Please, sir, can I have some more?

Otherwise known as part three of the 26 Week Book Challenge, and this week I am talking about My favourite series.

This question is much easier to answer than the impossible ‘what is your favourite book’ (more on that in a later post), even if I am already preciously close to elevating the Gentlemen Bastard series to that position. As it stands though, my favourite series has to be Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels.

For a long time I was hesitant about reading this series, and strangely enough this was mainly due to the by now iconic cover art by Josh Kirby. I was entirely judging these novels by their covers, and I disliked them intensely. They were too busy, too crowded, too complicated. I couldn’t see what was going on at all, and dismissed the entire series purely on that.

We are talking a long time ago here, probably my early university years. I lived in Dordrecht and studied in Leiden, and thanks to my wonderful student public transport card I could hop off and back on the train any time I wanted, so I often stopped off in Rotterdam to pay a visit to the lovely big bookshop there. I believe it was a Borders, but I really am not certain anymore. Some chain, and it was big.

Anyway, I’m not even sure what made me decide to read these after all. It may have been on the recommendation of one of the people on the proto-mmorpg I played, and it may have been Pyramids I read first. I honestly can’t remember, but I know I was hooked. Never before had I read any books so laced through with humour, and all without the stories losing any of their impact. I don’t know how many books I borrowed before I started buying them, but soon it became vital to own every single Discworld novel in existence, and I started reading them in chronological order.

It’s probably just as well that I didn’t do that to begin with, because I personally find the first two novels, The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic to be a bit of a shaky start. They are not representative of the series as a whole, Rincewind notwithstanding, and Rincewind has also never really been one of my favourite characters. To me, the series really starts to come into its own at the second novel featuring the witches, Wyrd Sisters. It was the first novel where the interlinking relationship between Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick really starts to blossom, and the first novel to start Terry’s habit of parodying a famous film, play or phenomenon.

It doesn’t always work out as well as at other times. Moving Pictures is a bit on the weak side, sometimes feeling like it’s trying too hard. However, weaker efforts like that are then offset by brilliant ones such as Witches Abroad. Never before had I stopped to think how completely and utterly twisted fairy tales really are, and for a long time that particular novel was probably my absolute favourite Discworld novel.

I should add that any of the novels featuring the witches are very high on my personal favourites list, simply because of the very concept of what they do. Headology has got to be the single most amazing invention in the world of literature, and I can’t get enough of the problem-solving abilities of Granny and Nanny put together.

Very closely behind that have got to be the novels featuring the Watch. Sam Vimes is a fantastically complex character, and he is complemented very well with people like Sergeant Colon, Nobby and especially Carrot.

Inevitably, with a series of over thirty books, there has got to be a dud in there somewhere, and for me that is The Last Continent. I have read it several times to see if it made any more sense the second time around, but the plot of it never made sense to me, and the book just felt like a series of Australia gags vaguely knitted together by an ever-panicked Rincewind.

And then there was, of course, the sad news of Pterry’s early-onset alzheimers. I commend him for continuing despite this, and doing his best to keep going for as long as he can, but my personal opinion is that it is starting to show.

I first noticed it in I Shall Wear Midnight, the fourth Tiffany Aching novel. I love Tiffany; in her own way she is at least as strong as Esme Weatherwax, and I still count the first three Tiffany Aching novels as among the strongest of Terry’s work. But in the fourth there were bits that seemed… off. Wrong somehow. It’s elusive enough that I cannot put my finger on it, but I have noticed it in every subsequent novel, and the most recent one I’ve read, Snuff, was plain disappointing. I cannot simply put it down to another weak novel in an otherwise strong series, it is just a certain quality about the writing that doesn’t feel right anymore. It saddens me beyond expressing, because this series has kept me company for nigh on twenty years now, and I would rather see it stop in a blaze of glory than peter out into mediocrity.

There have been rumours that Terry’s daughter Rhianna will continue to write the series. I still don’t know whether this is true – I understand that she is more of a journalist than a novelist – but I rather hope it isn’t. The way it is going at the moment, Discworld is turning into a book version of The Simpsons: brilliant when it started, but now continuing long past its sell-by date. I’d rather it were a Father Ted: brilliant but cut off in its prime.

Future posts will return to Terry Pratchett, because he is too much of a presence in my bookshelves to limit him to just one post. Just so you’re warned.

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