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Terry Pratchett Biography

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Nationality: British. Born: 1948. Education: Wycombe Technical High School. Career: Journalist in Buckinghamshire, Bristol, and Bath, then press officer, Central Electricity Board Western Region, until 1987. Awards: British Science Fiction award, 1990. Honorary degree, University of Warwick, 1999. Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.), 1998. Agent: Colin Smythe Ltd., P.O. Box 6, Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire SL9 8XA, England.

PUBLICATIONS

Novels (series: Discworld; Truckers/Bromeliad)

Carpet People. Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, Smythe, 1971; revised edition, London, Doubleday, 1992.

The Dark Side of the Sun. Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, Smythe, 1976.

Strata. Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, Smythe, and New York, St. Martin's Press, 1981.

The Colour of Magic (Discworld). Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, Smythe, and New York, St. Martin's Press, 1983.

The Light Fantastic (Discworld). Gerrard's Cross, Buckinghamshire, Smythe, and New York, St. Martin's Press, 1986.

Mort (Discworld). London, Gollancz, and New York, New AmericanLibrary, 1987.

Sourcery (Discworld). London, Gollancz, 1988; New York, NewAmerican Library, 1989.

Pyramids (Discworld). London, Gollancz, and New York, Penguin, 1989.

Guards! Guards! (Discworld; with Gray Jolliffe). London, Gollancz, 1989; New York, Roc, 1991.

Truckers (first of the Truckers trilogy; in the U.S. as the Bromeliad trilogy). London, Doubleday, 1989; New York, Delacorte, 1990.

Eric (Discworld). London, Gollancz, 1989.

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Predictions of Agnes Nutter, Witch, with Neil Gaiman. London, Gollancz, and New York, Workman, 1990.

Moving Pictures (Discworld). London, Gollancz, 1990.

Diggers (Truckers/Bromeliad). London, Doubleday, and New York, Delacorte, 1990.

Wings (Truckers/Bromeliad; with Neil Gaiman). London, Doubleday, 1990; New York, Delacorte, 1991.

Reaper Man (Discworld). London, Gollancz, 1991.

Lords and Ladies. London, Gollancz, 1992.

Only You Can Save Mankind. London, Doubleday, 1992.

Small Gods (Discworld). London, Gollancz, and New York, HarperCollins, 1992.

Men at Arms (Discworld). London, Gollancz, 1993.

Johnny and the Dead. London, Doubleday, 1993.

Interesting Times. London, Gollancz, 1994.

Soul Music (Discworld). London, Gollancz, 1994; New York, HarperPrism, 1995.

The Witches Trilogy (Discworld). London, Gollancz, 1995.

Equal Rites (Discworld). London, Gollancz, 1986; New York, NewAmerican Library, 1987.

Wyrd Sisters. London, Gollancz, and New York, Penguin, 1988.

Witches Abroad. London, Gollancz, 1991.

Maskerade. London, Gollancz, 1995; New York, HarperPrism, 1997.

Feet of Clay (Discworld). New York, HarperPrism, 1996.

Jingo (Discworld). New York, HarperPrism, 1997.

Hogfather (Discworld). New York, HarperPrism, 1998.

Carpe Jugulum (Discworld). New York, HarperPrism, 1998.

The Last Continent (Discworld). New York, HarperPrism, 1999.

The First Discworld Novels (contains The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic). Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, England, C. Smythe; Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, Dufour Editions, 1999.

The Truth. New York, HarperCollins, 2000.

The Fifth Elephant (Discworld). New York, HarperPrism, 2000.

Other

The Unadulterated Cat, with illustrations by Gray Jolliffe. London, Gollancz, 1989.

The Discworld Companion, with Stephen Briggs. London, Gollancz, 1994.

* * *

Terry Pratchett's texts are woven from the stuff of fantasy: wizards, witches, trolls, dwarves, gnomes, elves, demons, gods; magic spells, sudden space-and-time shifts, drastic metamorphoses. His fiction is both a hilarious parody of the fantasy genre, as represented by Tolkien and "sword-and-sorcery" novels, and a genuine contribution to it, in that it creates a rich, imaginative "multiverse" that absorbs and intrigues the reader. It shares with the strongest fantasy a concern with fundamental issues such as death, and it incorporates aspects of contemporary culture such as fast food and rock music. Pratchett has a witty, inventive style that draws attention to itself in an engaging way and that often seizes on a phrase drawn from common speech or from literature and brings out a buried or alternative meaning—as when Robert Frost's line "good fences make good neighbors" is applied to living next door to a receiver of stolen goods.

Pratchett's major corpus is the Discworld series of novels, which now number twenty-four. The Discworld is a flat disc, carried on the back of four giant elephants, who in turn stand on the shell of the huge turtle Great A'Tuin, swimming slowly through space. It is the ideal fantasy world for the postmodernist era, since its flatness means that its inhabitants have no truck with those "global" theories denounced by postmodernist thinkers. Its capital city is Ankh-Morpork, densely overpopulated, impossibly labyrinthine, and egregiously foul-smelling. The Discworld is full of stories that bear on our social and metaphysical concerns. In Equal Rites, for example, a dying wizard gives his staff of power to a baby who turns out to be a girl and grows up to become the first female wizard in the face of male prejudice and opposition. Moving Pictures looks at how cinema comes to the Discworld, whereas Soul Music charts the effects of a new and overwhelming form of rock music. In Mort, Death takes on an apprentice and tries to train him on the job, but the young man disturbs the order of the multiverse when he reprieves a young princess who is about to be assassinated. Hogfather affirms that human beings need fantasy to be human, and describes the attempts of the Auditors of Reality, who hate life, human beings above all, to destroy belief in the Hogfather, a kind of Discworld Santa Claus. Jingo is about the destructive results of excessive nationalism, as war threatens between Ankh-Morpork and the kingdom of Klatch when both lay claim to an island that has unexpectedly appeared between them. In The Last Continent, campus revolt takes a new form when books barricade themselves into the library of Unseen University.

Each of the Discworld novels is enjoyable and absorbing in its own right, with a range of character and incident and, usually, a strong and complex narrative structure, although some of the tales are more compelling than others, perhaps inevitably given Pratchett's large and rapid output. Taken together, these novels create an imaginative zone that is rich and strange, offering the reader both the pleasures of discovery, as new aspects are revealed, and of recognition, as familiar figures recur. Among the most notable of these are the Luggage, a travelling chest with hundreds of little legs, which follows its owner everywhere, proffering clean linen whenever he requires it and dealing ruthlessly with anyone or anything else that gets in its way; the Librarian of Unseen University who, having been inadvertently changed by magic into an orangutan, prefers to remain that way, since it simplifies life's philosophical problems and enables him to get by with only one utterance, "Oook"; and Death, a tall skeleton who always speaks in capital letters but who turns out to be lonely, troubled, and strangely human. It is Death who, in Hogfather, tries to take the Hogfather's place after the Hogfather is "severely reduced" by the lessening belief of children in him. Pratchett is also good at creating engaging minor characters, such as Bilious, the "oh God of Hangovers," in Hogfather—so named because the hungover always say "oh God" when he manifests himself—or the werewolf in Feet of Clay who, anticipating the change that occurs at the time of the full moon, suffers from PLT: pre-lunar tension.

Among Pratchett's other novels, particular mention should be made of Only You Can Save Mankind, Johnny and the Dead, and Johnny and the Bomb, which combine fantasy and science fiction with a realistic portrayal of a group of teenagers in a rundown English city. In Only You Can Save Mankind, Johnny Maxwell finds himself involved in a video game in which the aliens against whom he is fighting turn out to be real; the novel invokes and echoes the blurring of the distinction between image and reality in the Gulf War. Johnny and the Dead engages with the issue of the loss of the sense of the past in the postmodernist era: Johnny joins a campaign to save a local cemetery from redevelopment after he has discovered that he can see and talk to the people buried there. In Johnny and the Bomb, the past comes alive as a supermarket trolley serves as the time machine that carries Johnny and his friends back to 21 May 1941; the narrative skillfully interweaves the contrasting but connected events of a day in the Second World War and the same day in the 1990s.

Pratchett is a best-selling writer with an enormous and devoted following. He identifies his intended readership as "children of any age," and he has a large teenage and adult audience. But critical response to him has been mixed; his work enjoys the admiration of important contemporary novelists such as A.S. Byatt but it has also been judged to be formulaic and of low quality. The eclectic mixture of elements and the crossing of cultural boundaries in his fiction might mark it as postmodernist. But postmodernist work that has found critical acceptance tends to imply a knowing, distanced attitude toward the popular materials on which it draws, whereas Pratchett remains deeply rooted in those materials even as he parodies them; he thus challenges the postmodernist aesthetic as well as traditional cultural categories. Since Johnny and the Bomb, he has focused on producing further Discworld novels, most recently Carpe Jugulum, in which he employs vampires for the first time—they try to take over the small kingdom of Lancre and are resisted by its witches—and The Fifth Elephant, in which another recurrent Discworld character, the tough and tactless Samuel Vimes, captain of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, is sent as an ambassador to the Northern principality of Uberwald and gets entangled with vampires, dwarves, and were-wolves. While some readers and reviewers have felt that his inventiveness is flagging in these latest works, others have continued to applaud and enjoy them. Pratchett seems happy to devote most of his energies to the continuing creation of the Discworld and has no apparent aspiration towards being acknowledged as a serious writer; it will be interesting to see whether, in the twenty-first century, he continues to offer more of the same or strikes out in new directions.

Nicolas Tredell

John Prater (1947-) Biography - Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights [next] [back] David Pownall Biography

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