The world is flat

October 10, 2006

I’ve decided that the thing I really love about Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels is that my favorite is always the one I’ve read most recently. At the moment, that’s The Fifth Elephant. Because really, any author who makes the time to fold a pitch-perfect Chekov satire into the narrative without derailing any of the story’s momentum is my kind of author.

I’m not generally a fan of anachronisms. I’ve seen enough conceptualized productions of Shakespeare to actually develop a tic in response to some of it, whether it’s the women of Comedy of Errors striking Charlie’s Angels poses or Richard III humming “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as he wanders through scenographic rubble. It’s not that it can’t be done well; it’s just that it generally isn’t.

But the anachronisms in Pratchett’s books are generally delightful. He throws them in for no other apparent reason than that they might be a hoot; they almost always are. And since Pratchett is building his multifaceted world from scratch, I really can’t call them anachronisms, can I?

And the more of the books I read, the more impressed I am with the craft of them. At this point, Discworld is one of the most well-populated fantasy series on the shelves, and the huge cast of characters shows remarkable internal consistency. Pratchett knows how to shuffle them to keep things fresh, mixing and matching different temperaments and backgrounds to create new comic possibilities.

Sometimes I find the plots more admirable in their construction than interesting in their specifics, but there’s so much great throw-away stuff that it’s rarely a problem. With Discworld, I’ve completely abandoned my anal tendency to read a book series in order. There’s continuity, and it’s surprisingly stringent, but it’s just a nice part of the backdrop rather than a reader prerequisite. Like the good old days when a footnote would make me want to look up another Marvel or DC comic, a reference to a bit of cultural evolution makes me more interested in the books I haven’t read yet as opposed to puzzled by the one I’m reading. It’s a neat trick.