Tag Archives: Neil Gaiman

Terry Pratchett – An Appreciation

So much enjoyment in so little space.
A Pratchett bookshelf – and this isnt all of it.

Certain authors and novels, if you come across them at the right age, will change your life. Terry Pratchett was one of those authors for me, and while his recent death was long anticipated, due to the cruelty of early-onset Alzheimer’s, the news, when it came, proved just as gut-wrenching as the original announcement of his illness had been.

Already, there have been plenty of appreciations of the man and his work. It’s a mark of both the nature of the man and the talent of the author that someone who primarily wrote comedic fantasy touched as many people across as many fields as he did.

I never met Terry Pratchett—the closest I came was during one of his visits to Dublin, when I spotted him walking in College Green, heading from Trinity College to (presumably) a pub, surrounded by a gaggle of students and admirers. It would have been nice to have the chance to talk to him, but at that stage he’d been talking to me through his work for years.

Books like Good Omens, Small Gods and Pyramids reduced me to helpless giggling more than any since Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. (Another author and decent human being taken too soon.) Across the 40 books of the Discworld series, Pratchett mixed the deftest wordplay with humour both low and cutting and serious thoughts that stole upon you in the midst of the laughter and stuck around long after the jokes were done.

As a kid growing up in a Northern Ireland still caught up in the lunacy of the Troubles, Pratchett provided constant reassurance that there was a better humanity out there. That being decent to other human beings mattered most of all, that you ought to be suspicious of anyone or any organisation that would tell you what to think, that being curious, patient, and argumentative were all good things. Thoughts that I found it hard to express, even as I was working them out in my own head, I found reflected in his prose.

As an aspiring writer, the most important thing I learned from him was that it was possible to underlay fantasy and science fiction writing with serious topics without preaching to your audience. I learned as well that language was a game, one that you won if you brought a smile to your audience’s face, or just made them pause and consider for a moment.

As a human being, he was, like his collaborator Neil Gaiman, like Douglas Adams and Charles Darwin, one of those people it was possible to admire without having to look up to them. Possessed of immense talent that never overwhelmed his innately decent humanity, yet driven by an inner anger that allowed him to churn out books of breathtaking quality and wit year after year.

That same anger helped him to deal with the unfairness of his diagnosis. Deeming it “an embuggerance,” he continued to live his life even more fully than before, fighting on behalf of those suffering from Alzheimer’s and those who believed that they had a right to end a life that had become unbearable. His eloquent arguments in favour of the right to die in the manner of his own choosing revived a debate that is still going on.

Reading Pratchett and authors like him and growing up where I did and among my family and friends has led me to the belief that if we have a purpose in life, it’s to increase the amount of happiness in the world, both your own and that of those around you. Far more than the number of books he sold, the joy that his work and personality brought to so many is a marker of his success in life.

If I ever have any kids, I’ll enjoy sharing his books with them. And whether or not they turn out to be fans like me, I hope that some of the lessons that I’ve learned in reading his books will be the same lessons I share with them.

Good Omens About the Radio

I'd give anything to have been at that reading...
The Good Omens team gathered for a reading. Aren’t they a lovely bunch?

What’s your favourite book?

It’s always been a tough question to answer for me. What are the criteria? The Lord of the Rings is a superlative work of creation. Rubicon is as great a work of historical narrative as I’ve ever read. The Lies of Locke Lamora impressed me more than any novel in the past ten years and genuinely shocked me with one of its many twists. Planetary and V for Vendetta are superbly well-crafted comics series. I could dig in to my library and make an argument for many more of the books in there.

But if I’m allowed to narrow it down to the book that has given me the most joy, then the answer’s easier. Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett are two of my favourite authors, their storytelling skills and mastery of wordplay having made me smile more often than most, and when they collaborated to create a novel, they both surpassed themselves. That novel, Good Omens, reduced me to even more helpless giggling than Douglas Adams Hitchhiker’s Guide series ever managed.

The news, then, that Pratchett and Gaiman are adapting Good Omens as a six-part BBC Radio 4 dramatisation, just fills me with even greater joy. Add to that the fact that the team behind it was also responsible for last year’s wonderful adaptation of Gaiman’s Neverwhere and joy levels are starting to reach near-terminal levels. Anything else? Oh yes, how about the amazing Peter Serafinowicz as co-lead Crowley, “an angel who did not so much fall as saunter vaguely downwards”.*

Needless to say, a radio-centric Christmas can’t come soon enough. I may just have to dig out my very-well thumbed copy of the original novel** and remind myself of just how good it is in order to prepare myself…

*He hadn’t meant to fall. He’d just hung around with the wrong people.

**It was first published in 1990. That’s … quite a while ago.

Carey Good Comics

Take three in the morning and call me in the afternoon.

The Amazon fairy brought me some reading goodness over the past weekend, in the form of a trio of graphic novels from one of my favourite writers: Mike Carey. The first was a reprint of a series I’ve long had in the less-convenient monthly form, Lucifer, the latter two were the sixth and seventh installments of Carey’s current magnum opus, The Unwritten.

Lucifer was one of several spin-off series that DC Comics released in the wake of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Of all those spin offs, it came closest to the original in form and longevity, though Carey brought a very distinct tone to it. Whereas Sandman was a tour through mythology and storytelling, revolving around the enigmatic figure of Morpheus, Lucifer skews closer to a traditional quest tale, as the much more forceful title figure overcomes all obstacles as part of his plan to obtain his freedom from all authority and destiny.

Carey’s Lucifer hews closely to the Miltonian ideal of the ultimate rebel and borrows heavily from the “Magnificent Bastard” trope: an unsympathetic figure who’s just so damned (pun intended) impressive that you can’t help but root for him. Carey plays this up by regularly placing his protagonist in positions where he’s powerless and has him come out on top by out-thinking those who set themselves against him.

This beefy collected edition brings together the original Lucifer miniseries and the first 13 issues of the regular series. It’s far from perfect, as Carey seeks to find the right way to tell his tale and deals with changes in artist, but by the end it’s caught the wave that would carry it all the way to the end, the details of which I’m not going to spoil here.

The Unwritten is much more recent vintage Carey, sharing much of the same interest in myth and storytelling, but here using them as a theme rather than as props. Like Lucifer it builds on the work of another author, but here the chosen one is J.K. Rowling. The protagonist is the son of an author of a Harry Potter-like series, and his life is turned upside down when questions are asked about the links between him and his father’s most famous creation.

This isn’t just a Potter pastiche though. Carey’s interest is in how stories affect us and how we in turn affect them, and to explore this he tosses his likeable cast into a labyrinth of literary theories and allusions. Not that he wanders too far into the highbrow either: there are vampires and monsters aplenty to go with the ever-present Potterisms, and a multitude of mysteries to be uncovered.

As the books I received were well into the long-form story, I won’t discuss them here, other than to say that they continue the process of revealing the truth behind Carey’s universe of stories. It’s a journey that I’ve been enjoying ever since I picked up the first book. Carey as a writer has come on in leaps and bounds since Lucifer, and he was already pretty damn good then. Anyone with even a passing interest in myths and stories could do far worse than picking these tales up.