Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Lords and Ladies by Sir Terry Pratchett

Lords and Ladies
by Sir Terry Pratchett
Corgi Books, 2013 (originally published in 1992)
400 pages

LOOK! More Pratchett! I haven't forgotten about the Discworld. In fact, I think it basically stays in the back of my head all the time. I putter about my library and in my head, I am always on the watch for the Librarian. I would welcome him with a banana. I would never dare call him a monkey.

One learns all sorts of things from the Discworld, you see. I've been trying to explain these books to a few non-converts lately and I just can't seem to get it right. I'm too deep into the Discworld at this point to be objective, and while I objectively recognize that these books are not for everyone, emotionally I just can't understand why everyone doesn't adore these books the way I do.

In Lords and Ladies, we're back with the witches Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat Garlick, who, if you recall Witches Abroad (and you should; it's one of the best) went on a trip, leaving the tiny country of Lancre to get about on her own. This, it turns out, was maybe not such a good idea. It's circle time, meaning the walls between universes are becoming thin. Those walls are there for good reason. On the other side of those walls are laughing, merry, beautiful elves. Beautiful, bloodthirsty, greedy, amoral elves.

As with most Discworld books, amid the merrymaking (some of it quite bloody) and the madcap, slapstick, and occasionally subtle humour, there are serious notes. As with Witches Abroad, Pratchett peels back the layers of stories and what they mean and what they can do, but in a different way here. Memory and its failings is part of it: it's been so long since the elves were in Lancre that no one remembers them as they truly were. They have become laughable and cute, and in some cases glamourous - because elves can make themselves look like what the humans observing them desire. The point that no one remembers the hidden horrors because all they remember is the surface beauty and class of the elves is made a couple of times. Elves are compared to cats: beautiful, classy, charming creatures when they want to be - and mercilessly cruel, deadly, and capricious, too. When all that's left are the folktales and the superstitions, the tales of heroes and villains, then it's quite possible for history to repeat itself. One knows one is supposed to leave milk out for the fairies. One forgets that's because one really doesn't want the fairies to have to come in to the house to get it themselves.

Surfaces and what they mean also make an appearance - what elves are on the surface, what each of us is on the surface. Hard to explain this more without spoilers, but let's just say that when it comes to Magrat Garlick, surfaces matter a lot. And changing the surface helps her change the interior when she needs that change the most. We've probably all been in a situation where the clothes we're wearing help us feel up to the task (or not) - at a job interview, or meeting an important personage - and Magrat suffers an extreme case in the latter part of Lords and Ladies. To cathartic effect.

In the end, I liked this book but I didn't love it the way I've loved some of the other Discworld books I've read. I'm not entirely sure why, though I did find it a bit hard to follow towards the end and had to read a couple of sections two or three times to get exactly what was going on. The danger never felt particularly acute, not in the same way it has in some of the earlier books; I always figured something was going to happen to fix the situation. The solution was telegraphed a bit, too.

But as always, saying that this particular Disworld book isn't quite as good as some of the others is like saying that coconut cream pie is all right: I might prefer pumpkin, but coconut cream is still pretty delicious. And contains enough cream to keep the fairies sated.

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