Sunday, July 24, 2022

Equal Rites - Terry Pratchett

A major new Pratchett biography is coming out in the Autumn (Rob Wilkins 'A Life With Footnotes') and on the back of that Penguin have been throwing copies of Pratchett's novels at Booksellers like confetti (or possibly half bricks in socks). In my case 'Equal Rites' landed unexpectedly in my letter box and I read it again for maybe the first time in 30 years.

I had a big Pratchett phase in my mid to late teens, and for a couple of years would buy those books in hardback as they came out - if memory serves they cost around £16 then - they'd cost less now and never mind inflation, which tells me something about how much I must have enjoyed them back in the day, but by my early twenties I'd lost interest in the discworld and moved on. I sold my copies of Pratchett along with my Douglas Adams and Robert Rankins - I've occasionally regretted not having The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy to hand, but otherwise, it was the right decision. 

I thought there was no such thing as Young Adult literature when I was a teen, but 'Equal Rites' has made me rethink that. Who were these books aimed at if not students who had grown up with 'The Lord of the Rings' being read to them, and watched if not read Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonja? These were books that delighted sixth formers and undergraduates everywhere. They must also have appealed to a few older readers ready to have gentle fun poked at a beloved genre, and now to older readers who enjoy the nostalgia of them, but to me, they were as Monty Python had been to the generation before me. 

It took me roughly four hours to read 'Equal Rites' last night. I vaguely remember how disappointed I used to be at how quickly I could race through these books when I was 16, now it's a bonus (but this time it didn't cost me what would have seemed like a good days wages). It's still funny, I still enjoy the way that Pratchett built his world and his delight in words, wordplay, and puns is a wonderful thing, but the reasons I stopped reading him are still there too.

As a teen, he introduced me and my circle to all sorts of ideas about social justice in easy-to-understand chunks. He threw in a whole lot of stuff about philosophy, religion, history, politics, and popular culture too, all of it perfect for discussing in a sixth-form common room, but eventually there's a lack of depth to it that made the idea of following 40+ books feel exhausting. A little Pratchett can go a long way.

That said, I'm starting on the copy of  'Guards! Guards!' that was floating around the staffroom just for the fun of the wordplay (and because Grimes boot theory is possibly Pratchett's greatest moment) and it's good to get reacquainted with this particular old friend. These are serious times, and after a depressing episode of listening to the news, there's no better antidote than a writer with Terry Pratchett's kindness and humour. There's a hopefulness about 'Equal Rites' that was even a match for listening to Liz Truss be interviewed. I need that right now, as I think perhaps a lot of us do. 

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