01/05/2009. Contributed by Phil Jones
pub: Doubleday/Transworld. 386 page indexed hardback. Price: £17.99 (UK), $36.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-385-61100-8.
check out websites: www.doubleday.com and www.terrypratchett.com
There's a host of complimentary and reference books to aid the avid 'Discworld' reader from 'The Science Of Discworld' to 'Mappe Of Ankh Morpork' to assist the weary reader. It actually surprises me that a book like this hasn't been written sooner.
Terry Pratchett's 'Discworld' series has drawn on the vast array of world myths, religions, folklore, fairy tales, history and the like. Mixed them up in a blender and added his own very fantasy-esque personal take on it all. Nothing is sacred, from banks and post offices to fairies, trolls and dwarfs, all has been TP'd in a wonderfully comic way.
We have come to expect the navel gazing books surrounding the likes of 'Lord Of The Rings' trilogy, so with the ever-expanding 'Discworld' series of novels, the odd reference book doesn't go amiss neither. OK, first things first, you can happily sit down and read this from cover to cover and it is quite an entertaining read.
From the introduction on how Pratchett met British folklorist Jacqueline Simpson to various 'studies' of the folk, flora and forna and history of 'Discworld' and how it compares or relates to ours. The two are happily intermixed and, like me, you'll probably say to yourself, 'Well, I didn't know that.'
As a brief introduction into world folklore, it does act as a good starting point with plenty of further reading referenced and listed in the back of the book if you wish to delve a bit deeper. I think the problem may come if you want to reference something in a 'Discworld' novel. OK, you have sectional heading and an index but although there are plenty of references to 'Discworld' novels in the text, you may struggle a bit if there's something you want to know specifically.
You do get the feeling that it's written more to give you a general feel for a particular topic or subject rather than go into any great depth. In a way, it's a comparison between our world and that of Discworld with references to both worlds to boot.
Saying that, you can read it from cover to cover or just dip in on a Discworld subject you're interested in. There is plenty of entertainment value and, for that matter, educational material buried among the pages along with references to modern urban myths and legends. We all have little quirks like touching would for luck and things like nursery rhymes we are familiar with but often don't know their origin.
The book starts off on a large grand scale with the cosmos: gods, demons, and things. Of course, describing the great A'tuin, a huge cosmically large turtle on which four elephants stand supporting the Discworld on their backs. The book then goes on to compare differing views of the cosmos from Hindu to Chinese mythology. Then moving onto gods such as Blind Io and the similarities to that of the Norse god, Odin. Throughout the book there are multiple references to human culture, ideas beliefs, books and authors ranging from Shakespeare to H.P. Lovecraft.
Moving onto the creatures that inhabit Discworld and how they are similar to creatures in our myths and legends and even how some like the Nac Mac Feegle cross over dimensions and have influenced our cultures such as those of Scotland and Ireland with the Picts or wee folk. From elves, trolls and gargoyles, we move onto other races such as vampires, igors, and zombies with plenty of literary references. We move onto Beasties such as dragons and luggage, of which there is a reasonably detailed section for all you luggage fans out there.
We then move onto Witches, of which there are separate sections for the witches of Lancre and of the Chalk. Heroes, customs, nautical and military bits 'n' pieces are all covered quite nicely. There's a witty section on kids' stuff, discussing how nursery rhymes and fairy tales have dark and sinister roots. Of course, there is also a section on Death. Not dying so much but that of the character of Death we all know and love, well if you're a fan of 'Discworld' anyway. There are enough excerpts and the like from 'Discworld' books to make it worthwhile, but it would have been good to see a few more cropping up here and there.
There is a wonderful enthusiasm in the writing which makes you want to read more. Along with the fact, that it's well-written and entertaining to read I think most fans would enjoy having this on their bookshelves next to their copies of 'Discworld' novels. I think even non-fans would be fan enough here to keep them interested, especially if you like myths and legends.
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