A couple of weeks ago, when a discussion popped up in the comment threads about Terry Pratchett, I asked for a good starting point when it comes to his work, since I’ve only read his collaborative novel with Neil Gaiman, Good Omens. I had no idea that he had written over forty books, many of which take place in the interconnected series Discworld. As much as I wanted to dive right in to the treasure trove of his collection, I was intimidated by the possibility of liking him so much that I had to read all of them immediately, which would really be more of a problem for you than it would be for me. I have an inkling that some of you might even get excited about a prolonged obsession like that, but probably the majority would prefer diversity in my selection (or possibility that my obsessive reading follow another author entirely). Whatever the case may be, one of the restrictions when writing a blog like this is that I feel an obligation to explore a more varied reading list rather than becoming completely immersed in one area.
The problem was, I couldn’t stop thinking about Pratchett. Although I didn’t know it back in the sixth grade when I was first introduced to Good Omens, much of the humor I loved in that novel undoubtedly came from Pratchett and not Gaiman (not that Gaiman doesn’t have his own brand of humor, but it’s one I appreciate more as an adult than I did as an eleven year old). A solution to my problem, however, presented itself, most fortuitously, in the form of Dodger, a new Pratchett novel that my mother recommended to me about a week ago. Because it was unattached to a larger series, I felt it was as safe a spot as any to dip into the ocean of his work.
I found the book captivating in that way only a particularly endearing YA novel can be. I’m not sure whether his intention was for it to appeal to that age, and it’s certainly a wonderful read for anyone, but it did remind me of a certain coziness I found in books when I was young. In fact, Good Omens has much the same element of comfort to it, and I think that if I reread it now (for the nineteenth or so time), it would be even clearer to me where the two men’s work overlap.
I was surprised though that I didn’t find the book laugh out loud funny. I was expecting it to be, possibly because the recommendations I got for his older novels hinted strongly at such a reaction. (I plan to find out just how hilarious he is when I get home and can pillage the bookshelves of several friends who are fans.) I wondered if it was related to the shift (necessitated due to early onset Alzheimer’s) from typing his own books to telling his stories via dictation.
It wouldn’t shock me at all to find a change like that had naturally occurred over the last few years. Dealing with the day-to-day reality of that particular disease while still writing one or two excellent, popular books a year? Honestly, I’m not sure he’s human. Both of my grandfathers died after many years living with Alzheimer’s, and I know all too well what that illness does to the brain. It chews it up and leaves a different person behind. It’s not a pretty thing, and having met people in their forties and fifties with early on-set Alzheimer’s, I know how quickly it can move. Pratchett’s book made me smile, it compelled me page after page, and it forced me to check Wikipedia to glean more information about the London history he was sharing; the fact that he can write such a wonderful book, whether it makes me laugh or not, after almost five years with this disease is nothing short of inspiring.
It reminds me of a truth that had gotten lost in the fog since their deaths, which is that even as my grandfathers got sicker, they still told stories. In fact, as conversation grew more difficult for them to follow, it was one of the only ways they could communicate. Those stories were a combination of memories, dreams, and a hint of reality – and if Dodger is anything, it is that. Pratchett creates a London that hovers playfully on the edges of history, and he writes a protagonist it’s impossible not to love. When I imagine him spinning this story aloud, I get lost in the tremendous potential of the human spirit, and I’m amazed anew at what a gifted storyteller can do.
For more about Terry Pratchett, head over here.