Why do fantasy writers always have awesome beards?

So I’m sitting at the kitchen table with my housemate’s 14-year-old son, talking about the book reports he has to write before he goes back to school next week. (When did kids have to start doing homework before school even started? Seriously, WTF?) It’s a great list and, apparently, a great school, and the kid’s stoked. The whole situation is very happy-making. But what really made me smile was that one of the books on the list is Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett. Awesome. And the kid says to me “But why not have us read The Colour of Magic? It’s the first book in the series. It just doesn’t make any sense.” And then he gets up to go email his teacher about it. So either A) he’s already read Colour of Magic and is trying to get out of extra homework or B) he’s actually heard of Pratchett and wants to read the series in order. Either way, a child after my own heart.

All of which is a completely irrelevant lead-in to my telling you that I loves me some Terry Pratchett. (Such a hack! Me, not Pratchett, obviously.) I started reading the Discworld novels a couple of years ago. I think I got through seven or eight of them before we moved out here, and quite a few more since then. Still not all of them, but I’m on it. Cut me some slack – there are forty books in that series! Also, Good Omens, Pratchett’s collaboration with Neil Gaiman is fan-fucking-tastic (it’s like Small Gods and American Gods had a baby – a super-funny baby). I highly, highly recommend. But let us just talk about the Discworld books because…well, because they’re superfun and that’s what I want to talk about.

Basically, there’s this small little world which is flat (um, I probably could’ve skipped saying that, but whatever) and swims through space on the back of a giant cosmic turtle. And it’s got one ridiculously sprawly city that’s home to Unseen University (a university for wizards). The city is kind of something like maybe a little bit pre-Victoria London? Ish? And then everywhere else that’s not the city/university is a vague satirical “elsewhere.” A desert island, a set of rugged mountains, a Giza-that’s-not-Giza, etc, etc (but no suburbs, which is an odd omission, but the burbs are boring so who cares?). And then dunk the whole situation in magic and folklore and really odd people who don’t seem to understand irony and who have always lived in a world where weird magic-related nonsense happens. Hilarity ensues. Trust me.

I think the reason that I love this series is because it’s a monument to worldbuilding. Seriously, if you ever have to study worldbuilding, for whatever reason, start with Pratchett. (People do that, right? Just study stuff? No? Just me? Alright.) It’s so fucking thorough. Everything’s tied together perfectly. The prime directive of worldbuilding is that you, the writer, should know all the rules of your world, even if you never have to use them. And I guarantee you that if one were to ask Pratchett something about Discworld that’s not in the books, he would know the answer because it’s that well put together. Even the characters’ logic is skewed to their reality, as opposed to ours, down to the way they talk about weather or magic or gravity. Fluid. Seamless. Dude’s like a samurai. Not a word wasted. The characters are exquisitely weird. I’m a particular fan of Death. He talks IN ALL CAPS and his horse is named Binky. Who does that? Makes Death ridiculous? It’s awesome.

And, bonus, you don’t actually have to read them in order. You should usually read series in order, and honestly I would’ve preferred to just for OCD’s sake, but each book is loosely tied to all the others as opposed to each being a continuation of the last. Occasionally when I read one out of order there will be a joke or a scene that I don’t fully understand but so far nothing has come up that got in the way of the individual story. Which sounds like I’m damning with faint praise, but I’m really not. Because when I do get those things it’s like I’m in on a private joke. I love that, as a fan. And one day I will have read them all and then I get to get all the jokes. Mwahahahahahaaa…

Urm. Anyway.

I mentioned this briefly in my post about Douglas Adams, but Pratchett’s one of a very few authors that actually makes me laugh. Out loud. Quick, witty, clever, sarcastic, dry, British-tastic LOLs, you guys. And I don’t use any of those words lightly (except LOLs, because that shit’s ridiculous and you can’t ever say it with any gravitas, which I suppose is the point). It’s rare to find a fantasy series that doesn’t take itself seriously. Seems to be so for me, anyway. Most of them are all impending doom and there’s a damsel in distress and the dragon’s holding my family hostage and the wizard’s evil and has everyone brainwashed and obviously only a hero can save us so let’s beat the reader in the face with hamfisted metaphor to make the useless prince or the idiot blacksmith or the ragamuffin pickpocket or whomever into someone we can reluctantly rally around and who will save the day despite our trepidation. Sounds quite a bit like American politics during an election year, actually. And Pratchett would totally tell that story, but all along the way he’d be telling you how outlandish the situation is, or how it was all going to fall apart, or something to break the convention. Brilliant.

So, yeah. Go read Colour of Magic or Good Omens. And, in reference to my not-so-irrelevant-but-still-hacky opening paragraph: these books are pretty clean, so you could totally give them to a precocious tween or a perspicacious fantasy-inclined teenager. There’s very little objectionable language – nothing they wouldn’t hear on tv. And if I recall correctly there’s not a lot of (and certainly no graphic) sexy time. At least in the ones I’ve read. I like the idea of giving an epic series like Discworld to kids that age. Because if they love it, there are 30-something more books to keep them reading. And a great fun, funny series like that can be a gateway drug into other, more conventional or serious fantasy or scifi stuff. Which is basically giving them a lifetime of cheap, healthy, nerdy fun. The universe at their fingertips, right? What more could you ever want to give your kids (besides maybe some social skills to mitigate that budding geekiness)?