Category Archives: Academia

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.

“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)

White Knowledge and the Cauldron of Story: The Use of Allusion in Terry Pratchett ‘s Discworld.

Terry Pratchett is a remarkable writer, one who would need no introduction in Britain, and only an occasional one to the rest of the world that is involved in popular literature. He has become the bestselling living fiction author in England for the past ten years (White par. 1), with no signs of losing popularity anytime soon. While at first dismissed as a genre writer of humorous fantasy, Pratchett has become his own industry, and he has done so, in part, by his successful use of what he refers to as “white knowledge” and creative allusion to popular culture.

In the past eighteen years, Pratchett has released twenty-eight Discworld novels (along with several supplemental Discworld works [maps, computer games, an encyclopedia, comic book adaptations, etc.] and at least eight non-Discworld novels). One bookseller report said that “ten percent of all science fiction sold in 1993 was fantasy, and ten percent of all fantasy sold was Terry Pratchett” (James 202). Pratchett himself has received letters from librarians that say, “What is so marvellous is that you get people into the library so that we can introduce them to real books” (Pratchett and Briggs 1994, 266). There is also “a lot of evidence that he has a big following among young teenage boys–particularly those who, as we saw in one librarian’s happy phrase, ‘don’t read’” (Pratchett and Briggs 1994, 286). With this success rate, one might wonder what sets Pratchett’s works apart from others.

One of the primary features that Pratchett’s fans appreciate is his use of allusion. He states,

If I put a reference in a book I try to pick one that a generally well-read (well-viewed, well-listened) person has a sporting chance of picking up; I call this “white knowledge,” the sort of stuff that fills up your brain without you really knowing where it came from. Enough people would’ve read [Fritz] Lieber, say, to pick up a generalized reference to Fafhrd, etc. and even more people would have some knowledge of Tolkien–but I wouldn’t rely on people having read a specific story.

I like doing this kind of thing. There are a number of passages in the books which are “enhanced” if you know where the echoes are coming from but which are still, I hope, funny in their own right. (qtd. in Words from
the Master pars. 228-29)

A Handbook to Literature states that allusion “seeks, by tapping the knowledge and memory of the reader, to secure a resonant emotional effect from the associations already existing in the reader’s mind. [. . .] The effectiveness of allusion depends on a body of knowledge shared by writer and reader” (Harmon and Holman 14). Pratchett has created the term “white knowledge” to describe the concept of myth and white noise. White knowledge, the building blocks of knowledge that weave and bind a culture together, creates the best and most important reference base for an author, and Pratchett has tapped it masterfully. In the process, Pratchett has connected his novels to the reader through the cultural fabric, making them more recognizable and more interesting, whether as parody, satire, pun, or generalized allusion. Pratchett alludes widely, including such topics as Shakespeare, fantasy literature, movies, rock music, mythology, Arthurian Legend, modern authors, literary genres (mystery fiction, for example), and computers.

While some may suggest that Pratchett excludes part of his readership by having heavily allusive books, others would argue that the range of his allusions gives all readers recognizable reference points. Obviously, readers will not understand all of Pratchett’s allusions, but more literate readers will take great pleasure from them. The less “culturally aware” reader will still get the feeling that Pratchett has planted these ideas, and will often search them out actively. As reviewer Tom Shone stated in 1992, “what has ensured Pratchett’s success is that you don’t have to have read Tolkien to know what he’s poking fun at. As he has happily admitted, his fiction requires no specialized knowledge on the part of the reader whatsoever” (23). Though his fiction requires no specialized knowledge, a broad knowledge base does enrich a reader’s enjoyment. Even without the references, though, Pratchett produces quality writing that people enjoy and re-read frequently. Pratchett states, “With Moving Pictures, the film industry is common to everybody; fairy tales [Witches Abroad] are common to everybody; with Wyrd Sisters everyone knows Macbeth even if they’ve never read or seen it” (qtd. in Enright, Million Article par. 62). While some of Pratchett’s references remain more obscure than others, this paper will focus on and illustrate his use of white knowledge for popular effect, and will examine the connection between allusion and Discworld readers………………………………………………

Abbott, William Thomas (2002). White Knowledge and the Cauldron of Story: The Use of Allusion in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.  Electronic Theses and Dissertations. Paper 630. https://dc.etsu.edu/etd/630

%d bloggers like this: