwary, and a surprisingly lively love life for something that’s supposed to follow its owner around and give out fresh clothing.
A young girl who saves her brother and single-cast-iron-pandedly holds off an invasion of faeries. Although she did have a little help from a tribe of loud, unruly, frequently drunk, frequently cursing blue men of incredible strength. And each of them less than two inches tall.
And, of course, DEATH. The personification of death on the Discworld looked astonishingly like our idea of death: skull face, bony fingers, long black robe, large scythe. All the trimmings. But DEATH had an unusual fondness for the humans of Discworld, which, sadly, often didn’t turn out all that well.
The truth may be out there, but the lies are inside your head.
And then there was the tribe of mice who became intelligent and learned to talk once they ate garbage from the dump out back of the Unseen University, the Discworld’s preeminent school of magic. The mice would travel from town to town, breaking into homes and messing up the place. In each town, though, a young boy and cat would appear and offer to chase the mice away for a payment. Once the job was finished, the boy and the cat, who, after a delicious encounter with one of the mice, suddenly found himself able to speak and think and was far less hungry, would meet up with the mice and split the loot.
As much as I loved Sir Terry and his work, as much joy and wonder and wisdom and laughter as I found within the pages of his books, I wouldn’t be writing about him here if it weren’t for one thing. Sir Terry created some of the most amazing young reader books ever written.
The Wee Free Men (starring the aforesaid blue men) and The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents (starring the aforesaid intelligent mice, intelligent cat and a boy) were a revelation when I read them out loud.
See, when the Spawn of Our Loins were young, I used to sit with them for an hour every night and read to them from whatever book caught my eye or theirs. I would read them out loud, often using outrageous (and outrageously bad) accents. But it was with these two books that I really hit my stride. We all laughed so hard we had to stop and catch our breath nearly every page.
And you can get in on the ground floor of that. Go buy one of his books. Read it. Laugh and you can thank me later.
So much universe, and so little time.
Written by: Richard E.D. Jones