So, we’re going to be reading Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods, set, as are most of his books, on the Discworld.
What is the Discworld? In one sense, it’s a planet that’s flat, like a disk, and rests on the backs of four elephants which in turn stand on the back of Great A’Tuin. who is a Giant Star Turtle (Chelys galactica). Physics is overwhelmed by magic there; it’s not that electronics and optics wouldn’t work, it’s that there’s no point inventing a camera when it’s easier to carry around a box containing a tiny demon with a paintbrush. Discworld began as a place where every fantasy trope you can name was either true or spectacularly false, which made it easy both to extend them and to make fun of them.
But then it became something else (as it had to, or the 40 novels currently set there would be about 35 too many.) Discworld is a place where stories happen. All sorts of stories: funny ones (but with a hint of seriousness), very serious one (but never solemn), adventures, mysteries, stories with things to say about politics, religion, philosophy, history, human nature, stories that combine wild imagination with very practical lessons, and always stories grounded in truths about human nature (even if the particular humans in question might be gods, dwarves, trolls, golems, or werewolves.) If there’s a purpose to the universe, it’s for things which make good stories to happen. If people are fighting against million-to-one odds, they’ll win at least half the time. In fact, if they’re only fighting ten-to-one odds, they’d do well to make things harder, to get the laws of narrative on their side.
Small Gods is both typical and atypical, as, come to think of it, are almost all of the others. It’s a good story with characters who are recognizably human and at times quite ridiculous, told with humor that can be welcoming or scathing. Pratchett’s prose is always skilled and at time powerful and even brilliant. So far, all typical. What’s less so is that it’s a book that stands almost alone, with very few of the continuing characters or familiar settings that tie most Discworld books together. It’s also meatier than most; not that it’s lacking in humor, but there’s also more of consequence going on, as we’ll see.
I’ve divided Small Gods into eleven sections; we’ll spend a week on each. The first and last sentences of each section, together with the (approximate) pages they are on in various editions is shown on this spreadsheet. If your edition isn’t on there, tell me in the comments:
* The publisher and year it was printed.
* The page on which the first sentence appears.
* The page on which the last sentence appears.
and I’ll add it.
We’ll be reading section 1 this week. As the spreadsheet indicates, I’ll recap section 1 and post it next Thursday (1/30). If you’d like to recap a section yourself (and you should), pick one (or several) and let us know which ones in the comments.
All good? See you next week.