Welcome to a magical world populated by the usual fantasy fare: elves and ogres, wizards and witches, dwarves and trolls. But wait -- is that witch wielding a frying pan rather than a broomstick? Has that wizard just clumsily tumbled off the edge of the world? And what is with the dwarf they call Carrot, who just so happens to stand six-foot six-inches tall? Why, this is not the usual fantasy fare at all -- this is Terry Pratchett's delightfully twisted Discworld!
Beloved British writer Pratchett first jump-started his career while working as a journalist for Bucks Free Press during the '60s. As luck would have it, one of his assignments was an interview with Peter Bander van Duren, a representative of a small press called Colin Smythe Limited. Pratchett took advantage of his meeting with Bander van Duren to pitch a weird story about a battle set in the pile of a frayed carpet. Bander van Duren bit, and in 1971 Pratchett's very first novel, The Carpet People, was published, setting the tone for a career characterized by wacky flights of fancy and sly humor.
Pratchett's take on fantasy fiction is quite unlike that of anyone else working in the genre. The kinds of sword-and-dragon tales popularized by fellow Brits like J.R.R. Tolkein and C. S. Lewis have traditionally been characterized by their extreme self-seriousness. However, Pratchett has retooled Middle Earth and Narnia with gleeful goofiness, using his Discworld as a means to poke fun at fantasy. As Pratchett explained to Locus Magazine, "Discworld started as an antidote to bad fantasy, because there was a big explosion of fantasy in the late '70s, an awful lot of it was highly derivative, and people weren't bringing new things to it."
In 1983, Pratchett unveiled Discworld with The Color of Magic. Since then, he has added installments to the absurdly hilarious saga at the average rate of one book per year. Influenced by moderately current affairs, he has often used the series to subtly satirize aspects of the real world; the results have inspired critics to rapturous praise. ("The most breathtaking display of comic invention since PG Wodehouse," raved The Times of London.) He occasionally ventures outside the series with standalone novels like the Johnny Maxwell Trlogy, a sci fi adventure sequence for young readers, or Good Omens, his bestselling collaboration with graphic novelist Neil Gaiman.
Sadly, in 2008 fans received the devastating news that Pratchett had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's. He has described his own reaction as "fairly philosophical" and says he plans to continue writing so long as he is able.
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Pratchett's bestselling young adult novel Only You Can Save Mankind was adapted for the British stage as a critically acclaimed musical in 2004.
Discworld is not just the subject of a bestselling series of novels. It has also inspired a series of computer games in which players play the role of the hapless wizard Rincewind.
A few fun outtakes from our interview with Pratchett:
"I became a journalist at 17. A few hours later I saw my first dead body, which was somewhat... colourful. That's when I learned you can go on throwing up after you run out of things to throw up."
"The only superstition I have is that I must start a new book on the same day that I finish the last one, even if it's just a few notes in a file. I dread not having work in progress.
"I grow as many of our vegetables as I can, because my granddad was a professional gardener and it's in the blood. Grew really good chilies this year.
"I'm not really good at fun-to-know, human interest stuff. We're not ‘celebrities', whose life itself is a performance. Good or bad or ugly, we are our words. They're what people meet.
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In the fall of 2004, Terry Pratchett took some time out to talk with us about some of his favorite books, authors, and interests.
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
There are so many. Doesn't everyone say that? But The Wind In the Willows by Kenneth Grahame was surely the biggest influence, because it was the first book I read for pleasure rather than as a school chore. It got me reading -- within a week, I was haunting the local library.
What are your ten favorite books, and what makes them special to you?The Napoleon of Notting Hill by G. K. Chesterton -- For teaching me how to see the world. To Chesterton, even a quiet street was a world of fantasy and a street lamp more precious that a star (because there's a universe full of stars, compared to which street lamps are really uncommon.
Roughing It by Mark Twain -- The true story, for a given value of "truth" of his time out West working for his brother in Nevada during the silver rush. The sheer texture of it is a delight; I hadn't believed the West was like this.
Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome -- A style reminiscent of Twain, I always think. The ironic voice of the slightly detached observer became one of the foundation stones of much British and US humour, or even humor. I read it with some care. It may have been the first time I was consciously aware of irony.
The Evolution Man by Roy Lewis -- The funniest science fiction book ever -- and, although every single character is an ape man, it's the pure quill of science fiction. It's about the Faustian bargains we have with out big brains. Read it now!
The Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable in all its many editions -- The first reference book I ever bought, and one that open my eyes to the complexity of myth.
The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin -- Changed my life when I read it at age 13. It was better than science fiction! It showed me that the world was a far more wonderful and interesting place than I'd suspected. Harking back to Chesterton, I found evolution more magnificent than Eden; I found it more wonderful to be a rising ape that a falling angel.
The Specialist by Charles Sale -- A very slim volume about a man who builds privies. It taught me that humour is a lot more than gags; you can grow a gag on a damp flannel, but humour needs a deep soil. You don't laugh when you read this book, you smile and feel good.
George Cayley: A Biography by J. Lawrence Pritchard -- Impressed the heck out of me when I was 16. Cayley was a mid-Victorian inventor who pioneered the science of aeronautics. He built the first known man-carrying glider since antiquity, flying model aircraft powered by minute steam engines, and would have build a man-sized one in the internal combustion engine had been around at the time. Count Zeppelin and the Wright Brothers acknowledged his genius. But now, hardly anyone remembers him. Again, it was one of those books that taught me the sheer variety of the world, and triggered a lifelong interest in the history of technology
Penguin Science Fiction Brian Aldiss, ed. -- No, not penguins in space, but the publishing company's daring foray into that icky science fiction stuff in 1961. It was the first science fiction book I ever bought; I still have it, although now it smells like the air inside a pyramid. Lucky me -- because it contains a double handful of the best stories from the best writers. I was hooked.
The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson -- Gothic Horror I found on my granny's bookshelf. It scared the pants off me, although now in the world of schlock horror the basic action looks tame. But it evoked deep time, the passage of billions of years (all watched by our hero from a window in the house). Odd though it was, it was the first books that gave me a feel for how old the universe is.
What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?
Alien 2 because it was so tightly crafted, Time Bandits simply because it was so funny, and, Bubba Ho-tep, a gem made on a budget that'd probably make one second of The Matrix. You've got to love a movie where an elderly Elvis Presley (he didn't die) and John F. Kennedy (well, that's what he says) join together to save their old folks' rest home from a soul-sucking Egyptian mummy who wears a Stetson.
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
For first drafts, Jim Steinman. For careful editing, something a capella. I've got wide tastes, but I don't like jazz.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
Usually, they're history books. Long after my schooldays, I found I was really interested in it; school never told me it was interesting.
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
A cup of tea, maybe? I was a journalist, and learned to write anywhere.
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
Sorry, I sold my first story and my first novel. But I had to wait about 20 years to become an overnight success.
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
Don't talk about it, just write. And read widely, and think about what you read. And let grammar, spelling and punctuation enter your life.
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|Terry Pratchett Home
Good to Know
|Dark Side Of The Sun, 1976|
|The Color of Magic, 1983|
|The Light Fantastic, 1988|
|Equal Rites, 1988|
|The Bromeliad Trilogy: Truckers, 1990|
|Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, 1990|
|Wyrd Sisters, 1990|
|Guards! Guards!, 1990|
|The Bromeliad Trilogy: Diggers, 1991|
|The Bromeliad Trilogy: Wings, 1991|
|Moving Pictures, 1992|
|Reaper Man, 1992|
|Witches Abroad, 1993|
|Small Gods, 1994|
|Lords and Ladies, 1995|
|Men At Arms, 1996|
|Soul Music, 1996|
|Interesting Times, 1997|
|Feet of Clay, 1997|
|The Johnny Maxwell Trilogy, 1998|
|The Last Continent, 1999|
|Carpe Jugulum, 1999|
|The Fifth Elephant, 2000|
|Thief of Time, 2001|
|The Last Hero, 2001|
|The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, 2001|
|Night Watch, 2002|
|The Wee Free Men, 2003|
|Monstrous Regiment, 2003|
|A Hat Full of Sky, 2004|
|Going Postal, 2004|
|Only You Can Save Mankind, 2005|
|Making Money, 2007|