Introducing young readers to Pratchett

Werthead

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"If you want to give younger readers a grounding in fantasy, the question is more why you wouldn't start them off with Pratchett, at least his children's books."

Young readers and listeners have the right to meet elves, dragons, wizards, etc. as the (dare I say) archetypal figures they are. The mysteriousness and power of these figures is a vital part of what they are. Alan Garner said something like this, that such figures have been handed down through many minds until they are almost "pure energy." Similarly it was central to Tolkien's sense of his literary effort to restore to the elves etc. the wonder and otherworldliness that were properly theirs but that had been largely lost in infantilizing and sentimental recent literature. Le Guin says similar things in her seminal essay "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie." Quoting from memory, I recall her as saying that what's essential in fantasy is a "distancing from the ordinary" -- hence, she argues, the vital importance of an appropriate style of verbal presentation. Parody typically involves the bathetic deflating of the extraordinary into the ordinary.

If youngsters are not going to meet elves, dragons, and wizards as they have been traditionally imagined,

(1) Where are they going to meet what will seem to them to be figures of fascination and mystery? Rappers? Presidents? Actors? Athletes? The wealthy?

(2) Aren't they likely to be cheated of a very important part of imaginative experience? Meeting a parody of something before you meet the original is, to say the least of it, not likely to prepare you for a deeply moving imaginative experience when you do. It's likely to spoil it or at least to taint it.

That's my answer, Werthead. Perhaps you will resist what I have said. If so, before you reply, why don't you read Alan Garner's remarks (in The Voice That Thunders), Tolkien's (On Fairy-Stories) and Le Guin's (I think it's in The Language of the Night; myself, I have "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie" as a chapbook, which made a profound impression on me nearly 40 years ago)?

That's all I intend to say here.
Perhaps it would be instructive if you actually read my statement, rather than immediately launched into a condescending reply that suggests you didn't bother.

As I said, Pratchett, after his first Discworld novel, is not a writer of simple fantasy parodies. That stops after The Colour of Magic. The forty other Discworld books are fantasy novels with a sense of humour that are not particularly interested in satirising or taking the mickey out of the fantasy genre but in using fantasy for its original purpose: by holding up a mirror to real human history, society and culture, and exploring (and sometimes satirising) real-life ideas through the medium of fantasy, just as pretty much every single other fantasy novel since time immemorial has done. The use of dragons in Guards! Guards! is as entertaining and imagination-stirring as in The Hobbit, and the fact there is a funny side to the story does not take away from that (Pratchett was a huge fan of Tolkien and corresponded with him several times as a teenager, although he was ambivalent on Tolkien's elves; Discworld elves are not derived from Tolkien but instead go back to the much darker Irish version of the Aes Sidhe instead, and they are not funny).

Pratchett is also one of the most popular authors who has ever lived among teenagers and children. Certainly in the UK, and increasingly in the US (since Pratchett won the Carnegie Medal for The Amazing Maurice and Educated Rodents in 2001), people read him long before they read Tolkien. That doesn't stop them being amazed and awed by Smaug or frightened by the Nazgul or elated by the Ride of the Rohirrim, and suggesting it would is very strange.

He has some great young adult books — The Time Travelling Caveman for instance
All of his kids' books are great. The Nomes trilogy is very solid, and Only You Can Save Mankind (or as I've taken to calling it recently, Ready Player One But Actually Good; I'm not sure why as the plots are quite different) and its two sequels are tremendous fun.

Probably his most impressive YA/children's book is the non-Discworld novel Nation, which is surprisingly dark and literate novel, Lord of the Flies by way of the TV series Lost, and the first book he wrote after he was told he was dying. Very powerful and subversive, and with an unexpectedly spiritual side (something he seemed to resist in his other novels, but clearly was being quite introspective at this point for obvious reasons).
 

Dave

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The Color of Magic is a good start.
I tried once but made the mistake of giving someone The Colour of Magic. Personally, I adore that first rough book but yea... not the best introduction.
As I said, Pratchett, after his first Discworld novel, is not a writer of simple fantasy parodies. That stops after The Colour of Magic.

I'm sure that I must have said this several times before on this forum, but I read The Colour of Magic first (when there were only two or three books written) and I was put off so much that I didn't read any other Pratchett for the next 10-15 years! It definitely is not the best book to recommend to someone to start with. There are so many better books by Pratchett. Please, don't recommend The Colour of Magic.
 

chrispenycate

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My six and a half year old grandnephew is working his way through the Discwi=orld novels, and must by now have got to about two thirds. To start with, either a cousin, his father or Iread them to him, now he reads them to us, and lent me'The Carpet People' (which I hadn't read. Problem - what do I get him for his next birthday? He's worse than me!
 

BAYLOR

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I'm sure that I must have said this several times before on this forum, but I read The Colour of Magic first (when there were only two or three books written) and I was put off so much that I didn't read any other Pratchett for the next 10-15 years! It definitely is not the best book to recommend to someone to start with. There are so many better books by Pratchett. Please, don't recommend The Colour of Magic.

The Color Magic hooked me on Pratchett. :cool:
 

Extollager

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Samuel Taylor Coleridge's remarks, in an autobiographical letter to Tom Poole (1979), may be relevant:

-----As a boy] I read every book that came in my way without distinction; and my father was fond of me, and used to take me on his knee and hold long conversations with me.

I remember that at eight years old I walked with him one winter evening from a farmer’s house, a mile from Ottery, and he told me the names of the stars and how Jupiter was a thousand times larger than our world, and that the other twinkling stars were suns that had worlds rolling round them; and when I came home he shewed me how they rolled round. I heard him with a profound delight and admiration: but without the least ... incredulity.

For from my early reading of fairy tales and genii, etc., etc., my mind had been habituated to the Vast, and I never regarded my senses in any way as the criteria of my belief. I regulated all my creeds by my conceptions, not by my sight, even at that age. Should children be permitted to read romances, and relations of giants and magicians and genii? I know all that has been said against it; but I have formed my faith in the affirmative. I know no other way of giving the mind a love of the Great and the Whole.

Those who have been led to the same truths [of physics, astronomy, etc.] step by step, through the constant testimony of their senses, seem to me to want a sense which I possess. They contemplate nothing but parts, and all parts are necessarily little. And the universe to them is but a mass of little things. It is true, that the mind may become credulous and prone to superstition by the former methods; but are not the experimentalists credulous even to madness in believing any absurdity, rather than believe the grandest truths, if they have not the testimony of their own senses in their favour? I have known some who have been rationally educated, as it is styled. They were marked by a microscopic acuteness, but when they looked at great things, all become a blank and they saw nothing, and denied (very illogically) that anything could be seen, and uniformly put the negations of a power for the possession of a power, and called the want of imagination and judgement and the never being moved to rapture philosophy!----

Parodies and satires of kings, magicians, elves, dragons, gods, haunted places, buried treasure, hidden strongholds, lucky third sons, shapeshifters, &c. can wait till a young person has had plenty of opportunity for his or her imagination to be shaped and moved and enriched by these things in their perennial forms. The clever clever knowingness of adulthood is dearly bought in any event, but especially when the price is such early-life poetic experience.
 

Pyan

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I read The Colour of Magic first - but then, that was in 1985, when there was only the CoM available in PB. I followed it up with The Light Fantastic, then every Pterry Discworld book as it became available. My Pratchett shelf is basically a history-of-the-Discworld shelf.

I reread CoM somewhere about Night Watch, and was astonished at the differences that had crept in between the two books. The CoM is practically a straight parody of other people's universes, whereas by about Mort, what we now regard as the Discworld style had come into effect. For this reason, if people ask me in what order the books should be read, I always advise them to start with Mort or Guards, Guards, and only after you've read a few or more from then on should you read CoM, TLF and Equal Rites, more for the sake of completeness than anything else.

I was an adult reader when the Discworld was created - I understood the parodies of Lovecraft/Smith, Anne McCaffrey and Leiber for what they were - but I doubt many children of today would understand that they are parodies, let alone be amused by them.
 

paranoid marvin

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I read The Colour of Magic first - but then, that was in 1985, when there was only the CoM available in PB. I followed it up with The Light Fantastic, then every Pterry Discworld book as it became available. My Pratchett shelf is basically a history-of-the-Discworld shelf.

I reread CoM somewhere about Night Watch, and was astonished at the differences that had crept in between the two books. The CoM is practically a straight parody of other people's universes, whereas by about Mort, what we now regard as the Discworld style had come into effect. For this reason, if people ask me in what order the books should be read, I always advise them to start with Mort or Guards, Guards, and only after you've read a few or more from then on should you read CoM, TLF and Equal Rites, more for the sake of completeness than anything else.

I was an adult reader when the Discworld was created - I understood the parodies of Lovecraft/Smith, Anne McCaffrey and Leiber for what they were - but I doubt many children of today would understand that they are parodies, let alone be amused by them.


I agree, but then again they will no doubt find other stuff amusing that we as adults perhaps don't. In all honesty Pratchett's work is often so full of parodies and references that many will be missed by readers young and old. Which I guess why in part his work is so popular, because it appeals on so many levels.

I suppose to some extent the same applies to Tolkien, with his reference to other mythologies and his creation of the world and history of Middle-earth. If you know these things it's creates a deeper understanding, a deeper knowledge of the author and his characters. Now you know the reason why some characters act as they do; because it is in their nature and in their teachings rather than something that is explicitly stated in the text. But the book can still be equally enjoyed by those totally oblivious of this knowledge.

Having said that, and as I mentioned earlier, I think that the Discworld novels are (generally) best read as a teenager, which is I think when we have lost the wonder and begin to develop our cynicism. There are so many writers out there from Beatrix Potter to Roald Dahl to more modern authors including JK Rowling and David Walliams far more suited to this age group, which tend to (as Extollager mentions) instil a sense of wonder in the reader; and as fine a writer as TP is, I don't think that was ever his intention. Discworld is far too close to real life on Earth to do that.
 

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