In Pyramids, the seventh book in the Discworld universe and the first in the gods/ancient civilizations subseries, Pratchett tackles ancient Egypt and the pseudoscientific “pyramid power” theory. It tells the story of a young prince-turned-assassin and the strange country of Djelibeybi (ha!), where pyramids dominate the landscape and the king is believed to be a god. Mummies come to life, deities wreak havoc, time and space are bent beyond all recognition, and Pratchett even manages to squeeze a few jabs at the ancient Greeks in there. While nothing earth-shattering, it is a solid entry in the Discworld series.
And yet, I am giving it five stars. You see, even though Pyramids is not a perfect novel, but it was the one I desperately needed to read and the reason I will be eternally grateful to Terry Pratchett.
(Warning: highly personal story ahead.)
Last week, out of nowhere, my father had a heart attack while out cycling in Belgium. It was a close one, but the ambulance got him to the hospital on time and he lived to tell the tale. My mother sent me a picture of him in the hospital bed, giving the camera a shaky thumbs up.
That following morning, I headed to the train station to travel to the hospital. Since I had left the house in a hurry without checking the train tables first, I had about twenty minutes to kill when I got there. I wandered around the hall, twitchy and restless, anxiety buzzing through my brain like a wasp trapped inside a glass. I was looking for something – anything – to take my mind off it all, to stop my own thoughts from driving me crazy. I bought a cup of tea, flicked through the songs on my iPod, nothing was working – until I went into the bookstore and found the shelf of Discworld novels in the back.
Yes. Yes, this will work. Pratchett will talk me through this.
And he did.
By the time I arrived at the hospital, I had read the first seventy pages of Pyramids, clinging on to every word and occasionally chuckling to myself. It was like Pratchett himself had stepped out of the pages, gently taken my hand, fixed his twinkly eyes on my face, and said: “there’s nothing you can do about that now. It’s okay. You can let go. Come with me, I’ll show you something interesting. You like mythology, yes? Will the Egyptians do? Here, I’ll even put in some Iliad jokes, I know how much you love Odysseus. It’s alright. I’ve got you.”
I was already heartbroken over Pratchett’s death a couple of weeks ago, but now I am positively gutted. He is gone, but his books still touch lives all over the world in ways he will never know. He will never see me or talk to me, and yet his words helped me through one of the most stressful train journeys of my life (and there have been far too many of those, let me tell you). Reading is its own special kind of magic and I will always be grateful for what Pratchett’s book has done for me. I just wish that I could thank him.
No one is finally dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away – until the clock he wound up winds down, until the wine she made has finished its ferment, until the crop they planted is harvested. The span of someone’s life, they say, is only the core of their actual existence. (Reaper Man)
7 thoughts on “Book Review: “Pyramids” (1989) by Terry Pratchett”
Oh god.. I so sorry about your dad, Yara, and I’m glad he turned out okay.
I loved this review. It reminded me exactly of the magic of books and why stories are such important things.
Yeah, it made me feel terrible about TPratchett’s death all over again but still… I hope your dad recovers well and I’m glad Terry was there to help you out when you needed it the most.
Thank you for your comment, Beatriz. My dad’s recovering at home as we speak, doing better every day!
I’m so sorry about what happened to your dad, and so glad to hear he’s recovering well! The same thing happened to my dad three years ago: heart attack out of nowhere, thankfully not serious enough to cause any permanent damage, and now he’s been doing okay—he just has to be careful about what he eats, take his meds and go to regular check-ups. I’m sure your dad will be fine, too! It’s so scary though, especially if he happens to be in another country when it happens. Glad Pratchett was there to help you out
I’m happy to hear your father is doing alright now! I hope the worst is behind us as well, now that he has medication and doctors keeping an eye on him.
Héél mooi Yara, bedankt en goed te lezen dat het boek je door een diep dal heeft gesleept.
We komen er samen wel weer uit.
["I'm Not Crying" by Flight of the Conchords plays in the background]
I definitely feel the same way about the impact that Terry Pratchett can have on a person’s life. The past year has been tough for me as well, it being the first time that I really had to deal with illlness and loss of loved ones. Death has always been such an inimaginable concept to me, and if I’m honest it still is.
The idea that someone is gone, but not really. If you’ll allow me to get a little morbid, the person is gone, but you still see their body lying there. The idea that this empty shell will be around for a while longer feels wrong to me in a way that I cannot put into words. Still, there are comforting aspects about the things that stay behind as well. This person will never talk to you or think of you again, but you can still talk and think about them. They things they did, the memories you have, they continue to exist.
The Discworld novels create a vision of the afterlife that’s very interesting to me. If I recall correctly, the afterlife on the Discworld is exactly what each individual person expects it to be, and that’s a nice thought. The fact that the character of Death is written the way it is also makes me feel that maybe there’s nothing to be afraid of. The idea that this is the way Terry Pratchett pictured Death makes me feel a little better about his death as well.
First, I am so sorry for your loss (which has always sounded like such a strange phrase to me because it doesn’t nearly cover what you really want to say at such a time – but at least it’s better than “gecondoleerd” which means nothing at all).
It’s strange, after writing this review a couple of people have contacted me and told me that they, too, went to Pratchett when times got hard because of death or illness or both. There’s something about his work that is comforting and I think you’re onto something with your point on his views on death, life, and the possibility of an afterlife.
Now, I’m an atheist myself, but to me, that quote from Reaper Man that I put in the review is something I can hold on to: that even after you’ve passed away, there are still echoes of your presence left in the world and you will not be truly gone until those echoes have died away. Your actions, your words, they will have touched other people’s lives, whether you are aware of it or not. You still affect the world when you are no longer there (some in bigger and more noticable ways than others). Eventually, you will probably pass into obscurity, but not while there are still people who carry memories of you, not while that tree you planted that one time is still standing, and in Pratchett’s case, not while his books are still being read and talked about.
And that, to me, is a beautiful thing.