In the Spirit of Oscar WildeBy Jane Maduram
The Truth, by Terry Pratchett, is the newest release in the Discworld series. As usual, Pratchett’s latest contribution to comic fantasy combines humor and political satire to great effect.
The plot line is as convoluted as ever: Dwarves introduce printing to the city Ankh-Morpork, a disinherited son finds employment and purpose in the family motto -- “le mot juste,” and the major, Lord Vetinari, is framed for robbery and attempted murder. Pratchett uses this frantic plot to convey some very interesting ideas on freedom of speech, the influence of the press, and the wonder of words.
Pratchett’s work is most similar to the plays and writings of Oscar Wilde, in which witticisms, character sketches, and ideas take priority over plot. Pratchett’s characters, perhaps, are the most memorable, as evidenced by some of the brief sketches below:
Foul Ron: “There was this to be said about the Smell of Foul Ole Ron, an odor so intense that it took on a personality of its own and fully justified the capital letter: after the initial shock the organs of smell just gave up and shut down, as if no more able to comprehend the thing than an oyster can comprehend the ocean. After some minutes in its presence, wax would start to trickle out of people’s ears and their hair would begin to bleach.”
Sacharissa: “She was quite good-looking if considered over several centuries ... three hundred years ago the sculptor Mauvaise would have taken one look at her chin and dropped the chisel on his foot; a thousand years ago the Ephebian poets would have agreed that her nose alone was capable of launching at least forty ships. And she had good medieval ears.”
Dibbler: “Let me tell you about these sausages .... When someone chopped off his thumb in the abattoir, they didn’t even stop the grinder. You prob’ly won’t find any rat in them ’cos rats don’t go near the place. There’s animals in there that ... well, you know how they say life began in some kind of big soup? Same with these sausages. If you want a bad sausage, you won’t get better than these.”
Mr. Tulip: “It wasn’t that he had a drug habit. He wanted to have a drug habit .... In a street where furtive people were selling Clang, Slip, Chop, Rhino, Skunk, Triplin, Floats, Honk, Double Honk, Gongers, and Slack, Mr. Tulip had an unerring way of finding the man who was retailing curry powder at what worked out as six hundred dollars a pound.”
Pratchett is also fond of inserting witticisms in his work, as a sort of “last word.” Therefore, we get such gems as a description of society in terms of beer and glasses, a description of racism as it would be practiced in a multi-species society (where humans discriminate against dwarves, zombies, werewolves, golems, etc.) and a rags-to-riches story involving naturally-produced phosphate. A talking dog calls itself “Deep Bone” in homage to the X-files, and there are a number of references to horror movies.
Pratchett churns out wonderful books quite quickly (This is his second book published this year; the first was The Fifth Elephant), but I have a few caveats with the book. The writing could be better, the dialogue could be improved, and some of the coincidences are unnecessary. It is quite unfair to set certain authors to higher standards than others, but with the level of work Pratchett has produced, one must wonder whether this is his best effort. In this book, a few threads are stretched too far to provide closure, and some of the dialogue tries too hard to be witty.
Nonetheless, I urge you to read at least one book by Pratchett over winter break; you will definitely find it worth the effort.