There as some books on my shelves that I reread every few years. Dragging out an old, dusty favorite is like visiting a favorite friend or relative. There is something comfortable, familiar, and relaxing about it. The books we find ourselves especially drawn to tell us something about who and what we are, and they can help us remember that when everyday life is doing its best to turn us into someone else, someone we may not especially like.
Pratchett’s style of writing is different. He violates several ‘rules’ of fiction writing, not least of which is the one against author intrusion into the story. His presence is always clearly evident. The stories are told from the outside looking in, by someone from our world observing one much like it, and he occasionally points out* how odd both places can be. The reader isn’t supposed to believe that the Disc is a real place or that the characters are real people. There is never any doubt that the stories are fiction, but there is also no doubt that the fiction is reflecting something about the real world in often very humorous ways.
Pratchett sums up this idea in the beginning of his novel Moving Pictures. Here is his description of the Discworld, which rests upon the back of Great A’Tuin the star turtle.
“On its back, four giant elephants. On their shoulders, rimmed with water, flittering under its tiny orbiting sunlet, spinning majestically around the mountains at its frozen Hub, lies the Discworld, world and mirror of worlds.
The Discworld is as unreal as it is possible to be while still being just real enough to exist.
He’s letting us know that none what he’s going to relate in the story about to unfold is to be taken seriously in any kind of literal sense. It’s a fairytale, which, like all good fairytales, points out something about the real world and the people who live there.
Yesterday, I finished rereading Moving Pictures. At one level, this story is about the magically inspired development of movies on Discworld. At another, it is about the ability of people to believe unreal things and the dangers of doing so.
I picked this particular book from my list of favorites to reread now because it features Gaspode, a sentient but otherwise unimpressive mongrel, and I was searching for inspiration. I have a somewhat similar character in my books, although my sentient dog, Moe, is an android rather than being magically enhanced, but they share a similar, knee level perspective. Moe makes an appearance in three of my books as a minor character, but he’s more prominent in my current work in progress.
I plan to reread the other stories featuring Gaspode in the coming weeks, not so much for inspiration, but because I enjoy them. If you aren’t familiar with Discworld, you should visit. It’s the most believable unbelievable place you’ll ever read about.
*sometimes in footnotes