In a recent Guardian article, art critic Jonathan Jones wrote that Terry Pratchett’s discworld novels are not worth reading, that wasting your time reading them when you could be dragging your brain through the mire of some serious heavyweight Important Literature (please note very important capitals) is a heinous crime against art and culture. Well, sort of. He basically said he hadn’t read any Pratchett and never plans to. But he has just read some Jane Austen. So that’s nice for him.
Ignore the fact that it kind of feels like he wrote the piece in about half an hour after he suddenly realised it was 11:45pm on Sunday night (these bank holidays throw everyone off, don’t they?) and that it was an obvious attempt to really irritate all discworld fans so that some of them will read his column. If you’re going to read the offending article and you like Terry Pratchett, then it’s probably worth calming yourself down by reading Sam Jordison’s answering article afterwards, to save yourself the palpitations.
I like Terry Pratchett, and discworld, which I’ve mentioned in my blog before, but I wouldn’t exactly claim the books as high art or Important Literature. To be honest, that wasn’t the blatant snobbery that got on my nerves when I read the article. It was the dismissal of the prose for being “ordinary”. Because apparently ordinary prose means the writing will never be literature. Nothing about the ideas behind a piece of work; it’s all about execution, apparently.
This is just a personal opinion, but I like a good idea. A good idea explained, even in plain terms, is really exciting. Much more exciting than some beautiful writing, concealing just a vacuous babble of nice sounds, signifying a great load of nothing. Important Literature often walks a fine line between genius and pretentious. And seemingly ordinary writing often uses simplicity to effectively communicate something or highlight more involved or complicated writing. George Orwell’s rules of writing, which legally all creative writing students must repeatedly refer to, or else, are based on brevity and simplicity. Don’t overuse metaphors, complicated language, long words or the passive voice, cut out words when you can…but break the rules if you want. Does that sound a bit like the building blocks of ordinary prose? But it’s ok, because Orwell is a recognised literary giant, whereas Pratchett is a bit silly and wore weird hats (we all knew you were bald, Tez, you could have done without the headgear).
Dismissing a book without reading any further than a couple of sentences in a bookshop while you wait for your partner to finish in the toilet is not really a solid foundation on which to dismiss the entirety of a writer’s work. Certainly not for an art critic who gets paid to know about art and culture and have opinions on it for a newspaper that other people read. I write a blog that other people read, (but let’s face it, mostly my Mum (hi Mum!)) but I wouldn’t make a statement like that about a book or film if I hadn’t even bothered to finish it, and no one cares what I think. Or pays me for it (but I do have a paypal account if you’d like to make a donation to fund my further having of opinions…no? Sure? Ok, never mind).
Terry Pratchett may not have been the most exciting writer and I don’t think he broke any new ground, but his books are funny and full of ideas and reading them will not turn your brain to mush and mean you can therefore never appreciate any of the really Important Literature. You might actually be better able to spot when it sinks into indulgent pretension if you can understand the ordinary and see the beauty in it. I hope I haven’t made all this too clear for you, for fear of it being too ordinary. It should be extraordinary what with all the typoos and thut.