Monday, April 22, 2013

An embarrassment of riches

I’ve managed to read quite a few books to date and many of them have been interesting enough to earn at least a mention in this blog. Luckily, I don’t remember half of them. One would think it makes the task of selecting what to write about somewhat easier. It doesn’t. For this week’s post I had at least three books I thought would make interesting read and I couldn't decide which one to start with. So, in the end, I didn’t choose any of them but went with something completely different instead.

The reason for my change of heart was an interview with Sir Terry Pratchett that appeared on the Guardian today. I didn't really need another post about fantasy, but the timing was too good to ignore. And let's face it, I would have written about his books sooner or later anyway. So Discworld it is.

The problem is, again, choosing just one book. There are almost forty books in the Discworld series already, most of which I’ve liked well enough to read more than once. I’ve been reading them for so long that I don’t remember when I first encountered them or which book I started with. Thinking hard the whole day, I’ve narrowed it down to Guards! Guards! and Wyrd Sisters. Either one of them could have been the first, though with all honesty, it could have been any of the books translated to my language to that date (early nineties, perhaps). After the first book, I read everything that had already been translated, which wasn't much. So, Discworld books have the honour of being the first books I've read in English. I simply couldn't wait for them to be made available in my language. They didn't make an easy reading, the unique concepts alone made them challenging, but but the books were a good incentive to learn.

Guards! Guards! and Wyrd Sisters are both good books to write about. Funny and exciting – and very different from one another – they are the first introductions to what later became the staple in the books: the City Watch of Ankh-Morpork and the eccentric but loveable witches of the rural Lancre, one of the countries of Discworld. Both have been my favourites from the beginning; I’ve never been truly taken with the wizards of the Unseen University that feature in about fourth of the books.

So what’s the appeal then? What makes a series so interesting that a young girl would start reading books in a foreign language? They’re very funny and witty, for starters. Of course, when I was younger the satire seemed sharper than it does these days, but they still make me chuckle. Discworld itself is a very interesting creation and has got better over the years. Ankh-Morpork, especially, has grown to incredible proportions, getting more bizarre yet likeable with every book.

But the absolutely best thing about the books is their characters. They’re warm-hearted, likeable, witty and clever, often all in one package. Even the villains tend to be sympathetic and often turn out to be more than meets the eye. The hapless Rincewind usually wins the day in the end, if only by accident; Granny Weatherwax is such a formidable character that you simply have to like her; and Sam Vimes, the Commander of the City Watch is, at heart, a grumpy old cop, no matter who he is married to or what his title is these days. On top of that, there are all the comical or whimsical characters, like Corporal Nobbs who most likely is a human, and the Librarian of the Unseen University who no longer is a human.

The same characters return a book after a book and they evolve too. Discworld may be a caricature of our world, but people inhabiting it are more than that. They feel very real to the reader and I, for one, return to the books after all these years simply to find out what’s going on in their lives.

For a while, now, every new Discworld novel has been touted as the last. The next one, that will be published this fall, isn’t an exception, but I really wish it won’t be the end. Because I’m not done with Discworld and it's wonderful people yet. 

There isn't a proper Discworld movie yet, but there are a couple of TV series and animations. They're all nice, but not terribly exciting. Here's an episode of the animated Wyrd Sisters: