Thud!, by Terry Pratchett

Opinions are strange things. We all disagree, and so vociferously, on so much, that we often forget that on most basic issues most of us are in complete agreement. By and large, conflict between dissenting views does not arise from fundamental differences in moral, aesthetic, or interpretive instincts – but simply from differences in how competing factors are weighted. Almost everyone wants liberty, for example, and almost everyone wants security, but how we balance one against the other differs from person to person. Most of us perhaps don’t think about this consciously, but it’s not controversial. It’s how political campaigning works. Candidates rarely try to change  your opinion about this issue or that – instead, they try to frame elections in ways that highlight one issue (the one where you agree with them) and obscure another (the one where you disagree). It’s why care has to be taken when administering polls, surveys, questionnaires and so forth – even something as simple as changing the order of questions can change what it uppermost in your mind at any given time, which can change what seems to you the most important issue at the moment, changing your answer.

Which is a longwinded way of saying: this is going to be another of those “on the one hand, but on the other” reviews of late Discworld that I’ve been doing for a while now. And in this case, I’m going to put that in a slightly odd and perhaps too callous way: I think Thud! has improved considerably with the death of its author.

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The Fifth Elephant, by Terry Pratchett

The latest part of my complete Discworld reread

Is it just because Pterry is dead? I don’t think so: I think it’s true of the book itself – this book feels like the end of Discworld. This is where it all ends.

I know, that’s hyperbole. The Discworld cycle didn’t just collapse after this installment – it went on for more than a dozen more novels. Some of those novels are good. Some of them may even be great.

But this feels like the end. This is where the world shuts down, gets a little smaller – from here on in, Discworld will seem smaller, and in a way less real. The Fifth Elephant brings the stories of Carrot, Angua and Vimes (and even Colon) to a fitting, even inevitable conclusion, and caps off the story of the Watch as a whole – leaving Night Watch as one last ‘Scouring of the Shire’ epilogue.

The fact that Pratchett didn’t realise this and wrote two more Watch novels after Night Watch, not to mention a whole bunch of cameo appearances (even the very next book after The Fifth Elephant, The Truth, was written as a Watch novel and contains heavy Watch presence) may be important for the cycle as a whole, but doesn’t in my mind change the finality of this novel, taken as a novel in itself.

But it’s more than that: The Fifth Elephant seems to me to represent the final obsolescence, in both practical and thematic terms, of the adventures of Rincewind and of Granny Weatherwax – the taming, in a sense, of the worlds that they inhabited. This is more striking as TFE immediately follows Granny’s Carpe Jugulum, and is largely set in the same part of the world… but not only is the book itself much more succesful than its predecessor, but its protagonist, Vimes, has a much easier time of it than Granny does in the end, despite a few tricky moments along the way. The juxtaposition of the two books underlines the thematic shift: the world that Vimes is conquering is the world that Granny lived in (there’s even a derogatory little jibe at Lancre along the way).

Because this is a novel about conquest. It’s that rare thing in modern popular literature: a pro-colonialist novel. Continue reading