Monday, 23 March 2015

Remembering Discworld - A tribute to Terry Pratchett

RIP: Terry Pratchett 1948 - 2015
I must say that it came as a bit of a surprise, not a shock, but a surprise, to receive a post on my Facebook page telling me that the author of the beloved Discworld series had passed away. I wasn't shocked because, well, death comes to us all in the end, as he would remind us time and time again in his books, yet from my perspective (and I must admit that while I enjoy his books, I don't necessarily follow all aspects of his life) he did not seem to live the type of lifestyle that would bring about his passing at such a young age. Yeah, I know, he was 66 so while that may hardly be young in some people's books, I still consider people of that age to be in the prime of their life. 
In a way he never came across as one of those people that lived the life of a rockstar (you know - sex, drugs and all that, or what would be more fitting for a fantasy author - wine, women, and song), though I was aware that he did suffer from, and ultimately succumbed to, a rare form of Alzheimers. In a way, to me, he seemed to be one of those nice, jovial type of characters who always had a smile on his face and was always up for a good laugh. However, as far as I could tell, unlike many people in the lime light, he seemed to have a private life where the world of his celebrity status did not intrude. Sure, he did receive a knighthood, which is fitting for such a writer, and upon receiving it he even joked about getting a horse and a sword (which he ended up constructing with the help of his friends, and I could quite well imagine him running around a paddock in a suit of armour, on the back of a horse, waving his sword in the air).

Knight of Horseback
He even has his beard
Sir Terry Pratchett (Knight of the Realm) was certainly one of those authors. Everybody new about him, and many have read his books. Sure, like every author, not everybody liked his work, but the people that really hated it were few and far between (and while I went for a while not wanting to read any of his books, that had more to do with people telling me all of the jokes before I read the books as opposed to not liking the books themselves). He is also one of those authors, in fact one of those very few authors, whom people would instantly recognise his works. Even the other week, when I was getting onto a bus, a young lady looked a the book I was holding and exclaimed "Hey, that's Terry Pratchett, I've got to read him one day" (all the while she was fiddling with her mobile phone, which made me wonder why she didn't exchange that phone for a Terry Pratchett book).
The thing was that I always believed that somebody who regularly uses this mind would less likely develop Alzheimers, however that does not necessarily seem to be the case. He seemed to be just as surprised, especially since he had written around 45 novels over a period of 27 years. On my logic, if there was somebody that was not going to get this disease, it was him. However, while my Grandfather also died of dementia, I am not really in the position to comment on it beyond what I have already said. In fact, I feel that the best person to speak on the disease (other than a doctor of course, especially a doctor that specialises in dementia) is Sir Terry himself.
Not surprisingly, tributes have been pouring in from around the world, so I guess mine is simply going to be one of the many, many that have appeared in the Twittersphere (a term I like to use for the social internet as a whole because, well, it sounds so cool). I even clicked on the Terry Pratchett tag on the Guardian website with this result. One tribute that I feel I should share is this one by Frank Boyce (also published in the Guardian) where he compares him with many of the other great satirists of today and times past.
What Terry Pratchett has left us is a legacy, a legacy in the sense that has been left with us by the likes of Shakespeare, Voltaire, and many other authors of the past and the present. Their stories and their books are their children that live long after their passing and continue to thrill many of us who always return to their hallowed pages. As such, to remember this unique man, I wish to simply share some of my favourite characters (remembering that I would hardly call myself a Discworld expert - especially since I am nowhere near halfway through the series).

Death
DeathMaybe it is true that Death comes to us all, but when we finally meet him (or she, but even though there is some vagueness about Death's gender, when he - or it - is referred to as Daddy and Grand-daddy, then maybe Death was supposed to be a male) we generally don't expect him to have such a dry sense of humour (or even give the amount of lip that he does). Okay, he does have a daughter, and in fact a granddaughter, though he does seem to get lonely doing his job - not so much killing people; Death never kills people, he just helps them move from the land of the living to the land of the dead, whatever that land might be (and it does change from person to person). He has tried giving up his job from time to time, usually with disastrous consequences. The problem is that people, that is humans, tend to have a softness about them. They simply do not seem to be able to harm innocent people: but if Death does not do his job properly then, well, even worse things can happen. So, in a way, I feel a little bit sorry for the poor guy.
We always seem know when he is lurking around, yet in many cases he comes as a complete surprise, especially when Sir Terry STARTS WRITING LIKE THIS. Sir Terry seems to be a master of moving his major, and even some of his minor, characters across the worlds. Many of them do not seem to even realise that they have died until THAT VOICE, and there is only one person who has THAT VOICE, drifts over their shoulders. Even in that moment of confusion Death always seems to have the right words to say, even if he really doesn't care, to lighten up the moment.


Granny Weatherwax
Granny WeatherwaxGranny first appeared in Sir Terry's third book Equal Rites and I always thought that she was a rather colourful and amusing character, until I actually saw an artist's impression - she actually looks like one of those really nasty and scary witches. Mind you, looks can be deceiving, and that is very much the case with Granny because the more adventures you go on with her the more attached to her you become; in fact over the couple of years I have been reading through the Discworld series (and now that Sir Terry has passed away I feel compelled to, at least attempt to, read through all of them) I have become ever more attached to her and companions Nanny Ogg and Margrit Garlik.
The thing about Granny is that she is so set in her ways and she refuses to change, which really makes her stand out when she leaves her home in the Ramtop mountains for whatever reason may compel her to do so. Mind you, at first, it was a simple trip to Anhk-Morpork because a young girl, Esk, had some how acquired the powers of a wizard (which wasn't supposed to happen because in Sir Terry's world women weren't allowed to become wizards). Then we follow her to 'foreign parts' in Witches Abroad where we see her cause all sorts of trouble in the lands beyond her home.
When Sir Terry first introduced her two companions (in Wyrd Sisters) it was very much a nod to the three witches from Macbeth. In fact the whole story was a nod to Shakespeare's two most well known tragedies (Macbeth and Hamlet); then in Lords and Ladies, he takes her into the world of A Midsummer's Nights Dream. However, Granny was never meant to be like the witches from Macbeth, and in fact was never meant to be like the typical image of a witch, but rather an old spinster who lived in her cottage and provided whatever services she could to the village. She was not, and was never meant to be, to be an evil character - the only magic that she ever practised was headology.

Lego Granny Weatherwax
Yep, there is even a lego model of Granny

Greebo
One of the things that I love about Discworld is how from its humble beginnings it has grown with the creation and development of a multitude of characters. One such character is Nanny Ogg's foul tempered cat Greebo. Greebo is everything that we expect in a cat, but everything that we don't. Okay, there are probably three types of cats: the 'slut' who befriends anybody and everybody; the scardy cat, that runs away from everybody and everything; and Greebo. Okay, I have known cats like Greebo that will leave long lasting scars on you simply from looking at it, or even daring to touch it, however Greebo is a cat in a class all of its own. In fact, the best thing that I can do is not so much tell you about him, but rather show you a picture, or at least an artist's impression, so you can see for yourself.
Greebo the manHowever, there is much more to Greebo than simply a foul tempered cat that has the ability to hospitalise you if it really wanted to (apparently he has killed two vampires, at least according to Wikipedia) but has, at least twice so far, been transformed into a human. Mind you, I had seem images of Greebo-turned-human for quite a while but it never actually clicked until I first read Witches Abroad. Upon Greebo suddenly transforming into a swashbuckling hero that, well, behaves like a cat, speaks like a cat, and drinks milk like a cat, I never really understood fully what those pictures meant. Now I do, and now I have a much, much greater appreciation of who this rather psychotic kitty really is.
However, I cannot finish this off without mentioning Nanny Ogg. No matter how nasty, cruel, and vicious Greebo is, he simply could not be the cat that he is without his mistress Nanny Ogg, and it is her belief regarding that cat that makes him so attractive. In fact, she is very much like the owner of a vicious cat who can never, and will never, see anything bad about him. As far as Nanny Ogg is concerned Greebo can do no wrong.
Oh, and should I mention that he is one hell of a stud - but then again he is a cat.


The City Watch
Originally comprising of Captain Vimes, Sergeant Colon, and Corporal Nobbs, the night watch first appeared in Guard's Guards. As Sir Terry said at the beginning of this book, the city watch in many fantasy novels are the people who would kick down the door and proceed to be slaughtered by the occupants - much like the red shirts in Star Trek. As such he decided to write a story dedicated very much to these part, and mostly short-lived, characters.
The night watch was one of those underfunded organisations that nobody really wanted to join, and if you landed up there you had probably stuffed up big time (and when we meet Corporal Nobbs, we begin to understand why). However, the Night Watch is soon bolstered by Carrot, who doesn't so much have red hair (though many of the drawings of him I have discovered on the internet do have him with red hair) but rather that he is shaped like a carrot. However, I will say more on him a little later.

The City Watch
After defeating a dragon (that wasn't actually supposed to exist, despite torching much of Anhk-Morpork) Captain Vimes meets, and marries, into a lot of money. With this new found wealth, as well as the appreciation from the city for managing to fight off this non-existent menace, they are given a new headquarters (particularly since their last one had burnt down), and their ranks are bolstered with new blood (which include the troll bouncer from the Mended Drum: Detritus).
Now, Carrot is just one of those adorable characters. He is so innocent, yet as a member of the watch, he is really, really good. In fact, the one thing about him (other than his strength) is that he has pretty much memorised all of Anhk-Morpork's laws and ordinances (and has got himself into trouble at times trying to enforce them). The other interesting thing is that he grew up amongst dwarves (and was also in love with a dwarf - Minty Rocksmacker - though that was never going to work out) and in many cases thinks that he is a dwarf. He also regularly writes back to his parents, who had encouraged him to go out and explore the world (namely because they felt that he would be better amongst his own kind, despite the fact that he pines to return to the mines and a life that he misses). He also is one of those personalities that everybody seems to know, and likes, despite the fact that he is a member of the watch.
Okay, at the time of writing I have only read three of the City Watch books (Guards, Guards, Men at Arms, and Feet of Clay) and I must say that I really like these books, simply because Sir Terry has taken a different direction than many of his other fantasy novels in that they are the Discworld version of a cop show. They even have elements of a mystery novel (though not to the extent of Agatha Christie). In a way Captain Vimes is like the Hercule Poirot of Anhk-Morpork


Lord Ventinari
Now, how could we possibly forget Lord Ventinari, the ruler of Anhk-Morpork. He pretty much appears in almost all of the Discworld novels (or at least those set mainly in Anhk-Morpork). His first appearance is when Rincewind is dragged kicking and screaming into his chambers after attempting to flee the city with a bag full of gold. He is cold, calculating, and incredibly ruthless, yet his rule over the city has been one of stabilisation and prosperity. Despite the fact that he has been deposed a number of times, he always seems to find himself back in the seat of power.
I remember one book (Guards, Guards) where he is locked in his own dungeons, however he already knows the way out (since he had built a bolt hole just for that occasion). However he is the type of ruler that will patiently sit in that cell, reading his book, knowing that sooner of later he will be back on the throne. Ventinari is that type of character, he is cool, he is confident, and he knows that he is the one that has brought prosperity to the city, and since nobody wishes to return to the chaos of the past nobody seeks to depose him.
For instance, one of the ordinances that he has created is allowing thieves to operate in the city, however to operate in the city they must belong to the thieves guild. Thieves are only allowed to rob people a certain number of times, and every time they are robbed they must be given a receipt. As such, if you have already been robbed, you can then confidently walk about the city without fear of being robbed again. Mind you, there are still unlicensed thieves operating in the city, but they do so at their own risk. If they are caught, they are not handed over the the city watch, they are handed over to the thieves guild, and in many cases they would be much better in the hands of the watch than in the hands of the guild.
I believe that Lord Ventinari's Coat of Arms (which is basically black) describes his method of power quite well: Si non confectus, non reficiat - If it ain't broke, don't fix it (such is the humour of Sir Terry).
For those who really want to learn more about Lord Havelock Ventinari, somebody with way too much time on their hands has written a very detailed entry on Wikipedia.

The Unseen University
Well, I probably can't forget the grand old wizards of the Unseen University since they do play a major role in many of the books. However, I should be honest with you and say that I have never really been a big fan of Rincewind. Okay, he is quite a character and certainly does go on many adventures, as well as discovering that running away from pretty much everything can be a very useful tactic - especially if the goal involves running away. However, if there is one thing that I have to say about the wizards is that Sir Terry certainly has captured the essence of the world of academia.
Discworld WizardsOkay, as far as I know, there isn't a university where the role of the chancellor becomes vacant simply because somebody has assassinated him, or her (though I could be wrong - who knows what goes on in the hallowed halls of Oxford). In the later books some stability does come about (probably because Sir Terry didn't want to create a new chancellor every time he introduced the Unseen University into his stories). On the other hand, it could simply be that Ridcully (the current Chancellor) simply knows how to keep himself alive (without having to resort to Rincewind's tactics).
Magic is really odd in Discworld. In some ways it reminds me of nuclear radiation - the way it seems to seep into everything and change its characteristics. It also seems to simply sit in the background - people know about it, people accept it, and people go about their normal lives not thinking all that much about it. Unlike many of the other fantasy books that I have read, people don't even use it to gain power over others, which is why the wizards all lock themselves away in the university and go about their studies basically producing stuff that is of no use, or value, to the outside world. To me, it seems that in Discworld being a wizard means that you don't use your power for anything beyond doing what wizards do in the university.
When I was first introduced to the Unseen University in The Colour of Magic I was under the impression that while it was in Anhk-Morpork, nobody could actually see it because, well, it was supposed to be Unseen. However, when I finally saw a map of Anhk-Morpork, there it was, slap bang in the middle of the city. Apparently the name goes back to the Invisible College, which was the precursor to the Royal Society of London. While that is probably the case (and who am I to argue with Sir Terry), I like to think of it as being called the Unseen University because the academics really do not want the outside knowing what is going on inside.


The Librarian
Okay, the Librarian is a faculty member of the Unseen University, but this character is just so cool that I simply cannot help but have an entry all of his own. The thing about the librarian is that he is an Orang-outang (and whatever you do, do not call him a monkey - if you value your life that is). He wasn't always an orang-outang, at one stage he was human, however in The Light Fantastic he was transformed, and really liked the fact that he was an orang-outang (since he found it very useful for his job) that he refused to be turned back. Okay, he can only say 'ook', but that has never held him back, and those who know him seem to be able to communicate with him without too much difficulty.
Like Death, whom you know has appeared when somebody STARTS SPEAKING LIKE THIS, you may not realise that the Librarian is actually in the scene until you suddenly hear (or read) an 'ook'. I love how Sir Terry just sneaks some of his most memorable characters into his books like that, and even though (so far at least) the Librarian only ever takes a supporting role in the books, having him along for the ride is always an adventure in itself. He was even at one stage deputised as a member of the Night Watch in Guards, Guards (which I found really amusing - though in the later City Watch novels he had returned to his beloved library).
The Library of the Unseen University is a marvellous place in and of itself because, as Sir Terry tells us, having so many books dripping with magic all stored in one place is going to have an effect on the library as a whole. In fact, it is not just the books that are transformed, but the room itself sounds as if it has been warped into many different dimensions creating the distinct possibility that while you can enter, you may end up never leaving the place ever again (and not necessarily due to called in the Librarian a monkey).


The Luggage
I really wanted to finish off with The Luggage. You see some people have really nasty and bad tempered dogs (or actually I probably say cats because cats tend to be a lot more bad tempered than do dogs - I don't think I have ever met a bad tempered dog) but Rincewind has The Luggage. Yes, as the name implies, it is basically a suitcase, but it is not any ordinary suitcase (or should I say chest, because it looks more like a chest, but I think suitcase sort of describes its purpose much better), it is a suitcase that runs around on a large number of legs and has a very, very bad temper (don't try opening it if you are not Rincewind because you are likely to be eaten).
LuggageThe Luggage first appeared in The Colour of Magic as a suitcase that was following Twoflower, described as being the Discworld's very first tourist (namely because people on the Discworld simply do not go to places to basically see what is there). However, after two books worth of adventures where Twoflower and Rincewind travel the length and breadth of the land, Twoflower, as a parting gift, gives the luggage to Rincewind.
Mind you, the Luggage pretty much has a mind all of its own. Okay, it knows that it belongs to Rincewind, but it does not necessarily go wherever Rincewind goes. In fact it has a tendency to go off on adventures all of its own, and just like the aforementioned bad tempered cat, seems to always be able to find its way home again.

Well, there we go, some of my favourite characters from a really enjoyable series of novels. Okay, I have probably infringed quite a number of copyrights on this post, however all of these pictures have simply been to illustrate the characters that I have remembered, and have no intention of either claiming these pictures as my own, or trying to usurp anybody's intellectual property. Anyway, I like pictures on my posts because they do break up the monotony of the written word, and sometimes it is really good to see who I am talking about, and what this post is, as I have said, is a tribute to the creator of all of the wonderful characters - Sir Terry Pratchett.


Creative Commons License
Remembering Discworld - A tribute to Terry Pratchett by David Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license.

Terry Pratchet: © Luigi Novi / Wikimedia Commons used with permission
Death source: Wikipedia entry Death.
Granny Weatherwax source: http://www.writeups.org/fiche.php?id=5366 
Lego Granny source: Klapi used with permission under Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike 4.0 International
Greebo source: http://www.au.lspace.org/art/fan-art/fauna.html
City Watch source: http://www.deviantart.com/morelikethis/artists/357774257?view_mode=2 
Captain Carrot: http://johnny-wolf.deviantart.com/art/Captain-Carrot-Ironfoundersson-253211304 
Ventinari source: Wikipedia entry Havelock Ventinari

Discworld Wizards: http://thelablib.org/tag/discworld/

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