Okay, unless something jumps at me in the near future this is probably going to be the last entry into the Flatland Chronicles for a while. Yes, I intend to keep on reading these books, in fact I will probably reread all 39 volumes in the Discworld series, but what I wanted to address when I set out to write these posts was the genesis of that universe as seen with a bit of hindsight, and by now at least two of the three main story lines are firmly established. The wizards are pretty much fully formed and the same goes for the witches. The watch is still a bit embryonary, I’ll give you that, and neither Tiffany Aching nor Moist von Lipwig have made an appearance yet, and neither has Susan Sto Helit for that matter, but then again those three are not as critical as the others to the Discworld universe as a whole. In other words the basic framework is clearly in place… so now I would like to turn my attention to those stories that don’t quite fit. By that I mean the stand-alones, the misfits.
In a way I have to say that these are my favorite stories as they allow us to get a glimpse of those places we wouldn’t get to see otherwise. In fact when I read these books I get the feeling that they are a sort of relief for the author himself, allowing him to get into some issues that would be somewhat awkward otherwise. Yes, in the Discworld Terry Pratchett has created a wonderful edifice, but I suspect that at times such an edifice can also become a sort of prison in which the nature of the characters dictates the direction a given story must take. The stand-alone stories on the other hand, allow him to break free of those constraints, they allow him to color outside the lines and do as he pleases… or maybe they just allow him to play in his own backyard.
That was, at least, the feeling I had after rereading Small Gods, in which the author was also free to tackle the somewhat controversial issue of religion to an extent that would probably have been hard to match in one of the main stories. Let’s face it, while there are plenty of references to religious matters that are presented in an equally irreverent tone interspersed throughout the series, tackling it as directly in one of the primary story lines as he does here would have run the risk of derailing that storyline as a whole. No, the author’s opinion on the subject of religion is not different in this one than it is in the rest of the books, but at the same time religion is one of those subjects that has an annoying tendency to just take over… whether you want it to or not. By addressing it in a stand-alone book the author was able to deal with and then simply let it go in a way that may not otherwise have been possible.
Another thing I like is the fact that at times these books offer a sense of resolution that can be missing in those that are part of a longer story arch. These stories have a beginning, a middle and an end, and they don’t have to leave the door open for future installments, but still they most definitely fit into a greater whole… and the fact that they do, that they don’t seem to be tacked on as an afterthought, may well be the authors greatest accomplishment.