It’s funny how in the book cover you can see suggestions of the development of Terry Pratchett as a writer, from cheerful gaudy frivolity to serious humour full of clever symbolism. This is a class act.
The earlier Discworld novels featured a chaos of little characters all romping around, and often that’s just what you got – comic fantasy. Sometimes the plots were hard to follow, or inconsequential, but the gags and wit and wry commentary on the human condition was enough to maintain interest. There’s nothing comic or throw-away about Thud! There’s good humour, make no mistake, but it’s mature humour, cleverly placed to lighten the mood in a very serious story. The plot is cunning. The cover by Paul Kidby couldn’t be better. It shows one man throwing a light and looking to the heavens (or just above the reader’s head) for an answer in a cold, tense world that is trying to be black and white (except for the vivid scarlet slash where their ideologies clash).
Pratchett is very clever with his use of metaphors or parallels. He doesn’t say ‘ here, look at your fanaticism, it’s a load of bollocks’. He says, ‘look att this religious text, written by the dwarfs. Can you see how misleading it is, how easy it is to manipulate? Watch how the dwarfs take it to heart. Watch how the fearful become hysterical if you criticise them, and see what a hard time the clear-thinking dwarfs have to escape from the culture of racism.
Right. Now you do your own thinking. You can’t help but observe your own beliefs, world-view, religion. If you can’t make the metaphorical comparison, you don’t see the criticism and so can’t be offended. But when you do see the links to our current culture, you want to clap your hands. He hits the nail (or, in this case the dwarf) right on the head.
Discworld has become such a good mirror of our life and times, in many ways it can do a better job than if Pratchett were to write directly about our world. He doesn’t preach. He illuminates the vital issues in such a way that you can understand them. With understanding comes enlightenment (or endarkenment, if you’re a dwarf).
Yes, we all know about racial intolerance, but being able to see it from a non-partisan point of view (through the lens of Discworld) we get a unique perspective that is refreshing because it is not weighed down with politics, personal idioms or modern cultural baggage. You don’t actually know any trolls personally, so you aren’t offended when they are portrayed in a particular light, you don’t become confused when the dwarves’ beliefs are questioned, and you can see how tough it can be for someone with an emotional prejudice to be fair (Commander Vimes battles with swearing a vampire into the Watch. Let’s face it, a reformed murderer is just too creepy to have in the police force. But is it fair to deny them a position? How else are they to reform?).
With a twinkle in his eye, he teaches you, without seeming to teach. He makes you laugh and when you stop laughing you go ‘yeah, yeah, it’s like that, isn’t it?’
And you think.
I’ll read anything Terry Pratchett produces now. He’s the wisest man I know.