Summer in Discworld: Conclusion

First, a big thank you to everyone who came along to explore Discworld this summer!  It was fun to see what books people chose, and I loved reading reviews.  I think my favorite part was the group-read of Going Postal, which was small but enthusiastic.  I loved seeing the different (and same) parts that stood out for each person, and seeing how people read the book differently.

Here are the parts of Discworld I explored this summer.  I got to re-read two favorites, and finally get a clearer picture on the Witches!

Read:
Going Postal (re-read)
Lords and Ladies
Wyrd Sisters
Night Watch (re-read)

Watched:
Soul Music
Going Postal

Feel free to share any of your final thoughts in a comment, or with a link to a post!

Walking Ankh-Morpork with Sam Vimes–Both of Him

I wanted to read some new Discworld books this summer, but I’ve also been meaning to re-read Night Watch.  This was the first proper Discworld book I ever read.  Technically I read Maskerade first, but I read it as a Phantom parody, paid no attention to the larger context, and despite madly loving it, I was somehow not inspired to go on to the rest of the series (can’t quite explain that).

So Night Watch is where it really started for me.  I don’t recommend anyone else start here, as it makes absolutely no sense as a place to begin.  More on that in a bit.

The book focuses almost exclusively on Sam Vimes, who remains my favorite Discworld character.  He’s the head of Ankh-Morpork’s City Guard, and has been instrumental in making them into the force they are today (and weren’t a few books earlier).  While attempting to apprehend a serial killer, Vimes is caught in a freak storm above the Library of Unseen University, where the wizards reside.

Vimes and the killer are thrown thirty years back in time.  Due to complications and wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey technobabble, Vimes ends up taking the place of the copper who taught a young Sam Vimes how to be a copper–so it all becomes rather circular and you can’t think about it too hard (Vimes tries not to).  If mentoring his younger self while keeping an eye out for that killer on the loose isn’t enough, Ankh-Morpork of the past isn’t the comparatively well-ordered place of today.  Corruption is rife, plots are afoot, and a revolution is in the making.  Vimes remembers how it all came out, but there’s no guarantee things can’t change, wiping out his own future.

It’s a slightly complicated plot, but somehow it works right along while you’re actually reading it.  I think that was true the first time I read it too.  I liked it even better on a re-read, because I knew who everyone was.  Part of the fun of the book is seeing recognizable characters when they were much younger.  Nobby Nobs is a street urchin (and as ugly as ever), Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler has yet to acquire his trademark phrase, and Vetinari is still in Assassin School.  None of that means anything without reading other books, which is why it makes no sense to start here (funny how that’s always a topic when discussing Discworld, and so rarely one for any other series!)

I can even argue that you get an extra layer if you read later books first.  The narration keeps referring to Vimes’ younger self as “Young Sam.”  In the present-day portion, Vimes’ wife is very pregnant, and in later books we see that their son is called (wait for it) Young Sam.  So there’s definitely a father theme going on that becomes much clearer when familiar with later books.  Discworld is so sequentially confused.

The best thing about Night Watch is that you get to see Vimes at his Vimesest.  He’s a copper and he’s tough and he’s practical.  He doesn’t seem to believe much in honor, while being very honorable.  He believes in Law and he believes his job is to keep the peace and protect the ordinary man–while having no illusions about the nobility of your typical Ankh-Morporkian.  He’s the kind of man who doesn’t fight a mob or yell them into submission.  He steps out in front of the mob, lights a cigar, asks if they’re having a pleasant night and would they like to step into the Watch House for some cocoa, and if not they really ought to go on home, it’s getting cold.  And it works.

Vimes understands Ankh-Morpork and its people, he knows the streets and he knows the crowds and he can handle all of it.  I love this book because we get to see all of this.  In some of the earlier books, Vimes is still evolving.  Some of the later ones deal more with politics, and the most recent, Snuff, takes him out of Ankh-Morpork (which was a mistake, I think, and though I like the book I’ve just now realized this is why it wasn’t better than it was).

Night Watch is set in a different time so a lot of regulars and recurring characters aren’t in it.  But that’s actually okay, because the result is that we get lots of Vimes instead.

My conclusion is, don’t start here, because significant portions won’t mean anything.  But if you’ve read any City Guard books to give you context and if you like Vimes, this is a particularly magnificent installment in the series.  It’s definitely one of my favorites.

Author’s Site: http://terrypratchettbooks.com/

Other reviews:
Ritual of the Stones
Puss Reboots
Sandstorm Reviews
Anyone else?

Discworld on Screen

To take a different direction for Summer in Discworld this week, I thought I’d look at the movie adaptations of Discworld books.  Books-to-movie adaptations are always a bit chancy, but on the whole Discworld seems to have fared well.  They’ve all been TV miniseries which allows more screen time, and that usually means a more accurate rendition.  And Terry Pratchett seems to have been heavily involved, which also helps!

I don’t have quite enough to say about any of them for a full review, so let’s do a round-up instead.

The Color of Magic: This is a two-episode miniseries (three hours) that covers The Color of Magic and The Light Fantastic, which makes sense as they’re a continuous story.  As far as I can recall it’s pretty accurate to the books, with some decent effects.  There’s an impressive cast, including Tim Curry, Jeremy Irons and Christopher Lee (as the voice of Death).  The most fun, though, was Sean Astin in a role not too far from his hobbit character.  This is fun, although don’t expect too much, as it is based on two of the weaker Discworld books.

Hogfather: If you need a new Christmas movie, this is excellent in a weird sort of way.  The Hogfather, Discworld’s Santa equivalent, has gone missing, and Death is trying to fill in.  Pretty soon Death’s granddaughter, Susan, who just wants to be normal, gets pulled into the mess.  Meanwhile there this a lunatic who makes assassins nervous, and he’s just a little too interested in the Tooth Fairy…  I particularly love Susan (played by Michelle Dockery, Lady Mary on Downton Abbey) and Marc Warren as Teatime is wonderfully creepy.  Both are excellent portrayals from the book.

Going Postal: This is wonderful, though it does diverge farther from the book than most.  Moist’s character is a little simpler (with a more straight-forward path from jerk to honorable), and some of the funniest bits are left out (including Grout’s trip to the hospital, and most parts involving the wizards).  However, they also play up the romance and Miss Dearheart’s character in a way that I think works very well, and much of the rest of the book is faithfully represented.  Barring the slight simplifying of Moist, the characters are all brought to life well, and even if the Post Office didn’t quite fit my vision of a building stuffed with letters, it got close at times!

There are also two animated miniseries:

Wyrd Sisters: I’ve only seen the first episode of this one, which was enough to convince me that it’s following the book practically line-by-line.  Since I just read the book in the last month, I thought I’d better wait a while before I watch a movie that’s such a close retelling–it’s like rereading something immediately.  Still, that kind of faithfulness is something I generally approve of, so if you want all those great Discworld jokes, you’ll do well here.  Don’t come looking for brilliant animation–it’s decent, not terrible, not approaching Pixar or Disney either.  It looks like a Saturday morning cartoon, but at least the depiction of characters seems to be pretty accurate.

Soul Music:  Similar animation, but also similar faithfulness to the book–and it has Christopher Lee as the voice of Death.  There’s a lot that’s fun here, especially the Death of Rats!  I also enjoy Death and Susan as characters, and they’re the major focus for much of this.  This is earlier chronologically than Hogfather, if you have any interest in watching things in order. 🙂

All of these are available on Netflix, and all but Going Postal are streaming.  If you’re going to just watch one, watch Hogfather or Going Postal, but I think any would be a good time.  And if you watch any live action ones, keep a close eye out for Terry Pratchett in cameos!

Enter Three Witches

I finally managed to read the first proper Witches novel in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, Wyrd Sisters.  This was another Shakespearean-inspired one, with heavy Macbeth undertones.  Except, of course, it’s a comedy!

Duke Felmet killed a king to gain the throne of Lancre, and now has a few problems.  For one thing, he can’t seem to get the blood off his hands.  And for another, there are three witches in the neighborhood.  Magrat is a well-meaning witch who thought it would be a good idea to form a coven with Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg.  They don’t quite understand her interest in talismans and rituals (because it’s really headology that counts), but they join anyway.  The dead king’s baby son falls into their hands and they promptly pack him off with adoptive parents in a traveling theatre company.  Meanwhile the dead king is still hanging around as a ghost, there’s a Fool remarkably interested in Magrat, and the land doesn’t like its new ruler.

The witches are in fine form here.  This is the first with all three of them, but they’re already fully-defined.  Granny wasn’t quite there yet in her earlier book, Equal Rites, but she’s excellent here, with a will of iron–or harder.  Nanny is garrulous, irreverent and fun-loving, but don’t ever cross her (or invite her to sing).  Magrat, well…she tries so hard.  She wants to be a proper witch, with all the ceremony and theatrics, and doesn’t quite seem to realize it’s just not meant to be.

It may be the little touches I like best here.  The ghost king is thoroughly annoyed by all the other ghosts floating through his castle–it’s so crowded, and some are just blobs who have really let themselves go.  There’s a mystic stone out on a hill that’s so bashful it hides if anyone comes by.  There are frequent Macbeth quotes, as well as other Shakespeare references; the theatre company puts on a wide variety of identifiable albeit re-named plays.

And Death of course has a cameo, and he’s wonderful.  He’s much better at the role than the actor assigned to be Death in the play, and he’s very disturbed when a living character goes mad and decides to become a ghost (because…that’s just not allowed).

There’s a cartoon miniseries, which naturally is going straight into my Netflix queue.  Has anyone seen it?  Is it any good?

I think this would be a great place for someone to start the Discworld series.  It’s independent of earlier ones, introduces major characters, and is brilliantly funny.  It begins the Witches plotline, which spans several books that are more interconnected than most of Discworld.  It worked out for me, even though I read them in reverse order…but you might be better off going front-to-back!

Author’s Site: http://terrypratchettbooks.com/

Other reviews:
Books Writing Tea
Drown My Books
Sabrina’s Bookshelf
Anyone else?

Going Postal Group Read, Conclusion

We’re on the last week of the Going Postal Group Read, and before I get into the discussion, I want to thank everyone who participated. It’s been so much fun to see the differing thoughts of everyone reading this very fun book. 🙂

1) At this end of the book, which characters turned out to be your favorites?

This is actually quite hard, because I’m feeling very attached to a number of characters.  Stanley definitely had his moments (and Little Moments), and I liked Mr. Pump’s steadfast work ethic and surprising insights.  I liked Ms. Dearheart better the second time through the book, I think, getting more of a sense of what’s under her stern exterior and cloud of smoke.  And Groat was really funny.  So…I liked a lot of the characters here!

2) We’ve touched on Moist’s character growth throughout the discussion.  How do you feel about him by the end of the story?  Is it significantly different than the beginning, or did anything surprise you?

I loved Moist’s character growth.  It’s like Pratchett invites us to see past his charm, and invites Moist to do the same thing.  He ends up realizing that his life hasn’t been nearly as harmless as he’d like to think, delves into all the complex aspects of human nature he’d been taking advantage of before, and comes out the other side of it all as probably a nicer person than he realizes.  And he’s still maintaining a mad tap dance to stay ahead of everything.  I enjoy how he faces challenges by plunging in and creating even bigger challenges–and then fights like mad to make it work.  He’s kind of still charming at the end, but by then I think there’s something real in it.

3) Was there anything you haven’t had the chance to discuss in response to earlier questions?  Call this a “wild card” question. 🙂

This one was really for everybody else, because…I was writing the questions, so I discussed the things I wanted to cover!

4) Share your favorite quotes and moments from the final section—or let us know your absolute favorite line.

There were some good Wizard bits in this section of the book.  For instance:

…”nothing to see” is what most of the universe consists of, and many a wizard has peacefully trimmed his beard while gazing into the dark heart of the cosmos.

“Oh, please sue the university!” Ridcully bellowed.  “We’ve got a pond full of people who tried to sue the university.”

Probably not a good idea to bring legal proceedings against wizards.  I also loved the whole epilogue, and Vetinari’s final line: “You have to admire a man who really believes in freedom of choice.  Sadly, he did not believe in angels.”

Since I couldn’t even pick a favorite character, I think I’d better not try to pick a favorite line!

Guarding Ankh-Morpork

Not Pictured: Snuff, which isn’t in paperback yet

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about one of Discworld’s most frequent recurring characters, Death.  This week, let’s look at my favorite group of regulars, the City Guard of Ankh-Morpork.  There are eight books focused on this group of rather hapless police officers, and they’re the one subseries I’ve read all the way through (but completely out of order).

The City Guard are led by Sam Vimes, the relatively sane focus point in the middle of some very odd characters.  I think Vimes is what makes these my favorite set of books.  Besides being an awesome character, he’s the straight man who makes the comedians even funnier.  Vimes is a world-weary police officer with a cynical streak a mile wide, who nevertheless believes in honor and justice and above all, the rule of law.  He’s uncorruptable while completely practical about the corrupt city he guards.  He undergoes more evolution than most Discworld characters, and even though I read him all out of order it’s interesting to see his character grow through the books.

Vime’s righthand man is Corporal Carrot, biologically a six-foot human and culturally a dwarf (it’s complicated).  He’s simple, but not stupid.  He also believes in honor and honesty, but unlike Vimes, he believes everyone else is honorable and honest too.  The funny thing is, around Carrot, they are.

Sargeant Fred Colon and Nobby Nobbs typically appear together.  Colon always knows the best place for a drink or a smoke, and the best ways to avoid any and all trouble.  Nobby has to carry around a card to verify that he’s human; descriptions are vague, but I picture him short, skinny, pimply and hairy.  He’s convinced of his own vast wisdom and sophistication, and is a guardsman who is nevertheless addicted to petty theft.

There are a few women on the force: Cheery Littlebottom is a dwarf who breaks dwarfish taboos by openly admitting to being female, and Angua is a brilliant fighter and tracker, largely because she’s a werewolf.

There are some other regulars among the guards, but those are my favorites.  They’re a motley and very funny crew, who generally manage to pull success out of chaos.  Guards! Guards! is the first in the subseries, and Jingo, Night Watch and Thud! are among my favorites.  But really, they’re all good, and you can probably just grab any you like.  It’s Discworld–you’ll figure things out.

Going Postal Group Read, Week Three

It’s Week Three of the Going Postal Group Read!  We’re past the halfway point now.  Here’s the discussion for the next quarter of the book:

1) So far we’ve talked about characters and settings.  What are your thoughts on either the plot or the romance?  Anything surprising, or anything you particularly enjoy?

I do enjoy the mere fact that Pratchett has a plot.  Some comedy writers rely only on the humpr and have novels that are basically just strings of jokes.  I like that Going Postal has a compelling plot driving it forward, centered on the restoration of the Post Office, the conspiracy and business competition of the Clacks, and of course Moist’s character development.  The romance is an interesting aspect of that.  He’s lived his whole life showing people only the outside.  I love that when he starts to fall for a girl, it’s because of what’s behind her outside, stern exterior.  “Outside exterior” is redundant, but I trust you know what I mean!

2) Pratchett has used a number of ideas throughout the book as satirical commentary on our society—golem rights, pin collecting, collective responsibility, business corruption…  What have you found the most interesting?

The Golem rights and the business corruption are probably the most obvious satires.  I was most intrigued, however, by Stanley and the pin collectors.  On the face of it, collecting pins is ridiculous, with all his fascination in precisely how they’re made and what year they’re from and so on.  But on the other hand, how many collectable items have value beyond what we put into them?  With all due respect to cute china figurines, for example, they don’t have any actual use.  And even things that may be useful in some capacity end up endowed with far more value because collectors decided they’re valuable.  On the other hand, is that genuine value?  I think to a certain extent it is–and at other times, as with Stanley’s pins, it can be taken to an extent that’s ridiculous!

3) And of course, share your favorite quotes and moments from this section of Going Postal!

The headlines screamed at [Moist] as soon as he saw the paper.  He almost screamed back.

This section featured Mr. Groat’s trip to the hospital, leading to some very funny remarks from the examining doctor.

“His trousers were the subject of a controlled detonation after one of his socks exploded.  We’re not sure why.”

“Oh, and do take his wig, will you?  We tried putting it in a cupboard, but it got out.”

As usual, leave links to reviews in the comments! 🙂