Welcome to the Teen Librarian stop on the Terry Pratchett Farewell Tour, lovingly organised by the fantastic Viv Dacosta.
This was supposed to be a review of Dodger by Pterry (that is included) but when chatting to some dear friends who are also massive fans and regular visitors to the Discworld I thought I would invite them in to play today.
Starting off with one of the best librarians I know and a wonderful human being Caroline Fielding
I read Jim‘s Top 10 Discworld characters as part of the Terry Pratchett blog tour (YAYeahYeah) and it got me thinking about the characters that I love, including those on his list. I realised that a lot of my favourites are those that are completely essential to the series but might only actually play the tiniest of roles when it comes to the plot, or feature for a brief time. Some of them appear in books I haven’t read for 10 years or more but they’ve stuck in my brain. So here, in no particular order, are my
Nominations for Best Supporting Character:
The Luggage: I miss Rincewind and the Luggage…featuring from the very beginning of the Colour of Magic, this chest made of sapient pearwood brings nothing but distress into the life of cowardly wizard Rincewind.
Vimes’ Dis-Organizer: It can tell the time in Klatch, remember your appointments, and use precognition to know your upcoming appointments will occur before you do…causing some consternation when it follows the wrong timeline.
Hex: the computer designed by Ponder Stibbons and his team of nerdy wizards. Stibbons denies that Hex can think for itself, but is constantly worried by the additions Hex seems to make to itself, and when the FTB (Fluffy Teddy Bear) is removed it throws a wobbler!
Bergholt Stuttley ‘Bloody Stupid’ Johnson: doesn’t actually feature in any of the stories having died many years previously, but his creations crop up regularly, most notably the Archchancellor’s shower! Pratchett described him as an ‘inverse genius’.
Death of Rats: Once a part of Death, he remained after the events of Reaper Man and is able to make himself understood with a one-syllable sound: SQUEAK, with the occasional emphasis of an EEK-EEK, and the help of the raven Quoth.
The Canting Crew: “Millennium Hand and Shrimp”. Need I say more? Well, maybe – the beggars that even beggars avoid, Foul Ole Ron and his comrades feature in a number of the books, sharing their alternative view of the world.
Leonardo of Quirm: locked up in the Patrician’s dungeons, he’s quite content just doodling out his inventions that could very easily accidentally start (or end) wars…
Drumknott: Lord Vetinari’s Clerk, the perfect civil servant, relishes order and protocol but knows exactly what Vetinari wants. This quote from Going Postal sums him up perfectly:
‘…we would not normally have started individual folders at this time,’ Drumknott was agonizing. ‘You see, I’d merely have referenced them on the daily-‘
‘Your concern is, as ever, exemplary,’ said Vetinari. ‘I see, however, that you have prepared some folders’
‘Yes, my lord. I have bulked some of them out with copies of Clerk Harold’s analysis of pig production in Genua, sir.’ Drumknott looked unhappy as he handed over the card folders. Deliberately misfiling ran fingernails down the blackboard of his very soul.
Igor: a number of Igors pop up, coming from an extremely extended family in Überwald and mainly working as servants for mad scientists although they are great medics, ably performing emergency surgery, including in particular transplants, with one particular Igor having made it onto the City Watch in Ankh Morpork.
CMOT Dibbler: the Del Boy of the Discworld, starting out selling ‘sausage inna bun’ on the streets of Ankh Morpork, he regularly dabbles in new initiatives and trades. CMOT stands for “selling this at such a low price that it’s cutting me own throat” One of the things I love most is all the relatives of his that pop up across the Disc with very similar sales techniques.
My second guest, like Caroline is another excellent librarian and someone you will want next to you if you ever find yourself in a foxhole. I have known Shaun Kennedy for half my life now and he is here to share his memories of Terry Pratchett:
Only in our dreams are we free.
The first book by Terry Pratchett I read was Pyramids, after that came Mort. And then, well you know what they say about eating Pringles? It applies here too.
I first met Terry in 1999 when he did a signing tour through South Africa. I was working a weekend job and convinced my co-workers that I had to be somewhere important and they covered for me – after all, it’s not every day an internationally acclaimed author you’re a fan of comes to town. To this day I am not even sure if I ever told them where I went and why.
After moving to London in 2005 I met my now-wife, who back then wasn’t a Pratchett fan. At the time she worked for a membership organisation and was involved in running events all over the country. A few months later I got told that one Terry Prachett was going to be one of the main guests at an event they were running. It turned out that as I was one of the few people that knew anything about his books, they wanted me to the stand where the Pratchett books were going to be sold to answer questions. I say yes because I didn’t have anything better to do.
Then I got told that I would be looking after him while he was at the event!
That Saturday I will never forget. After having spent a couple hours of helping people choose books to buy, the main organiser came over with Terry in tow and introduced me to him. I managed to remain calm and professional and asked if he needed anything. To which he replied that he wanted to wander around and have a look at the stalls. I asked if he wanted me to accompany him, but he declined and said he was happy to meander around until his talk. And he was off and I went back to answering questions about which book came first.
About five minutes later I realised that there was a queue going past the stall and I went to investigate. I’m not sure how it started, but at the end of the line I found Terry signing books for attendees while juggling his jacket and hat. Fearing that he had been ambushed, I asked if he was okay signing for people as there was a signing scheduled later in the day. But he waved me off saying. I offered to keep his jacket and hat safe so he had his hands free. Terry gave me his jacket and proceeded to ask the people in the queue if I was trustworthy before he would consider giving me the hat.
Fortunately most of the people said they knew me and I headed back to the book stall with the coat and hat. I didn’t see him again until I was told to find him and take him to the green room. I think the organiser thought I was doing a bad job watching Terry. I got him back to the green room and we chatted to a while on various topics including his trip to South Africa. I remember him quizzing me about why I had become a librarian. Turns out he was rather fond of librarians on the whole. I wouldn’t have guessed.
After the talk we moved onto the signing. I think it was the first time I had ever seen a queue go across two floors of a venue. Everyone patiently waited to have their books signed – I think it was because Terry gave as much time to the first people whose books he signed to those who were at the end of the queue and they knew this. Well, those who had been at one of his signing did anyway.
I never did get to see Terry off though, I was called away because of an emergency and by the time it was resolved he’d already left.
One thing I have learnt is that Terry Pratchett’s works, and in particular the Discworld books, resonate with a lot of people. Personally I think this is because the characters are written as unique individuals with their own experiences. When I read a book the characters feel alive and like old friends who are telling me about what they got up to while we have been separate. I am going to miss reading about new adventures, but I will always happily have them retell stories I’ve heard before.
The other thing I’ve learnt is that, except for my manager, I’ve yet to meet a librarian who has never read a Pratchett book. Last year I was fortunate enough to run a Discworld role-playing game for a bunch of librarians and they had so much fun being oddball characters in the Watch.
I have to admit that while I do love the Chief Librarian, my favourite character is Sam Vimes.
I grew into the reader I am thanks in no small part to the Discworld books, I also read (and loved) the Johnny Maxwell trilogy, the Bromeliad, The Carpet People, Nation and The Dark Side of the Sun. Dodger was different, I purchased it (as I always did) on its day of release in 2012 and then it sat on my shelf. It is weird, I have one reading rule and that is nothing comes before a Pratchett. I have no idea why I did not devour it immediately – perhaps because it was not a Discworld book but whatever the reason (and maybe there was not one) the book sat, pristine and unread on my shelf until this year when Viv sent the call out for people interested in getting involved with the blog tour. It was then that I picked it up and decide that I should do this in memory of him!
The cover is a Paul Kidby masterpiece, Dodger rising from a manhole, tipping his hat with a cheeky grin and a straight-razor in his left hand. The background is recognisably London with Saint Paul’s Cathedral towering over tenement blocks and huddled figures. The Victorian marbled end papers are a wonderful touch making the book a thing of beauty to behold. The book is written in a Victorian style, including chapter headings (Terry is famously dismissive of chapters) there are also footnotes – a quirk of his that I love dearly.
However it was the writing that captured me, the story opening with Dodger leaping from the sewers to save a damsel in distress from peril at the hands of dastardly villains. Dodger is a wonderful example of Terry Pratchett’s writing, his books are amazing, not because of the background, setting or sometimes awful puns but because of the characters, he writes people so well. Dodger mixes real and fictional characters in a satisfying melange of crime, mystery, politics and heroism. Dodger is a great starting point for readers new to Terry Pratchett’s work and a wonderful read for established fans.
Finally, I want to share the cartoon I drew as a tribute to Terry Pratchett on the afternoon of his death. It was either create something or dissolve into a puddle of misery on my work desk; it is a good thing that I don’t work in an office or I may have closed the door and had a good cry.