Moving Pictures

December 29, 2003


Shiela O'Malley wanted to know more about Terry Pratchett and one of his novels, Moving Pictures.

That is rather like walking up to the Tolkein fan club and asking what a hobbit is - it is hard to trim the information down to a useable flow.

Pratchett is an English author who writes fantasy. He is best at light fantasy, including the Bromeliad a set of children's books. He also writes with a strong moral center. The two combine oddly at times, particularly in books like Good Omens (with Neil Gaiman) a comedy about armegaddon.

Pratchett has two great comic gifts: he can turn a line and he writes good parody. The first is his superior talent, the latter just helps him frame things more quickly. He is most famous for a set of novels written about a place called the Diskworld - a platter-shaped world with a mountainous spine in the middle and seas pouring off all the edges. The world rests on the backs of four elephants, who in turn stand on the great turtle A Tuin as he swims through space. I did mention that he was silly, didn't I?

Of the twentyfive or so Diskworld books, I prefer the 3rd through about the 8th. More recently he has been going to the well a little too often, and he has been wrestling with the problem of having created some characters who are so darn capable that they make it hard to create a worthwhile plot.

Moving Pictures is at about the one-third mark. Wizards have gotten silly, the city of Ankh-Morporkh is developing more character, and he returns to his recurring theme that banality and entropy are far worse things than simple evil.

The plot of the book is fairly simple - alchemists figure out how to project moving pictures, people set up on the grounds of an old temple to make these movies, movies open up a rift between our dimension and the place of bad things, one of them escapes, hijinks ensue.

I mentioned the Tolkein fan club up at the top. Pratchett has a fan club. He encourages them. They hold conventions and feed him banana dacquiris, and he attends, drinks, and entertains. They have a usenet group - alt.fan.terry-pratchett - which he regularly posts on. They annotate his books - here are the annotations and selected quotes from Moving Pictures. They are obsessive about him. No, really, they are. Little in-jokes from the books turn into fannish behavior - such as wearing a neck symbol of an ankh dressed in an anorak.

You don't have to be obsessive to enjoy the books. They are better if you are not obsessive - I got bored with the fan group after a few weeks of reading the heavy volume of repetitive postings.

You do have to be able to appreciate parody, to enjoy silliness, and to like comical footnotes. Since Sheila is a movie fan, I would suggest Moving Pictures as a light read. Other superior diskworld books include Equal Rites (a woman wants to become a wizard), Guards! Guards! (the trueborn king of the city joins the city watch), Mort (Death takes a vacation), and Wyrd Sisters (a Hamlet spoof set in a rural mountain kingdom.) Oh, and since Sheila likes Shakespeare and theater, add Lords and Ladies (Midsummer Night's Dream), and Maskerade (mediocre Phantom of the Opera). There are others, but I re-read these.

Get them from the library or the second-hand book store. I included Amazon links for the references.

Posted by Red Ted at December 29, 2003 10:15 AM | TrackBack