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Tansy Rayner Roberts

Posts Tagged ‘discworld’

Pratchett’s Women IX: The Truth Has Got Her Boots On

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

The Truth, by Terry Pratchett

I almost wasn’t going to write a Pratchett’s Women post for The Truth. Like Night Watch, it’s a marvellous book, one of Pratchett’s absolute best, and happens to be almost entirely about male characters and their issues. Considering that gender imbalance is no longer the case for every Discworld novel or even almost every Discworld novel, (as could be argued that it was the case in his earlier days) it feels churlish to criticise it on those grounds. It is a love letter to moveable type, and a fun take on the history of the printing press, with the usual layers of humour and cleverness, and a rich cast of characters, so I am going to forgive it for being a mostly male cast. This was actually the book that brought me back to the Discworld after a period of what felt at the time to be lacklustre releases but may well have been my own loss of interest in the series, and its many repetitions.

But I wasn’t alone in that. The Truth was a huge success for Pratchett, and one of the books which really helped to cement his ‘legend’ status. While he had previously written other novels with a similar formula (standalone male character faces the Discworld’s version of a particular historical industry and chaos ensues) there was something about this book, and its maturity, and perhaps the solid link to the history it was replicating that made it popular among non-fantasy readers. In fact, apart from the vampire, Death and the other side effects of a Discworld setting, this is largely not a story about magic gone wrong and trying to kill you, which sets it apart from almost every previous Discworld novel. This is instead a story of PEOPLE gone wrong and trying to kill you, and how a new industry can be every bit as terrifying and confrontational and dangerous as anything from the Dungeon Dimensions.

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Pratchett’s Women VI: Pole Dancers, Goblin Girls, and the Family Man

Friday, December 30th, 2011

Thud, by Terry Pratchett
Snuff, by Terry Pratchett
(spoilers for both abound below)

I know I read Thud when it came out. But this was the early days of motherhood when my memory retention was out the window, and the days of re-reading were gone forever… I know I read this book, but I’m pretty sure it was a speedy, uninvolved reading. It had to be. Because there is no other excuse for me not realising before now that this is SO GOOD.

For a start, this is the best Angua novel since Feet of Clay – and I think it might actually be better, in the attention given to her character. I like that she and Carrot have been allowed now to settle into a comfortable relationship without any stupid plotty dramas being thrown in to artificially shake it up. I also like that her main plotline for this novel revolves around a relationship/wary dislike/friendship with another female character.

But Sybil also gets to shine in this book, despite her new motherhood which can often cause a female character to disappear into the background, or lose all characteristics apart from those to do with her child (as, for instance, happens to Magrat in the Witches novels).

Then there’s Cheery, who doesn’t get a subplot or even a subplotlet to herself, but remains awesome, cute and gets to play with the other girls.

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Pratchett’s Women V: The Seamstress Redemption

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Night Watch, by Terry Pratchett (audiobook read by Stephen Briggs)

Deriders of the Bechdel Test tend to gravitate immediately towards what I like to call The Shawshank Redemption Clause. They cite as many works as possible which are completely awesome, and have no ladies in them, as evidence that the test is stupid.

Me, I see that as evidence that their faces are stupid. And that they have entirely missed the point of the Bechdel Test.

No one would ever deny that it’s possible to create a masterpiece that has no women in it. However… there are few true masterpieces in the world, and there are very few stories in the world that are so VERY good that having more than one interesting female character in them is something that wouldn’t improve the narrative.

I had this in my head upon revisiting Night Watch, because I remembered very clearly that a) this is primarily a story about men and b) this is one of my favourite Discworld novels of all time. And I say this as someone who is meh about Small Gods and Reaper Man, two of the most celebrated of the Discworld novels, precisely because the overwhelming focus on male characters and point of view left those books, in my opinion, lacking something.

Mostly, I was scared that my focus on female characters would spoil this book. It’s not like it would be the first thing that my developing feminist perspective has utterly ruined for me.

But it turned out okay. Because (spoilers, sweetie!) Night Watch is still awesome. It’s mostly a male narrative, AND it’s awesome.

(But, as it happens, it passes the Bechdel Test. Just.)

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Pratchett’s Women III: Werewolf Glamour & the Sexing of Dwarves

Monday, October 31st, 2011

Guards, Guards
Men at Arms
Feet of Clay

I always loved the City Watch books of the Discworld series almost as much if not equally to those of the Lancre Witches. Vimes is a wonderful character, someone who has been utterly broken down by life when we first meet him, and gradually pulls himself up by his bootstraps, though he never loses his deep cynicism about the world. The books are packed with lovable, memorable characters: Nobby Nobbs who is basically a big mass of personality quirks mushed together into a smelly vest, cautious Sergeant Colon with a quip for every occasion, and the utterly adorable Carrot, a man so damned GOOD that bluebirds sing whenever he walks down the street. We also get some of the best appearances in the Discworld of the Patrician, one of the most compellingly pragmatic evil overlords ever to exist in fiction, and some of the best stories centred around the city of Ankh-Morpork. All this and some clever, airtight plots, mostly based around police procedural or murder mystery structures. All up, pretty good stuff.

But what about the women?

Guards Guards, the first book featuring the City Watch, is pretty light on when it comes to female characters. The most central woman in the whole story is Sybil Ramkin, dragon expert, whom I love deeply, though it has to be said that she emerges as a fascinating, fully realised and complicated female character despite every attempt of the narrative. Each time she appears, she has to wade through a sea of fat jokes, aristocrat jokes, lonely spinster jokes, and in some cases, all three at once. On more than one occasion she is described vividly as something monstrous or other than human, including scenes from the point of view of the man she will marry in later books.

Every time she opens her mouth, though, Sybil proves herself to be awesome. She’s not just posh and dragon obsessed and lonely and less than slender, she’s also smart, brave, funny, generous, and a good person. I don’t know how to feel about the final scene in which Vimes capitulates to her romantic expectations – it’s gorgeously written, and terribly clever, but I did rankle at him only belatedly admitting that he finds her attractive, and the fact that she is pretty much described as a perfumed siege engine rather than a person. But I love her, I love him, and I do find their later relationship one of the best things about these books (gosh I hope it still is, better brace myself for the visit of the suck fairy) so I will forgive Pratchett for giving Sybil such a problematic debut.

The rest of the women in Guards Guards are largely invisible. We are told about Carrot’s mother, his old girlfriend Minty, his new sort-of-girlfriend Reet, and his innocent friendship with the local brothel madam Mrs Palm and her “many unmarried daughters,” all through scenes in which they don’t actually appear, through dialogue or in his letters home. Likewise Mrs Colon is referenced but we don’t meet her. The entire plot, about a man who uses another bunch of men to summon a dragon and overthrow the Patrician in favour of a fake king to rule them all, and the men who stop him, is one big cockforest. But to put it into context, this is a very early Discworld book, one which had (mostly) not yet accepted that women could play roles other than sexy love interests, funny-because-not-sexy love interests, landladies and witches.

As I discussed in the original Pratchett’s Women post, later Discworld books are far more inclusive of female characters, and that holds true for the City Watch volumes.

 

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