After thinking it over for a while I decided to tackle the Oz books. Like a lot of people I grew up being familiar with The Wizard of Oz, only when I read it a few days ago I realized that the version I had read as a child was an adaptation (apparently someone had decided that the book had to be dumbed down even further, and as a child I was unaware of that fact). In addition to that my memories of the book had somehow managed to get tangled with those of the movie, and the end result was that all of a sudden I found myself being confronted with a book that was not like I had been expecting it to be. No, it’s not great, but it is still an interesting read, and I realize that complaining that a children’s book comes across as being a little childish for my liking is more than a little silly.
Anyway, once I was done with The Wizard of Oz I moved on to the rest of the series. So far I have only read a few titles (most of them can be downloaded from Project Gutenberg), and while at times I find myself itching for something that is at least a little more challenging, coming in the aftermath of my rereading the whole Discworld series, these books make for an interesting precedent. Sure, there are a number of significant differences, and I can already hear the howls from the Discworld fans at the mere thought of this comparison, but in a way it is not that much of a stretch to see the Oz books as the grandparents of both the Discworld and even the Middle-earth (and yes, like all grandparents, this one too can come across as a little embarrassing at times). The imagination is there, and I can see a lot of potential, but in a way that is what makes these books so frustrating: yes, the pieces are there, now if only the author would do something with them.
Well, like I said, grandparents can and do come across as rather old-fashioned at times, so I guess that is to be expected… and the bottom line is that, as embarrassing as the can be, there is no denying that knowing our grandparents can help us understand who we are and where we come from. No, I’m not sure these books would be appealing to children who are old enough to read them nowadays, and for adults they are mostly a curiosity, but if you are into the history of fantasy and children’s lit, these books are definitely worth it (and from what I have seen so far I suspect that The Wizard of Oz is not the best one of the lot).
Okay, now that I’m done rereading the Discworld series the thing that jumps at me is the fact that even though this is supposed to be a single series with a number of different protagonists, in a very real sense it could be said that these are two series that take place in what is nominally a single universe, and I don’t mean just because of the different protagonists.
Sure, we have the wizards, the witches (including Tiffany Aching), DEATH, the City Watch and the Moist von Lipwig books, plus a number of stand-alones, and in a way the presence of these different protagonists serves to mask the fact that there is a far more significant division: On the one hand we have the wizards, the witches and to a certain extent DEATH, while on the other we have the City Watch, the Moist von Lipwig books and some of the stand-alones (such as The Truth). Books on the first group deal mostly with the Discworld as such, while those in the second are focused primarily on the societies that inhabit that world (especially Ankh-Morpork), and in quite a few instances the nature of the world doesn’t even rank as a footnote.
Oh, the distinction is never all that rigid. The wizards are an integral part of Ankh-Morpork society, the Librarian is a member of the City Watch, and one of the many parodies of modernity is HEX, but over all I still feel that that distinction holds. Still, in the end I have to say that one of the things I enjoyed the most about the series as a whole was the way in which the author was able to handle the fact that he had basically outgrown his original premise.
These are books that are well worth rereading, though like all books they both lose and gain in the process… though in this case I have to say that the gains were more significant than the losses.
And I just finished reading Snuff. That means that in a couple of days you are probably going to get stuck with a final entry into The Flatland Chronicles. Over all I have to say that rereading the Discworld books was well worth it, as it allowed me to see some things I had missed the first time around and it provided me with a different perspective. Unfortunately it also had a bit of a downside, though I realize that saying that as I went over them again the books feel somewhat predictable would be silly.
I am currently reading Making Money, and I have come to realize two things. The first is that I love the Moist von Lipwig books (maybe because there are only a two of them), the second is that there is a book that is missing in the Discworld series, one that chances are will never be written but that I would most definitely love to see, and that is one around the character of Harry King!
Okay, I am in the last few books of the Discworld series, in fact I just finished Thud! Over all I love the City Watch (it is one of my favorite series), but in this particular case I felt that the book was a little too Sam-centric for comfort. Yes, Vimes is the heart of the watch, and to add an additional subplot would have added a needless layer on top of what is already a pretty complex structure, but at the same time, given the subject matter and the relevance of dwarf culture and history in this one I would have liked to see a little more of Carrot (and maybe even Cheery) in this one.
I know that doing something like that would have been a fundamental change, and seeing how I like the book, it might well have ended up doing more harm than good (we’ll never know), but it is something that nagged me a bit throughout (as to the question of what could have been cut to make room for such a change, I think a little less time might have been spent in the Nobby Nobbs subplot, and that one of the readings of Where Is My Cow? might have been trimmed a little without inflicting any serious damage).
Oh well, it is still a great read, and seeing it in contrast to the way in which the Discworld as a whole was depicted some thirty books ago is definitely worth it.
Okay, so I haven’t posted an update on what I’m reading for what feels like ages. I’m still going over the Discworld series (and I’m still enjoying it). I am currently up to Going Postal, that would be book 33 out of 39 for those who are not particularly familiar with that universe. I think chances are that I will finish with the series before the year is out, though I will probably reread Nation and The Nomes Trilogy after that, so I may be in Pratchett mode until January.
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. Continue reading I stand alone (The Flatland Chronicles, part 4)
And after a few interruptions we are back to the Discworld theme. In fact now we come to Moving Pictures. The movie buff in me absolutely loved it, the reader in me… not so much. Oh, it was still hilarious, don’t get me wrong, and I loved all the little nods at the history of film, but there was still a level at which somehow I felt that this book failed to connect, the problem is that I am not exactly sure why.
Maybe it is the fact that there are some rather superfluous subplots that I found somewhat distracting (like the whole thousand elephants thing), or maybe it is the fact that the ‘almost mirroring our world’ jokes were repeated once too often for my liking (‘banged grains’ anyone?), I’m not really sure. In fact it may just be due to the fact that, with the exception of Rincewind and the Librarian, I have always had a little trouble relating to the wizards as a whole, and at times I feel like they are one running joke that has been kept running for a bit too long. Sure, they are entertaining enough, but there is only so much you can do with slapstick comedy, and compared with the other characters in this particular universe I feel that they lack a certain depth. They are the wizards, but in a way that’s all they are, they don’t really contribute anything. The City Watch is a link to the city of Ankh-Morpork as a whole and a mosaic that offers us a glimpse into its different cultures in microcosm, the Witches and Tiffany Aching are a link to the folklore of the Discworld and Death is death… even the couple of stories in the Moist von Lipwig series have a clearly defined aim, but at times the wizards come across as little more than a source of comic relief. The problem is that to be able to provide that comic relief there has to be something bigger than they are –something for them to provide comic relief from– and if that something is missing they can easily wind up dragging a whole story down. That is what I suspect happened in Moving Pictures. If it had remained as a mostly standalone story with the character of Victor, and maybe the Librarian, as the only links to Unseen University this would almost certainly have been one of the best books in the whole series, instead it ends up falling somewhat flat, and that is particularly frustrating because the first half of this thing was great.
Of course, I realize that my not-quite-dislike of the wizards is a matter of personal preference that may well say more about me than it does about the books and characters, but it is an issue that does play a role in how I perceive this series, and seeing how this is supposed to be my blog, well, my personal preferences are bound to come into play.
And now for the second installment of ‘the flatland chronicles’. As I mentioned the last time around, I am currently rereading the Discworld series, and a couple of days ago I finished ‘Guards! Guards!’ Seeing how this is the first book in the whole ‘City Watch’ series it is also probably among the best suited to serve as an introduction to the Discworld universe as a whole. Yes, the members of the watch still have some growing up left to do (Carrot’s commas are almost invariably in the wrong place in this one), but at least the characters that are actually there are clearly recognizable, and the Discworld itself comes across as being more fully fleshed than it was in ‘The Colour of Magic’.
As for the book itself, one of the things that caught my attention was how Monty Pythonesque some scenes actually were. A perfect example of this would be the first secret society scene, which I felt would have been right at home in either ‘The Life of Brian’ or in ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’. Yes, it can be said that Monty Python is one of Pratchett’s most obvious influences throughout the series anyway, but in addition to that there is something about the Watch’s storylines themselves that makes them particularly well suited for such treatment (or at least that was the case at first, though even as the book progressed and the author grew more comfortable with his own characters that influence seemed to become a little more nuanced).
Oh, the fact that an author will grow more comfortable with a book’s characters as s/he becomes more acquainted with them is not really all that unusual, but the sheer extent of the Discworld series, and the fact that there wasn’t a single overarching story that the author wanted to tell when he set out to write this whole thing in the first place, combined to give him an unusual degree of freedom, and it also provided the rest of us with a particularly interesting case study in character maturation. That is, as far as I am concerned, one of the things you can get out of rereading this series (in case you need an excuse beyond the obvious entertainment value of the books themselves, that is).
After thinking it over for a while I decided to go back to the beginning and reread at least the first few books of the Discworld series… though I’m not ruling out the possibility of going over the whole thing again (in case you were wondering, I am currently in book 7, Pyramids). So far I have to say that it has been a very revealing experience, one that has given me an interesting perspective to how that particular universe has developed. One of the most interesting details that jumps out on a second reading is how vague Terry Pratchett’s idea seems to have been when The Colour of Magic was first published (or rather how far has his original idea come since then). Oh, there are some familiar elements. The Luggage is there, as is a prototypical Rincewind, who at times is barely recognizable… okay, he is not quite irrecognizable but he is clearly different from the character he will eventually become (in fact it could be argued that it is not until we get to Sourcery that he becomes the wizzard we know and love). As for Ankh-Morpork, the city is barely outlined, if at that… but then again, even though Ankh-Morpork serves as a starting point, it is not the main stage for this one.
On the other hand, while Rincewind and Ankh-Morpork are embryonic at best, the nature of the Discworld as such is front and center in a way it is not in later books. This is not surprising considering that the nature of that world is the starting point of the whole thing, and I suspect that one of the best decisions the author ever made was precisely the one allowing that nature to fade into the background. Sure, that nature never really goes away, and it remains a critical element of the story throughout –the series is called, after all, Discworld— but as amusing as the basic premise happens to be, by itself it probably wouldn’t have been enough to carry an almost forty book series. It was only when the disc was set aside that the world as such, with all of its assorted characters, was allowed to flourish.
Needing a breather from the pile of manure that The Land of Mist seems to be at times (er… no, I’m not enjoying that one), and taking full advantage of what seemed like a perfectly timed release, yesterday I turned my attention to Terry Pratchett’s latest opus: The World of Poo. The contrast was remarkable. No, this little gem does not pretend to be a masterpiece, though Young Sam Vimes wouldn’t hesitate to label it as such, and it is certainly not for everyone… in fact a good rule of thumb would be that, if you don’t know who young Sam happens to be, you may as well steer clear from this one.
For the uninitiated, please keep in mind that there is no ‘h’ at the end of the title. In other words, if you are looking for a cute teddy bear you are likely to be disappointed. The book is exactly what it sounds like: a tale of a boy’s inquiries into everything pertaining to one of those activities that are common to both kings and beggars as he assembles a collection that he hopes to turn into a rather unique museum… I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.
As you can probably guess, this is a mock-children’s book. It is also a tie-in to the Discworld series, especially Snuff. No, it is not a must-read, not even for Discworld fans (in fact at times it feels like an attempt to milk hardcore fans for everything they are worth), but it is certainly enjoyable… if you are in the right frame of mind.