Saturday, January 16, 2016

Terry Pratchett thinks there's something wrong with my head

So, recently I've been working my way thorough an old issue of THE SCIENCE FICTION CHRONICLE I turned up in the box room. Bought years ago (April 2002) and only skimmed at the time, it makes for a kind of time capsule. Among other things I read about Pullman's winning the Whitbread award; about an author who'd sold a story to THE LAST DANGEROUS VISIONS before he was thirty pulling it back now he'd reached the age of sixty (a wise move, given that fourteen years on the book still hasn't appeared); a snippy tirade from the magazine's editor about his refusal to use the term 'sci-fi'; and Michael Moorcock dissing the Peter Jackson movies, and the books they were based on, and more or less the horse they came in on.

More surprisingly, there's a snip from Terry Pratchett dissing Tolkien. It appears in the Newsnotes section as a paragraph under the header 'Other Stuff':

Terry Pratchett
on England's The South Bank Show,
shown on the USA cable channel Bravo, stated, 
"At 17, if you don't think Lord of the Rings is 
the greatest contribution to literature 
there's something wrong with your head. 
If you still think that at 50, 
there's definitely something wrong with your head"

[SCIENCE FICTION CHRONICLE, ed. Andrew Porter, April 2002 issue, p. 24]

This quote is all the more unexpected, given that the late Sir Terry was well-know for being an unabashed admirer of JRRT's work (and also Tolkien's personal example of answering his fan mail).

I have to say I disagree with both halves of Pratchett's equation, but that's a discussion for another time.

But in the context of finding a piece about how judgments shd change over time which was itself an old quote from someone who's now passed on, it perhaps inevitably got me thinking about Discworld itself, and how well it stands up now, thirty years on. Especially since earlier this week I'd picked up THE SHEPHERD'S CROWN, described on the inside flap of its dust jacket as 'The Final Discworld Novel'.

I was an early adapter, having discovered the series thr my friend Richard West (thanks, Richard) when 'the series' consisted of just two books, and the most surprising thing about it was (a) how amazingly well he skewered the cliches of that era's fantasy and (b) that the first book had a sequel at all, given how thoroughly it seemed to have disposed of its main point-of-view character (by having his adventures on the flat world end with his falling over the edge). Pratchett tends to be one of those authors who people either like a lot, or don't like at all; not much middle ground. I like him a lot, and read through the first thirty books in the series pretty much as soon as I cd get ahold of each one -- and much else besides, including the underrated JOHNNY AND series and the overrated Pratchett/Gaiman collaboration GOOD OMENS. In fact, for a long time I'd read all of Pratchett except one early novel, DARK SIDE OF THE SUN, which I was saving because once I'd read it, there'd be nothing new left of his to read.

Over time, however, I found my attention drifting. The Discworld series had early on split into sub-series (Rincewind's adventures, the Witches, the Death books, the Night Guard) or even sub-sub-series (Tiffany Aching), et al. The books had always been uneven, with hits (THE LIGHT FANTASTIC, MORT, WYRD SISTERS, SMALL GODS, SOUL MUSIC, NIGHT WATCH) and misses (EQUAL RITES, SOURCERY, PYRAMIDS, WITCHES ABROAD, THE AMAZING MAURICE, THE WEE FREE MEN), but it seemed to me that the misses were piling up. It felt like the characters I liked best (e.g., Rincewind) were fading into the background and new series characters I wasn't much interested in (Moist Van Lipwig, Tiffany Aching)  rising to dominate the series in their place.

 So I took a break.  Having, as I said, read all the books up to about MONSTROUS REGIMENT (2003),   I've only read three of the last ten Discworld bks, and only one of the various recent non-series titles (NATION: his angry book). Now, having just read the final book in the series (and the fifth in the Wee Free sub-series), I'm in the mood for some Pratchett again, and plan to read some of the ones I missed (e.g. RAISING STEAM, UNSEEN ACADEMICALS, poss. I SHALL WEAR MIDNIGHT) as well as re-read a few old favorites. We'll see how it goes: whether Pratchett holds up in the way he doesn't seem to think Tolkien held up (still disagree w. him on that one) or whether a good book is a good book, whenever you read it.

--John R.
just read: THE SHEPHERD'S CROWN, by Terry Pratchett [2015]
currently reading: CELTIC HEATHDOM by Sir John Rhys [1888],  and STORIES FROM ANCIENT CANAAN, tr/ed Coogan & Smith [2nd ed., 2012]


David Bratman said...

Pratchett's line sounds similar in form to the old saw, "If you're not a liberal at 20, you have no heart; if you're not a conservative by 50, you have no brain."

I don't place much stock in that sentiment, however, especially because it is said to be of British origin, and by its standards William Gladstone would have had neither heart nor brain, and I don't consider that a tenable conclusion.

Formendacil said...

Given that Pratchett was otherwise known as a Tolkien admirer and given that he was approximately fifty at the time of the quote, is it possible he was having a joke at his own expense?

Marcel R. Aubron-Bülles said...

I think Pterry was one of those writers who could have made some decent argument on almost any topic involving writing (particularly the fantasy kind) but I think he even more appreciated pulling everybody's leg.

And let's be honest - if every bloody journalist asked you "about that Tolkien bloke" - sometimes you just want to have a witty comment ready *g*

Case in point?