The Care of the Reaper Man

Neely, E. L. (2014) “The Care of the Reaper Man: Death, the Auditors, and the Importance of Individuality.” In J. Held & J. South (Eds.) Philosophy and Terry Pratchett. Palgrave MacMillan.

In Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, there is an ongoing battle between Death and a group of beings known as the Auditors. These beings strive to maintain order in the universe and dislike humanity and all its inherent messiness. Death, on the other hand, is rather fascinated by humans and sees value in the individuality humans exhibit. This causes tension between him and the Auditors, which comes to a head in three novels wherein the Auditors attempt to impose their view of order upon the Discworld: Reaper Man, Hogfather, and Thief of Time.

In each of these novels Death thwarts the Auditors by acting in concert with humans. His motives for this stem from an odd allegiance to the importance of individuality and care. Humans have different desires and beliefs; they are not all the same. While this may distress the Auditors, it is fundamental to the nature of humans –we are individuals and must be treated as such. To ignore this and attempt to deal with humans purely collectively is to be unjust.

This illustrates a more general tension between the individual and the collective. While humans are driven to form communities, we also wish to maintain our individuality; there is thus a question as to how to balance commitments to the group with commitments to the individual. One place this tension emerges is in ethical theorizing. While traditionally there is a push towards universalization in ethics, recently many have come to believe that our ethical thinking must recognize the embodied and individual nature of humans; we cannot impartially treat humans as essentially all the same. This position is echoed by Death in his battle with the Auditors; he knows that humans are inherently individual and this cannot be stifled without destroying humanity.

While there are many examples of this tension between individual and collective in the works of Terry Pratchett, I will focus specifically on the conflict between Death and the Auditors. Not only is Death the unexpected champion of humanity and individuality, he also is explicitly committed to the importance of care. This has unexpected ramifications, not least of which is that it enables Death to create justice on the Discworld; his care for humanity is the catalyst for justice……………………..

 

Reworking the balance

Cover art by Joe McLaren

Saliba, M.C. (2011) Reworking the balance : anthropomorphic personifications of death in Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Dissertation Faculty of Arts. Department of English. University of Malta. URI: https://www.um.edu.mt/library/oar//handle/123456789/4756

Abstract:

The following dissertation is an examination of two cases of the anthropomorphic personification of death in fantasy literature.

The first chapter is an introduction that gives a definition of the term anthropomorphic personification, along with a brief look at several examples of personifications of death in literature from the fourteenth century to the nineteenth century.

The second chapter gives a basic background to Neil Gaiman, the author from whose works The Sandman and its Death spin-offs consist of the first example of a characterised death is taken. The aim of this chapter is to analyse Gaiman’s character Death of the Endless from the perspectives of character and function.

The third chapter gives a basic background to Terry Pratchett, the author from whose works Mort and Reaper Man the second example of a characterised death is taken. The aim of this chapter is to analyse Pratchett’s character Death of the Discworld, again from the perspectives of character and function.

The fourth chapter is a juxtaposing of the two Deaths in order to compare and contrast their several aspects and characteristics, so as to examine their similarities and differences. The point behind this chapter is to analyse the way both characters are written so as to determine if any revisionism or re-writing of death as a trope has been performed by the authors, and if so then the second aim is to analyse how they achieved this, and what new elements they bring to the concept of death as an anthropomorphism. The conclusions are drawn throughout the chapter, and show that revisionism of the death trope does occur in these particular writings of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, and that although they manage this in different ways, their aim in showing the importance of a balance between ….

Thoughtful Laughter

Britton, S. (2018) Thoughtful Laughter: Fantasy and Satire as Social Commentary in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, Bachelor of Arts, Chapel Hill: North Carolina

I. Introduction

From the titanic clashes of good and evil in epic fantasies to the well-armed antiheroes of sword and sorcery, fantasy literature offers a little something for everyone. Yet even classic giants of the genre – J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Fritz Leiber, Alan Garner – are often reduced to well-designed escapism by traditional literary scholars. It is little wonder, then, that the sub-genre of comic fantasy, a mode of storytelling relying on puns and parody, resides at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to possessing anything of literary “merit.” However, recently the status of comic fantasy has turned into contested space, in large part due to award-winning British fantasy author and knight, Terry Pratchett. Pratchett was England’s number onebest-selling author in 1996; even after his passing in 2015, he remains England’s second best-selling author to date – not to mention that he owns the rather dubious mantle of being the most shoplifted authors in the UK (Hooper).

Pratchett’s main body of work concerns the Pratchett’s main body of work concerns the Discworld, a world shaped like (here it comes) a flat disc balanced on the backs of four enormous elephants who ride on the shell of an even larger sea-turtle as it travels through space. Despite the Discworld series being acclaimed for its “engaging storylines, meticulously described fantasy worlds, and [an] ever-expanding cast of recurring characters” (Contemporary Literary Criticism Select), it has also been consistently marginalized, if not outright scorned, for being “humorous diversions…entertaining escapism”(Penny). While this may have once been true – and Pratchett himself admits to early books, such as The Colour of Magic (1983), being novel-length gags (Penny) – the Discworld novels have since evolved from mere tongue-in-cheek, slap-stick parody into a full-fledged, satirical secondary world. According to Daniel Luthi in “Toying with Fantasy: The Postmodern Playground of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Novels,” “The hidden seriousness present in any true and thorough parody is now one of the core elements of the Discworld” (132). In a sense, the Discworld novels have “grown-up,” making use of complex narratives and serious satire, and
switching the critical lens from making fun of fantasy for the giggles to reflecting on our own world.

In effect, Pratchett’s Discworld series “dump[s] uncomfortable human truths onto the table and sprinkle[s] them with fairy dust… steeping the nasty stuff in music and magic to make it more bearable without ever lying” (Penny). Combining conventions of the fantasy genre with
satire, Pratchett retranslates social criticisms of the real world through spun-about fantasy tropes, inspiring both laughter and thoughtful reflection in his audience. By examining the use of comedy and satire in the fantasy genre and the purpose of secondary worldbuilding, this thesis determines how the Discworld constitutes a safe platform for social critique, with special attention given to one of Pratchett’s most popular characters, Death………………………..

The Wonderful World of the Dead

Cover motiv: Sebastian Wunnicke

Klein, H.G. (2002) The Wonderful World of the Dead: A Typology of the Posthumous Narrative, EESE, 3, Available at http://webdoc.sub.gwdg.de/edoc/ia/eese/artic22/kleinh/3_2002.html

For there be divers sorts of death – some wherein the
body remaineth; and in some it vanisheth quite away with the spirit.
[…]
In one kind of death the spirit also dieth,
and this has been known to do while yet
the body was in vigor for many years.
Sometimes, as is veritably attested,
it dieth with the body, but after a season
is raised up again in that place
where the body did decay.

According to many systems of belief, there is a part of the human being which goes on to lead an independent existence even after physical death has set in. This part, which is usually called the soul, is assumed to be conscious and to bear the characteristic traits of the deceased’s personality. Since antiquity, this supposed transformation has been used for narrative purposes. But even in modern times, when the belief in an afterlife has become less widespread, authors have used it as a convenient fiction for their own ends. However, the ideas of what exactly constitutes death have been somewhat modified over the centuries, as have been those about the soul and the imagined conditions of the afterlife. The smallest common denominator for the declaration of death seems to be the ceasing of the bodily functions, but not necessarily that of consciousness. As a matter of fact, some sort of consciousness – wherever it is to be located – is a prerequisite for this type of narrative, because otherwise there would be nothing to narrate but what happens to the body after death. This consciousness, however, may take on many forms, reaching from a seemingly uninterrupted continuation of the earlier form of existence to an (almost) complete break with it. This is partly correlated with the question of how far the dead are aware of the fact that they are dead. Since the circumstances of the posthumous condition depend largely upon the various kinds of awareness belonging to this condition, the following observations will be structured upon the pattern of the latter. I shall therefore first describe various types of the posthumous experience – ranging from full knowledge and acceptance of death to complete ignorance – and then speculate upon their possible uses. Although I have tried to give historically important examples of the appearance of a particular type, systemisation rather than chronology has been my concern……………………………

From the cradle – to beyond the grave?

Reaper Man

Cover art by Darrell K. Sweet

Gilbert, P. (2011) “From the cradle – to beyond the grave?”, Quality in Ageing and Older Adults, 12(3), pp.141-151, doi: 10.1108/14717791111163578

Globalisation means patterns of population and issues of ethnicity, identity, culture and belief are changing rapidly. In the UK, there is a mantra that it is a “secular society” and yet, a consideration of Birmingham, the UK’s second largest city to the capital, London demonstrates a high proportion of major religious centres of various belief systems; and one ward with Muslims forming 63 per cent of its population. Research by the University of Leeds indicates that one in five people living in Britain will be from an ethnic minority by 2051 (The Times, 13 July 2010). The recent furore over the proposed mosque and Islamic cultural centre near the site of the 9/11 outrage in New York shows that cultural tensions can be intense even in a cultural “melting pot” such as the USA.

As an increasing number of people wish to discuss spiritual issues, perhaps as a revolt against increasing materialism and mechanistic approaches to healthcare, the National institute for Mental Health in England and the National Spirituality and Mental Health Forum in partnership with Staffordshire University have put on a series of conferences addressing these issues, and this paper considers the second conference (captured on DVD – Gilbert, 2008) on the interrelation between belief systems and attitudes to older age and death.

Death: friendly companion or the final antagonist?

In George Eliot’s (1871‐1994, p. 424) Middlemarch, the academic churchman, married to the heroine, Dorothea, suddenly finds that his lifetime of writing is interrupted by impending mortality:

Here, was a man who now, for the first time, found himself looking into the eyes of Death – who was passing through one of those rare moments of experience, when we feel the truth of a commonplace, which is as different from what we call knowing it […] When the commonplace “we must all die” transforms itself suddenly into the acute consciousness “I must die – and soon”, then Death grapples us and his fingers are cruel; afterwards, he may come to hold us in his arms as our mother did and our last moment of dim, earthly, discerning may be like the first. To Mr Casaubon now, it was as if he suddenly found himself on the dark river‐bank and heard the plash of the oncoming oars […] Expecting the summons.

In a fascinating paper in the Oxford Today journal (Snow, 2009), there is a debate about how much technological improvements should act on humanity. Julian Savulescu, Director of Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics favours “procreative beneficence”. He suggests in place of humanism, we should talk about “personism”, as we need to move our perspectives beyond current humanity and bring species forward as far as science can go. Another scientist suggests that we could extend human life by many more decades. But to what end? Already some doctors are concerned that we are adding years to life but not life to years (Brown, 2007).

As Kübler‐Ross (1969/2009, p. 6) has written: “The more we are achieving advances in science, the more we seem to fear and deny the reality of death”.

Elsewhere Kübler‐Ross suggests that:

It is the denial of death that is partially responsible for people living empty purposeless lives, for if you live as if you’ll live forever, it becomes too easy to postpone the things you know you must do. You live your life in preparation for tomorrow or in remembrance for yesterday, and meanwhile each today is lost. (From Death: The Final Stage of Growth, quoted in McNicholas, 2006).

As a science fiction fan, I am intrigued at how often the problems of extended mortality, or even immortality are featured. In Herbert’s (1970, p. 35) The Heaven Makers, the Chems are a race described as prisoners of eternity, gripped by the despair that immortality brought. One Chem, Fraffin, talks of:

The endlessness of his own personal story appalled him suddenly. He felt himself to be on the brink of frightening discoveries and feared the monsters of awareness that lurked in the eternity before him. Things were there that he didn’t want to see […] To be immortal is to require frequent administrations of moral anaesthesia.

On a lighter, but still cogent note, the fantasy author Terry Pratchett, who recently in a number of television programs disclosed that he was living with Alzheimer’s, published Reaper Man in 1992, which describes Death (who is personified in Pratchett’s novel) taking a sabbatical and the chaos that this unleashes in the Pratchett “Discworld”. Sometimes, perhaps we need fantasy and irony to highlight our human pretensions?

Not Cruel, Blessed, Or Merciful

Canon, K.V. (2018) “Not Cruel, Blessed, or Merciful: Pratchett, Gaiman, and the Personification of Death”, Electronic Theses and
Dissertations, 1713, https://digitalcommons.georgiasouthern.edu/etd/1713

Artist: Paul Kidby

INTRODUCTION

How a culture views death is reflective of the culture itself. Beginning in the Middle Ages, Western Europe’s view of death was represented by the Grim Reaper. Dressed in a cloak and carrying a scythe, this Death was the great equalizer. He — the Reaper was typically male — came for kings and serfs, rich and poor, believer and unbeliever without prejudice. This Death was somber and macabre as befitting a time when death was a frequent fact of life in a time of high infant mortality, primitive medical practices, plagues, wars, famines, and countless other ways for life to end.

This view of Death carried on largely unchanged into the modern culture of Europe and North America, having found its way via European settlers to the New World as well. Even though a few personifications strayed from this dark view—as in the film Death Takes A Holiday, where Death can be said to be the romantic lead, and young Robert Redford as a handsome, charming Death in Twilight Zone—the Grim Reaper’s mythos held firm. Thanks to the cultural grip of Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, the modern version of Death in the post-war western world was a pale man with a penchant for chess. Personifications of death in media continued to show up sporadically, but as Lindsay Ellis explains in her video essay on the topic, “Sometimes, Death—him or herself—gets a character arc, but for the most part stories with Death the character aren’t about Death, but who is confronting them.”

However, this perception of Death began to change in the 1980s. Possibly spurred by events such as the Cold War, the AIDS epidemic, the Satanic Panic, and the news media’s focus on kidnapped and murdered children, artists across many genres began to focus on Death as a fully realized character. Suddenly, Death was everywhere as a wave of postmodern deconstruction overtook the character. Comedic parodies of Bergman’s Death were rife, appearing in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, and the children’s cartoon Animaniacs. More than just parody shaped the modern view of Death, however, as fiction began to explore the motivations and feelings of Death. Also, a trend emerged of seeing Death as a job filled with drudgery and bureaucracy, possibly due to the growing practice of outsourcing death care to funeral homes and an increasingly capitalist death industry.

The critical conversations surrounding “literary” works and their place in the social milieu are comfortable with analyzing how objects of “high” culture influence the popular culture of the day. In order to offer a thorough analysis, these conversations are usually delayed for a period of time, so that they may address both the objects/causes that occasion changes in the culture, and the effects generated by those objects/causes. New works with popular appeal are often dismissed as ephemera, with fleeting effects on the culture, and may be ignored until they have stood the test of at least half a century. The same can be said of fantasy or horror, unless one invokes the likes of Tolkien or Stoker. But Roland Barthes calls this one-way exchange into question. He takes great pains to point out in Mythologies, popular culture—from films to professional wrestling—is built on the myths of old. Consumers of these myths have the option of receiving them passively or actively engaging with them as the building blocks of contemporary culture. However, Barthes claims, “[I]f I focus on the mythical signifier as on an inextricable whole made of meaning and form, I receive an ambiguous signification: I respond to the constituting mechanism of myth, to its own dynamics, I become a reader of myths” (Mythologies 127). This means Barthes sees a way for even the most banal text—commercials or striptease, for example—to hold deeper importance if it causes the audience to question the very assumptions it is based upon.

Barthes calls texts that evoke such deep mental connection “writerly” works: “Why is the writerly our value? Because the goal of literary work (of literature as work) is to make the reader no longer a consumer, but a producer of the text” (S/Z 4). A true writerly work worthy of literary study will, for Barthes, spark a sort of deep pondering of our own myths and cultural norms. This thought process is culturally and historically conditioned; it is informed by the culture of its time as much as it is informed by a sense of historical continuity. When readers are caught in the grip of this sort of textual interaction, Barthes describes it as “bliss”: “[T]he text of bliss is merely the logical, organic, historical development of the text of pleasure; the avant-garde is never anything but the progressive, emancipated form of the past culture: today emerges from yesterday” (The Pleasure of the Text 20). Therefore, Barthes theorizes that the true writerly texts of bliss are found most often in the fringes of the culture that push the boundaries of what can be done.

Historically, works in the fantasy genre, as well as comics and graphic novels, have been academically marginalized. They may be popular, and they may truly be pleasurable texts, but the strictures of the academy may exclude them from near-contemporary study. But, according to Barthes, it is within these more peripheral genres that the progressive, emancipated form of the past culture is recombined and presented anew. Such a consideration directly addresses the
representations of many of the signifiers that have been passed down from culture to culture, and Death is no exception. In those tumultuous 1980s, perhaps the earliest and most influential people to take on this deconstruction of Death as a fully-realized character were British authors Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) and Neil Gaiman (b. 1960).

Terry Pratchett began his Discworld series in 1983. The Discworld itself is a satire of Earth (aka the Roundworld) but is a flat planet supported by four large elephants who, in turn, ride through space on the shell of a giant turtle named Great A’Tuin. The societies of the Disc are satires of many Earth cultures, mostly at a medieval level of technology, which continually experiences great leaps thanks to the Discworld’s abundant magic. The entire world is often described in the novels themselves as running on Narrative Causality, which means that whatever makes the best story is what will happen, no matter how unlikely it may be. Pratchett was well-beloved in his home country and received a Knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II in 2009. After his death, the BBC noted, “At the turn of the century, he was Britain’s second most-read author, beaten only by JK Rowling” (“Sir Terry Pratchett”). The Discworld canon consists of 41 novels, as well as numerous short stories and tie-in projects. Death is the most frequently occurring character, appearing in thirty-nine of the novels and having a crucial role in five of them.

Gaiman first came to prominence as the author of The Sandman comics series, which initially ran from 1989-1996 and has been revisited for numerous sequels and standalone graphic novels. Sandman tells the story of Dream, a member of a group of personifications known as the Endless, along with his siblings Death, Destiny, Desire, Delirium (formerly Delight), Despair, and Destruction. Sandman was part of the 1980s wave of darker, edgier comics that also gave
rise to the likes of Frank Miller and Alan Moore. Following his success with comics, Gaiman transitioned to horror and fantasy novels, many of which are for children or young adults. His books have been adapted into films, television, and radio plays to great acclaim. However, Gaiman’s first published novel was Good Omens, written in collaboration with his friend Terry Pratchett. Despite all his subsequent success and accolades, Death is still the first character many bring up when speaking of the impact Gaiman has had on the culture……………………..

How fast does the Grim Reaper walk?

Cover artist: Peter Scanlan

Stanaway F.F, et al. (2011) How fast does the Grim Reaper walk? Receiver operating characteristics curve analysis in healthy men aged 70 and over.

Abstract

Objective To determine the speed at which the Grim Reaper (or Death) walks.

Design Population based prospective study.

Setting Older community dwelling men living in Sydney, Australia.

Participants 1705 men aged 70 or more participating in CHAMP (Concord Health and Ageing in Men Project).

Main outcome measures Walking speed (m/s) and mortality. Receiver operating characteristics curve analysis was used to calculate the area under the curve for walking speed and determine the walking speed of the Grim Reaper. The optimal walking speed was estimated using the Youden index (sensitivity+specificity−1), a common summary measure of the receiver operating characteristics curve, and represents the maximum potential effectiveness of a marker.

Results The mean walking speed was 0.88 (range 0.15-1.60) m/s. The highest Youden index (0.293) was observed at a walking speed of 0.82 m/s (2 miles (about 3 km) per hour), corresponding to a sensitivity of 63% and a specificity of 70% for mortality. Survival analysis showed that older men who walked faster than 0.82 m/s were 1.23 times less likely to die (95% confidence interval 1.10 to 1.37) than those who walked slower (P=0.0003). A sensitivity of 1.0 was obtained when a walking speed of 1.36 m/s (3 miles (about 5 km) per hour) or greater was used, indicating that no men with walking speeds of 1.36 m/s or greater had contact with Death.

Conclusion The Grim Reaper’s preferred walking speed is 0.82 m/s (2 miles (about 3 km) per hour) under working conditions. As none of the men in the study with walking speeds of 1.36 m/s (3 miles (about 5 km) per hour) or greater had contact with Death, this seems to be the Grim Reaper’s most likely maximum speed; for those wishing to avoid their allotted fate, this would be the advised walking speed.

Pratchett, T. (1990). Moving Pictures. London: Victor Gollanz

Trust is a valuable commodity. To whom do I give my trust? The entertainment industry? News media? Scientific research? Pratchett’s Moving Pictures is a biting and funny social commentary about the impact and influence media can have on us.

About thirty miles Turnwise of Ankh-Morpork the surf boomed on the wind-blown, seagrass-waving, sand-dune-covered spit of land where the Circle Sea met the Rim Ocean.

The hill itself was visible for miles. It wasn’t very high, but lay amongst the dunes like an upturned boat or a very unlucky whale, and was covered in scrub trees. No rain fell here, if it could possibly avoid it. Although the wind sculpted the dunes around it, the low summit of the hill remained in an everlasting, ringing calm.

Nothing but the sand had changed here in hundreds of years. (p.10)

@Josh Kirby

Moving Pictures is the 10th novel in the Discworld bibliography and was published in 1990 (my paperback edition is 333 pages). Its cover was illustrated by Josh Kirby. His illustration is spot on with regards to both the spirit and letter of the story. Our narrator is omniscient and, therefore, knows and shares details from important places and people. One of Pratchett’s techniques is Footnotes. They aren’t essential to the story-line, but they do add to the narrative-believability. Chapter headings are non-existent. At first, that might be confusing but you soon get used to it. There are 17 non-English translations of the story and the novel has been dissected by scholars from some of those countries.

‘Oh, yes. Yes. Yes,’ breathed Soll. ‘What a picture! Pure kinema!’

‘A giant woman carrying a screaming ape up a tall building,’ sighed Dibbler. ‘And we’re not even having to pay wages!’ (p.300)

Making fun of the movie industry begins on the dedication page with Pratchett’s “Thank you speech” and continues throughout the story. Names (e.g. “Silverfish“), titles (e.g. “Last Keeper of the Door“) and places (e.g. “Holy Wood“) are from novels and films (e.g. “Gone with the Wind” + “King Kong” = “Blown Away”) that span the period that started with the Phantasmagoria shows of the 1790’s up through the one-reel Celluloid film from the late 1800‘s that developed into the silent movies of the early 1900‘s ending with the movies 1980‘s.

Many of the characters in this story are like people I know. Main characters are Theda Withel (Ginger/Delores del Syn), Victor Tugelbend (Victor Marachismo), Cut-My-Own-Throat Dibbler (Dibbler), Gaspode The Talking Dog (Gaspode), the Alchemist’s Guild, the Wizards of Unseen University, the Librarian, Holy Wood and Ankh-Morpork.

Our story begins and ends with Holy Wood. From the description above, it seems an idyllic place yet all Keepers of the Door have maintained a 3-times-a-day set of rituals to prevent an apocalypse. When Death puts a stop to the priestly line, whatever was kept back by the chanting begins to seep out.

It was old in a way not measurable by any calendar known to Man and what it had, right now, was memories and needs. It remembered life, in other times and other universes. It needed people. (p.13)

As anyone who has encountered Ankh-Morpork knows, it teems with life. Smelly, overcrowded and dangerous, its citizens are strangely loyal “can’t wait to get back so they can enjoy hating living there some more.” In other words, perfect for an entity needing people. Upon arrival it finds the Alchemist’s Guild.

@Jameli (Amelia Halgas)

At the best and worst of times Alchemists invent things that go “boom” or “bang”. One of Thomas Silverfish’s booms results from the creation of Octo-cellulose. Octo-cellulose is the substance that, together with imps, leads to clicks. Unfortunately these moving pictures lean towards magic. As only Wizards can legally practice magic in Ankh-Morpork, the Alchemists, led by Silverfish, decide to take their discovery to Holy Wood.

Where the Alchemist Guild is thought of as free entertainment for people passing by, it is best to avoid the Wizards of the Unseen University (UU). Like the faculties of many universities, the UU is filled with bright and ambitious individuals who tend to overestimate their own importance. The Wizards were tired of the deadly infighting and wanted a pushover Archchancellor for a while. They thought Mustrum Ridicully, who’d been running around “talking to trees” for the last 40 years, would fit that bill. What they got was a man who brought stability to the Archchancellorship and  a complete lack of respect for their august personages.

Another important Wizard in Moving Pictures is the Bursar who is responsible for, and adores, paperwork. He and Ridicully tend to be at odds with each other, but in Moving Pictures they must cooperate to get to the bottom of things.

@Dee Ellis

The Librarian is one my favourite UU character. According to rumours, a long time ago something went wrong during an experiment and the result was an orang-utan. As long as one does not call him a “monkey” he is a pretty laid-back person. His immense dedication to the books in the UU library, along with his agility and heft, makes him the perfect caretaker of some extremely dangerous works, e.g. the Necrotelicomnicon (see picture by Dee Ellis).

@Marc SimonettiOnce upon a time, Victor Tugelbend’s uncle set up a college fund for Victor. It stipulated that he must never get a grade lower than 80 points. Finals had a passing grade of 88 points. This stipulation gained Victor a well-trained body and mind hard to keep him from graduating. He is a fairly good-looking fellow with a pencil thin mustache. On his way back to the UU, on the night before exams, he somehow finds himself at the Plaza of Broken Moons. Something happens and eight hours later he finds himself he road to Holy Wood along with the rest of the crowd who were at the Plaza with him. Including Gaspode the Wonder Dog.

@Beachcomber Bob

Gaspode is a talking dog. One day he woke from a nap with the ability to talk human and has regretted it ever since. Victor is one of the few people who understands that Gaspode is truly a talking dog and that gives Gaspode something to hold onto. I pity Gaspode. Imagine waking up one day only talking dog. He is an extremely conflicted dog and things do not get any less conflicted when Laddie (beautiful but stupid) gets all of the love and attention.

Another essential character dragged along by the entity is Dibbler. Between schemes Dibbler is a “hot-meat-pie-and-sausage-in-a-bun salesman” (p.15) who tends to go easy on the meat and whose remarkable con-skills include selling “sausages to people that have bought them off him before.” (p.70). This is one of the few times in the Discworld history that he gets to shine. And shine he does. To protect him from the consequences of his actions, Dibbler hires Detritus, a high-mountain troll whose brain capacity has been severely reduced by the low-lands of Ankh-Morpork. Trolls in the Discworld, and particularly Ankh-Morpork regions, put on sun-lotion while the sun is up and no longer openly “swaller” humans.

@Marc Simonetti

Once Victor arrives in Holy Wood he comes across Theda Withel. The two of them become the scorching hot starring couple Victor and Ginger and Victor Maraschino and Delores del Syn. He becomes the dashing hero who comes to her rescue. Even today, that is a role women are often stuck with as actors. In addition to acting in the clicks, and with the help of Gaspode, they look for answers to Ginger’s strange behaviour, what the entity of Holy Wood is and how it affects everyone.

Looking at the world today, it’s simple to see that we suffer from the same illusion of how our needs and ideas must be met and heard. Our “entity from Holy Wood” is difficult to escape in a time when fronts matter more than content. I’m whether that would be true in a collectivistic culture. Most likely it is but on a larger scale, i.e. the family, the club, the country, etc. We are easily fooled. Pratchett does a good job. I never felt preached at yet I had no problem understanding that I need to pay attention to the “real” message of what I encounter.

EstonianMoving Pictures moves between characters. Most times the breaks in the text indicate that we are moving to another location/person. Since there are no Chapter breaks, this is a useful tool for us to keep everything in order. In addition, these breaks also handle the sub-plots of the story (e.g. Wizards’ in-house drama). Towards the end everything comes together in a climax worthy of an action movie.

When it comes to movie references, readers do not need to know the original to have fun with the story. Details are weaved together in a manner that gets the message across. As usual I’m amazed at how Pratchett manages to make a bit of our world into a part of the Discworld. As usual, his humour is dry, biting, kind, intelligent and revealing.

Moving Pictures remains relevant. Definitely recommended.


Translations:

  1. Audiobook: Moving Pictures; Narrated by Nigel Planer; Oxford: Isis, 1997.
    • Australian English: Narrated by Kate Buring; Sydney: Australian Listening Library, 2005.
  2. BulgarianТери Пратчет; Подвижни образи / Podvizhni Obrazi; Translated by Vladimir Zarkov: Владимир Зарков; Sofii︠a︡: Vusev /Ahont-V, 2002.
  3. Czech: Pohyblivé obrázky; Translated by Jan Kantůrek; Praha: Talpress, 1996.
  4. Estonian: Liikuvad pildid; Translated by Avo Reinvald and Hillar Mets; Tallinn: Varrak, 2002.
  5. Dutch: Rollende prenten; Translated by Venugopalan Ittekot (Ruurd Groot); Utrecht: Het Spectrum, 1994.
  6. Finnish: Elävät kuvat; Translated by Mika Kivimäki; Hömeenlinna: Karisto Oy, 2003.
  7. French: Les zinzins d’Olive-Oued; Translated by Patrick Couton; Paris: Pocket, 1997.
  8. German: Voll im Bilde; Translated by Andreas Brandhorst; München: Goldmann, 1993.
  9. Hungarian: Mozgó képek; Translated by Alföldi Nyomda; Debrecen: Cherubion, 2001.
  10. Italian: Stelle cadenti; Translated by Serena e Valentina Daniele; Milano: Salani, 2007.
  11. Norwegian: Levende bilder; Translated by Torleif Sjøgren-Erichsen; Oslo: Tiden Norsk, 2003.
  12. Polish: Ruchome obrazki; Translated by Piotr W. Cholewa; Warszawa: Prószyński Media, 2000.
  13. Romanian: Imagini mişcătoare; Translated by Cezar Octavian Tabarcea; Bucharest : Rao, 2009.
  14. Russian: Движущиеся картинки : [фантастический роман] / Dvizhushchiesi︠a︡ kartinki; Translated by В. Вольфсона / V. Volʹfson; Москва: ЭКСМО, 2006. Moskva: ĖKSMO, 2006.
  15. Serbian: Pokretne slike; Translated by ; Beograd: Laguna, 2001.
  16. Spanish: Imágenes en acción; Translated by Cristina Macía; Barcelona: Altaya, 2003.
  17. Swedish: Röliga bilder; Translated by Peter. Lindforss; Stockholm: Wahlströms, 1996.
  18. Turkish: Hareketli resimler; Translated by Niran Elçi; Istanbul: Ithaki, 2004.

“Change the Story, Change the World”

This should be the last academic piece about Pratchett’s story “Moving Pictures“.

Abstract: Representations of the witch in the western European fairy tale have been stereotypically negative: the witch was depicted generally as an ugly crone and always as malevolent. The black cloak and pointed hat associated with the witch continue to be linked with a menacing expression and bad intentions. Although there have been some attempts to rehabilitate the witch in children’s literature, until recently most of these have been superficial. In various picture books, for example, witches feature as central characters, but the stories generally play, usually to comic effect as in Freeman’s ‘Tilly Witch’ (1969), on associations of the witch with mischief and ill-temper. Even where the witch is positively represented, her goodness is frequently contrasted with more traditionally malign witches, as in Preussler’s ‘The Little Witch’ (1961), and Stevenson’s similar though more light-hearted ‘Yuck!’ (1985). Nevertheless, there have been some advances: Stephens has observed the consciously revisory stance of some recent novels, which substitute for the crone-witch a conception of the witch as wise woman. As he notes, such fictions provide social critique (Stephens 2003, p.201). In many cases, however (notably in Furlong’s ‘Wise Child’ [1989]), the wise witch is still portrayed as rejected by her society, underlining her role as outsider and emphasizing that she remains a problematic figure.

Webb, C. (2006). Change the Story, Change the World: Witches/Crones as Heroes in Novels by Terry Pratchett and Diana Wynne Jones. Explorations into Children’s Literature, 16(2), 156-161. Availability: ISSN: 1034-9243.

The Orangutan in the Library: The Comfort of Strangeness in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Novels

Painted by Paul Kidby

Terry Pratchett is certainly a popular writer – of that there can be no question. His Discworld novels now number twenty-eight, including The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, the first work intended for children in the series, and another novel is scheduled to appear in early 2002. The books have been translated into several languages (an interesting phenomenon, given the rather English world and costums depicted in the series). There is an electronic game board on the fantasy narratives, and animated film versions of some of the novels have also been produced.

Moreover, a sort of support-and-publicity industry has grown up around the Discworld series. These include the publication of maps (for instance, The Streets of Ankh-Morpork), cookbooks (Nanny Ogg-s Cookbook) and annual diaries (The Discworld Fools’ Guild Yearbook, which allows an eight-day week, Octeday following Sunday). There is a Discworld Companion as well as a guide to the ways things work in the Discworld, The Science of Discworld, both with Pratchett as coauthor. The final pages of the several of the novels advertise figurines based on characters in the Discworld series, as well as at least one international convention centered on the Discworld oeuvre. There are numerous Web sites in several languages dedicated to Pratchett, the L-Space Web site being perhaps the most informative – certainly the most ambitious, including the electronic version of an M.A. thesis on Pratchett’s work and identification of the many intertexts and intertextual jokes embedded in the individual novels.

While for some time most of the serious, nonfan material on Pratchett’s output has consisted largely of reviews of new titles in the series, gradually a body of scholarly commentary on Pratchett’s Discworld novels is emerging, as evidenced, for instance by the recent appearance of a collection of essays, Terry Pratchett: Guilty of Literature, edited by Andrew M. Butler and others. The present chapter is, of course, a further instance of the gradual movement of Pratchett’s work into the arena of scholarly analysis, commentary and criticism.

In this way readers of Pratchett’s Discworld participate actively in its creation and re-creation in different forms. Yet there is also a tendency in such participation to seek a certain fixing of both the spatial and temporal coordinates and other “facts” of the Discworld. Of this desire for consistency Pratchett has remarked “sometimes even I forget who was who, and where things are. Readers don’t like that sort of thing. The write me letters” (quoted in Pratchett & Briggs 8-9).

Yet this occasional writerly amnesial has not been a generic trait of fantasy fiction. Indeed, most fantasy authors have been extremely careful to maintain the consistency of the worlds they create, even when – as in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings – the imagined world is enormously complicated by detailed attention to racial or ethnic histories as well as to a general history anterior to the events unfolded in the actual narrative, to various linguistic groups, to mythologies, and so on. This is signaled, for instance, by the provision of maps of the fictional world as part of the text, not, as in the case of the Discworld series, as a series of belated addition and supplements to the text (though of course any such map is, in some sense, a supplement to the written narrative). One effect of the punctilious observation by the fantasy author of the cosmological “facts” of the world that she or he creates, of course, has been to condition readers to anticipate that consistency. No wonder, therefore, that Pratchett receives letters from disgruntled or merely puzzled readers.

Should we assume therefore that Pratchett’s is a slapdash sort of art of fantasy fiction writing? He himself observed

I don’t think … even the most rabid fan expects complete consistency within Discworld because in Ankh-Morpork you have what is apparently a Renaissance city, but with elements of early Victorian England, and the medival world is still hanging on. It’s in a permanent state of turmoil, which is very interesting for the author. (quoted in Hills 130)

The interest for the author aside, I suggest that this latter comment points to a pronounced characteristic of the Discworld series, namely, its tendency to satirize, ridicule, or deconstruct (these activities are not, of course, mutually contradictory) the traditional fantasy fiction narrative, and in particular that genre’s epic form.

Space does not allow a thoroughgoing comparative analysis between Pratchett’s version of the fantasy world and narrative and that of the genre’s more traditional, even conservative, exponents……………………..

The rest of this text may be found in:

Buchbinder, D. (2003). The Orangutan in the Library: The Comfort of Strangeness in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Novels. Youth Cultures: Texts, Images, and Identities, 169-182. (a sample on Google books)
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