"DEAD POLICEMEN IN THE FORCE FOR 18 YEARS."
I NEVER COULD GET PAST THE FIRST CHAPTER OF TOLKIEN, EITHER!
- or -
Five reasons why people they will not like Terry Pratchett
Why they are Wrong
by Leo Breebaart
Leo Breebaart is the keeper of the Pterry flame, the gatherer
of the Net's Annotated Pratchett File and a lot lot of other
groovy Pratchett-related things included a totally zarjaz FTP
site. When I met him at some dull SciFi Convention some time ago
I asked him if perhaps he could be tempted to write a small
article sortof, well, more or less "about Terry Pratchett". He
did, and the result is to be found below.
In case you're interested in contacting, his email address is
Not everybody likes Terry Pratchett's writing. If you've read a
couple of his books, and decided you don't care for his style or
his humour, then that's your prerogative, and this article is
certainly not going to attempt to change your mind for you.
There are also quite a few people out there who have not
actually read any of Pratchett's books, and who have no intention
of doing so, because they think they already know why they are
not going to like the experience. This is still fair enough: Time
is precious, and we cannot afford judgements from personal
experience on everything in this world. Sometimes you just have
to do some filtering up front, basing yourself on second-hand,
What I have noticed again and again, however, is that some of
those premeditated reasons for not reading Terry Pratchett's work
aren't really based on actual fact. Instead, they are
misconceptions clustered around tiny grains of truth which have
subsequently been blown out of proportion. To me, not reading
Pratchett for these reasons is like dismissing Monty Python
because you didn't like Fawlty Towers.
In the following paragraphs, I'll attempt to clear up five of
the most persistent misconceptions I've encountered over the
years. Bear with me, and maybe you'll recognize some of them...
1. Oh, Terry Pratchett -- he's just another Douglas Adams
clone, isn't he?
If you want to describe Terry Pratchett's writing in a
nutshell, I suppose you could say: "What Adams does for
science fiction, Pratchett does for fantasy". They both
write funny books, they both incorporate elements of genre-
parody, and they both like the "one sane -- if slightly
naive -- person at large in an insane world" motif.
The similarity stops there. Terry Pratchett already had two
novels published when Douglas Adams wrote his first Hitch
Hiker's novel. I have no doubt that Adams gave the entire
humorous sf/fantasy genre a terrific boost in popularity
that Pratchett's first Discworld novels profited from, but
Terry's writing is simply not derivative of Adams. Period.
Generally, it is safe to say that if you like Adams, you'll
probably like Pratchett -- but if you *don't* like Adams,
don't be so sure that you'll dislike Pratchett as well.
2. Well, I can't stand 'fantasy'. Wizards and trolls and
dragons and stuff... Yuck!
This is a difficult one. Yes, the Discworld novels are about
a flat world that goes through space on the back of a giant
turtle, and yes, this world is populated by wizards, witches
and dwarfs, and yes, the first few Discworld novels were
fairly straightforward parodies of the fantasy genre. All
this is enough to turn many people permanently off --
fantasy is an acquired taste.
The reason why this shouldn't stop you from reading
Pratchett is simple: the humor transcends the genre. The
point is not that there are wizards and magic in these
books: the point is that they serve as a vehicle for a
universal kind of humor that has much more to do with our
real world than with fantasy. Exactly the same holds for
Douglas Adams and science fiction.
If you don't buy that argument, then just try reading some
of the novels that are *not* fantasy-based. There are
several Discworld novels ("Small Gods" and "Pyramids" come
to mind) that have hardly a wizard or a troll in them. There
are the Young Adult novels (the Nome books, the Johnny
Maxwell books), which take place on Earth and which, despite
the pigeonholing by the publishers, are as funny and as
mature as the 'adult' novels. "Good Omens", Terry's
collaboration with Neil Gaiman is also a good place to
start, and for cat lovers I'd recommend "The Unadulterated
Cat". Just try approaching the Pratchett canon sideways, as
3. I hate those people who write those 'part x in the epic 35-
book saga' series.
The Discworld is not so much a series as a universe. There
have been 17 novels set on the Discworld so far, and yes,
some (but by no means all!) of them feature recurring main
characters. However, you can read and enjoy each of these
books without having read any of the others.
A better comparison is perhaps with the Agatha Christie
universe: she wrote numerous Hercule Poirot books, numerous
Miss Marple books, but also numerous stand-alone novels, and
her best works can be found in each of the three categories.
And although you may enjoy a bit 'extra' context by reading,
say, the Poirot books in chronological order, each novel
forms a complete entity that can stand on its own.
4. I find most 'funny' novels so forced and tedious.
This is another difficult one to defuse, partly because it
is more true than the others. All the Terry Pratchett novels
have in common that there is a high gag-per-page quota, and
if you have a morbid dislike of puns or cute metaphors, or
'funny descriptions', you are indeed better off not wasting
your time with his work.
Having admitted that, though, I want to point out a few
mitigating factors you may not be aware of.
For one thing, Terry is not nearly as contrived as many
other authors. His characters tend to have normal names,
instead of puns, for instance. Lots of humor derives from
the plot and the characters, not just from funny situations.
And even though Pratchett writes escapist fiction (which
means that it isn't "literature", and that the good guys
always win in the end), many of his books have plots and
themes which, despite the surface humor, are quite serious
and thoughtful. Often his humor can have a sharp, even
downright painful bite to it, and in Pratchett's novels
people can get hurt or die -- even the good guys. As Terry
likes to put it himself: the Discworld is not funny at all
to the beings who live on it. This is partly what makes it
so funny to *us*.
If you think you'll like the more serious side of Terry, be
sure to avoid those Discworld novels which are primarily
gag-driven: "Moving Pictures" and "Soul Music" come to mind.
But try reading "Small Gods" or "Reaper Man", and you may be
5. But, but, but... he's so *popular*! And he writes so
quickly! Surely he can't be any good?
Currently, Terry Pratchett is one of Britain's most popular
authors. He has completely crossed over from the sf/fantasy
ghetto into the mainstream, and all his novels become
guaranteed best-sellers. If you refuse to read his work
because you think being so successful is just not cool
enough, then I have nothing more to say to you.
Being worried by Terry's incredibly huge output rate is a
different matter: Pratchett is a very prolific writer: in
the last 9 years he wrote 23 novels, and that's not counting
the numerous side projects he's done.
It may seem reasonable to fear he's just a hack writer who
cranks them out as quickly as possible for the masses. All I
can answer to this is: *I* don't think this is the case.
He's a gifted writer who happens to be capable of an
unusually high output, without jeopardizing the quality of
what he writes, and without, for instance, evidence of
burnout in his later work.
Some of those 23 novels are all-time favourites of mine,
some are just average, and some I don't like very much. But
every single one of them contains something worth reading;
and the range of jokes, puns, parodies, plots, themes, and
characters is astonishing. The reason why Terry Pratchett is
so universally appealing is that he is indeed a very, very
good writer. I hope he'll be able to keep it up for a long
time, and if my apologetic ramblings have caused even one
member of my current audience to re-evaluate his or her
decision not to read Pratchett, I will consider this a job
well done. Happy reading!
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.