Warning: this post may contain spoilers for Terry Pratchett’s Thud!
A lot of very strange things can, and do, happen on a world that is flat, and is carried on the backs of four elephants perched upon the shell of the great turtle A’Tuan. Terry Pratchett’s world and stories seem, on the surface, to be plainly fun. And they are that. Lighthearted and amusing, his stories don’t feel heavy, but despite their facade, they in many cases convey unexpected significance. The well-meaning Watch Captain Vimes does just that as he investigates a dwarfish murder.
At heart, though it occurs in a fantasy setting, this is a mystery, a classic detective story, right up to the body on the floor (of the mineshaft), set on a bitter feud between dwarves and trolls that may or may not be founded on complete and utter misinterpretation of what actually happened hundreds of years ago. But these are not your standard dwarves and trolls. Although it is true that the dwarves are short, and like to mine things, and have very thick beards, and that they don’t make much distinction between their men and their women, and it is also true that the trolls are large, and strong, with skin kind of like rock, and indeed are essentially made from rock, their similarities to the stock characters that have populated fantasy since Tolkien effectively ends there.
Comedy, much like fantasy, is an oft-maligned medium for those who like to ponder “serious literature.” These individuals are generally inclined to sit in very stuffy parlors, with a lot of thick, elaborate, leather-bound books full of blank pages on their shelves, and sip tea. They tend to say things like “ah, this particular employment of the second subjunctive case is clearly indicative of the protagonist’s unrequited love for his divan, which is most certainly a metaphor for the author’s fear that she would die alone,” and only read books with depressing endings. If I were one of those people, I might go so far as to suspect that Terry Pratchett wrote comedic fantasy addressing serious topics just to thumb his nose at such stuffy examples of literary taxidermy.
Thud! is not my favorite Pratchett book, but it is certainly worth a read. It is a fine example of creativity, and of how to flirt with that dangerous line between narrative and stepping outside of the narrative, at which point a book becomes aware of itself, as it were. And really, anything by Pratchett is going to be a lot of fun to read. It’s simply hard not to smile when reading about a flat world carried by four elephants on the back of the great turtle A’Tuan.