Cover art by Marc Simonetti.
After Pyramids (review here), I decided to continue on the “Ancient Civilisations” path and picked up Small Gods as my next Discworld read. In this installment, we follow the formerly great god Om as he and his prophet Brutha as they battle zealotry, discuss the nature of belief, and try to restore Om to his former glory. As a classics nerd with an interest in philosophy and mythology, watching Pratchett throw around references to Archimides, Diogenes, and the Library of Alexandria is a ton of fun as well as a great challenge; every time I could whisper “I see what you did there Pratchett” to my book, I felt a small sense of accomplishment. See that Marcus Aurelius joke there? I caught that! Go me!
However, there is a lot more to this book than Horrible Histories-worthy slapstick. Like all Discworld books, Small Gods has a fundamental question at its core, only barely covered up by a layer of jokes.
Still from the 2006 TV movie.
I still very much consider myself to be a newbie to Terry Pratchett’s work; I read my first Discworld book eight months ago (Mort – review here), have stuck to only one subseries (Death), and until very recently, I had never heard of Hogswatch. And yet, after only a few books, I find myself wondering how I’ve managed to do without the Discworld in my life for so long.
I finished reading Hogfather on christmas eve, fully intending to write down my thoughts on the spot and post a review on christmas day, but spent the next day or so pondering how on earth I was going to review it instead. Pointing out where a writer went wrong is one thing, but what do you say about a book that instantly feels like a classic and has managed to capture the holiday spirit in a way that is all too rare?
In Soul Music, rock ‘n roll comes to the Discworld (or, rather, Music With Rocks In) and brings absolute chaos with it. The Dean of the Unseen University paints his room black and makes his own leather jacket with “Born To Rune” on the back, music literally becomes Imp the bard’s life, and a mysterious shop suddenly appears in Ankh-Morpork (and the second it does it has always been there). Basically, all the quirky mayhem you would expect from a Discworld novel.
Archibald J. Motley, “Nightlife” (1943).
Jazz is a peculiar book because it is more a stylistic exercise than a regular novel. Morrison set out to create a work that would not just be about the jazz age, but actually become it; she did not design the novel’s structure to enhance meaning, but to equal it. Jazz is not a book you read for the plot (it’s all right there on the very first page, no twists beyond that point), but for the language, the rhythm pumping through the lines, the taste of it. In an interview with the Paris Review, Morrison said that it was the most intricate thing she had ever done, “a very simple story about people who do not know that they are living in the jazz age and to never use the word.”
In the second installment of the Discworld‘s Death subseries, Terry Pratchett once again shows that he is a not-so-secret humanist and a philosopher. He lures you in with wizard slapstick, hits you over the head with an achingly beautiful fable, and then leaves you by the side of the road with all these overwhelming feelings about people and the cosmos. Sneaky bastard.