I am currently working my way through the final pages–or rather minutes–of Terry Pratchett’s incredible Discworld novel Thud!. It is an amazing piece of work, one of Pratchett’s finest, and I feel compelled to share my response. My main purpose in writing is to share a specific scene from the book, the “ladies’ night out” scene, but first I want to detail why Pratchett and this book are so deserving of your attention.
I’m sure that I mentioned many times before how much of a Terry Pratchett fan I am. The man was a master of world-building, in particular, deep and resonate characters. Though he includes humor in is work, much more in earlier works, he does not rely solely on humor and eccentricity to keep readers hooked like Douglas Adams (not that there is anything wrong with that, I love Adams, too).
The characters are what keep readers like myself coming back for more, and Pratchett’s best characters are those in the City Watch series of books. His watchmen (and women) feel real, with honest reactions to the strangeness of the world. Though Sam Vimes takes most of the limelight, I find myself more attached to the supporting characters such as Fred Colon and Nobby Nobbs, Angua, Detritus–characters that have much more varied backgrounds and personalities than the stock soldier/copper types in the lead.
Here is an interesting exchange between Colon and Nobbs (their exchanges are always interesting) as Sergeant Colon tries to Elicit a response from his protege.
“War, Nobby. Huh! What is it good for?” [Colon] said.
“Dunno, Sarge. Freeing slaves, maybe?”
“Defending yourself against a totalitarian aggressor?”
“All right, I’ll grant you that, but—”
“Saving civilization from a horde of—”
“It doesn’t do any good in the long run is what I’m saying, Nobby, if you’d listen for five seconds together,” said Fred Colon sharply.
“Yeah, but in the long run, what does, Sarge?”
This passage reveals the dichotomy between the characters, Colon’s suspicion against Nobby’s optimism. It also reveals Pratchett’s humor, and the way he connects the present to the past, our world to the Discworld, in a very fluid way. Everyone knows the reference here (except Colon, of course), but it does not seem out of place in a book where the plot revolves around conflict and potential war. It fits, and it’s funny.
But Pratchett’s books are more than just humor and adventure, there is a subtle philosophy to it as well. This is best embodied in the lead character of the Watch novels, Sam Vimes. The character represents authority in a world shifting from authoritarianism to a sort of republicanism; Vimes often finds himself on the side of the latter. This is well demonstrated by another Thud! quote, this one a passage from Vimes’ perspective:
He hated games that made the world look too simple. Chess, in particular, had always annoyed him. It was the dumb way the pawns went off and slaughtered their fellow pawns while the king lounged about doing nothing. If only the pawns would’ve united… the whole board could’ve been a republic in about a dozen moves.
Pratchett’s characters are deep, thinking people who are affected by their world and affect it in turn. That is the hallmark of good fiction, in my opinion.
In my next post, I will examine a specific scene from the book that stood out to me as memorable and warranting mention.