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Tag: once upon a time ix

Why You Must Read the Death miniseries from Discworld by Terry Pratchett

This post is part of the Once Upon a Time Challenge. I reread the books. That counts!
What do you do when your favourite author dies? When you’re done crying, if ever, you read. You read their books. The ones you’ve read before and any you may not have. You devour every word, like it’s their last, because it’s their last. And then you spread the word. Nothing I write will suffice to express my immense admiration for Sir Terry Pratchett. I am relatively new to the Discworld series, but I love it and I do believe it is the greatest and most self-aware fantasy writing out there. All I can do is try to explain just why and hope that my gushing recommendation makes you finally add the books to your shelf, or revisit them. I couldn’t possibly cover everything I have to say about a forty book series in one post, so I will start with five of my favourite books within it, and my favourite character.

Every time I find someone raving about the character of Death from The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, I kind of want to roll my eyes at them and tell them about Death of the Discworld. He looks much like our Grim Reaper, clad in a black robe and carrying a scythe. He talks in CAPS with a voice which you hear directly in your head and which sounds like two concrete blocks rubbing together. Death of the Discworld rides a horse named Binky, rather preferring it to the usual fiery steed that keeps setting his robe on fire and lives in an endless all-black dimension called Death’s Domain in a black Victorian-looking house with a black garden.

Death has the most interesting story arc. Death, you must understand, is not cruel, only good at his job – he does no killing, we do it. Life ends, he is simply in charge of ‘what comes after.’ As an immortal outside observer, Death is fascinated by humans, puzzled by their stupidity and their intense grit in spite of it. Often out of concern for their well-being, or sometimes simply curiosity, Death attempts to imitate humans, without really understanding them. Needless to say, this leads to to all sorts of disasters which make the five-part miniseries centred on Death. Pratchett spins marvellous stories around ridiculous what if-scenarios.

In Mort, Death takes on a human apprentice, in Reaper Man Death gets fired for having developed too much of a personality and ends up working on a farm instead. Soul Music introduces us to Death’s granddaughter, a most amusing girl, who reappears in later books; also, Death rides a motorbike. In Hogfather, when Discworld’s Santa Claus goes missing, a curious and worried Death takes his place, to make one incredibly innovative story. In Thief of Time, Time has been kidnapped and Death recruits his granddaughter to rescue it. 

Through the course of five brilliant books, you watch Death learn ever more about humans and grow to sympathise with them. People often talk about Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams in the same breath, I have likely done this too, but all they have in common is they both ingeniously churn humour out of genre fiction. Adams fuels his stories with one-liners and quips of such outrage, that it doesn’t matter when he leaves the plot unattended to spiral off in mindless directions – in fact, if anything, it only reinforces the self-fulfilling farce, that nothing goes according to plan, that plans don’t matter. Whereas, Terry Pratchett clearly cares about the craft of his stories as much as the message he sends through them. And this is because he does not write simply a zany story of a universe, or a planet, even one as extraordinary as the Discworld – which is a turte swimming through space with four elephants on its back who carry a magical disc-shaped world on their backs. Pratchett’s books are about the many endearing oddballs living on the strange planet. Discworld is about people and making a difference; it is not Adams’s clever exercise in futility. You can see this in the attention and respect Pratchett gives his version of Death. Discworld arises out of passion, not cynicism. It is satire, biting social critique, but with an unmistakable undercurrent of hope. This is its greatest achievement.
I wanted to make this a clear three-reasons sort of post, but when it comes to the Discworld series, I can’t help but ramble on. Anyway, here, as succinctly as I can put them, are three reasons you must read the Death miniseries of the Discworld. Terry Pratchett was a man who redefined death, in more ways than you could imagine, which makes Mort as good a place as any to start reading the Discworld series.
1. Death will make you laugh.

THAT’S MORTALS FOR YOU, Death continued. THEY’VE ONLY GOT A FEW YEARS IN THIS WORLD AND THEY SPEND THEM ALL IN MAKING THINGS COMPLICATED FOR THEMSELVES. FASCINATING. 

2. Death will make you think.

“You’re saying humans need… fantasies to make life bearable.”

REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.



(…) TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET, Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME…SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

“Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point-

MY POINT EXACTLY.



3. Death will never get old (or, you know, irrelevant.) 

Well, of course not. DEATH IS WHOEVER DOES DEATH’S JOB. 
Did I mention Death likes cats? Seriously, read the books. Any Discworld fans here (hopeful voice) who agree? If you loved Terry Pratchett, and haven’t already read this article, you should – There is no Past Tense of Terry Pratchett by Scott Lynch.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

People where you live, the little prince said, grow five thousand roses in one garden… Yet they don’t find what they’re looking for… And yet what they’re looking for could be found in a single rose… It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.

For years I was convinced I had read this story and did not like it one bit. As it turns out, the story I had been thinking of was The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde, which I do find unpardonably boring. The moment I realized The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is a novella, described by many as a children’s fantasy that serves as an adult’s spiritual fable, I wanted to pick it up. This was about a year ago. I read it today as the first book for my favourite not-challenge, Once Upon a Time, an annual event in its ninth year, hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings.

Summary: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is the story of a little boy who leaves the safety of his own tiny planet to travel the universe, learning the vagaries of adult behaviour through a series of extraordinary encounters. His personal odyssey culminates in a voyage to Earth where he meets our narrator, a pilot crash-landed in the middle of an endless dessert. 

My thoughts: The Goodreads reviews of this book all seem to have one word in common, “metaphor.” I hate to be redundant and talk about what a wonderful allegory The Little Prince presents. Most of you have probably read this book and already know all about it. And every new reader of the book will eventually end up on the author’s life story, to make sense of the allusions and connect the metaphorical autobiographical dots.  I would recommend you this book mostly because almost everyone who reads it finds in it something to love. It is precious, and honestly, a chunk of its charm lies in its slim size. It demands little of your time, give it that. The thing that I truly like about this book is its sincere duality, of both intention and style.
My fascination with children’s books fascinates me. I assume that the fact that children’s books can be enjoyed by adults is uncontested. According to this article in The Guardian,
“One explanation may be the way in which they (children’s books) are read. They become part of our emotional autobiographies, acquiring associations and memories, more like music than prose.  Another explanation may lie in the fact that children’s books are designed with re-reading in mind. For all children’s writers are conscious that our books may be re-read by children themselves.”

I thought that reading The Little Prince would be like getting wholly engrossed in a Roald Dahl book at twenty or delightedly revisiting one of my childhood favourite Enid Blyton stories. It was nothing like that. It may be difficult to write children’s books that would give pleasure to grown-ups too. Authors like Neil Gaiman are good at that sort of thing.
The Little Prince on the other hand is something entirely else. It is not a simple children’s book that adults would enjoy as well. What makes The Little Prince unique is that it contains in its pages two different stories at once – one for children and another for grown-ups. It reminds me of my experience reading Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, a series of books so adult in its themes and messages, it made me wonder what I would have made of it as a kid. And yet, I am sure, had I read the series when I was twelve, I would have found lovely treasures in the books quite separate from the ones my adult-self found.
I don’t know what little-Priya would have made of The Little Prince. Young-me would likely have loved the illustrations, thrilled at the absurd planets, their whimsical inhabitants and the talking foxes, enjoyed the reaffirmation of the importance of being a child. Meanwhile, on the other side of time, today, catching my eye are little fractions of well-composed truth in the writing, like reaching success by “the inspiring force of urgent necessity.” I shake my head at the many droll depictions of empty human life. I mull over coming-of-age, the loss of innocence and our place in the great big picture. I contemplate the futility of that exact train of thought… and with the very same logical disinterest the book mocks, find myself dissecting those pesky metaphors!
The book never sounds overtly preachy, that helps. The narrator in his straightforward manner rarely expresses his opinions on the lessons the little prince teaches him. The book remains staunchly bizarre, surreal, to its very end. The original French must be beautifully written, I am guessing, from the admirably seamless translation by Katherine Woods. I should learn French. Out of curiosity, how exactly do you pronounce the author’s name? Now that I have read him, it may be time to stop calling him MumbledeMumble-Mumble.
I am happy to have finally read the book. That said, I will not read the book again. I doubt that there is any new insight to be gained from another read, which I must say, is not true of Philip Pullman and his complex constructions. I do however see myself revisiting nice passages, and forcing the book on all my future young-acquaintances, if only as guinea-pigs to satisfy my curiosity about how a child would react to the incongruously dark ending.