I’m still toiling away at The Lusiads, but the Edinburgh International Book Festival falls in August, and I had a number of books to read for Book Festival events, so I went with Plan B: Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods.
When I discovered this Classic
I’ve mentioned before that I discovered Terry Pratchett in my teens, and that I was able to read through them in order because my Dad bought the paperbacks as they were released. Small Gods was one of the many Discworld books on our shelves.
Why I chose to read it
Small Gods is the only Discworld novel that I hadn’t read. I got about a page into it as a teen, decided it was dull, and skipped to the next book in the series, Lords and Ladies. I’ve seen it recommended as a good starting point for readers who are new to Pratchett, and I was curious to see why other fans are so enamoured of this book.
What makes it a Classic
Whether the Discworld novels are Classics is a matter of some debate: fans would argue that they are; critics (generally ones who haven’t read any of the novels) tend to disagree. The Discworld novels are not escapist fantasy, but rather hold a fairground mirror up to the real world. In doing so they examine real world institutions, prejudices, and enthusiasms, with a dark humour often missing from ‘serious’ literature that tackles the same material.
What I thought of this Classic (may contain spoilers)
This novel tells the story of Brutha, a devout novice of the Great God Om, who encounters his God in the form of a turtle, and becomes His next prophet. In the course of the story Pratchett examines the inertia that builds around organised religious structures, the ways in which this can cause belief to dwindle, and the kinds of men who might use this to their advantage. It is not a sympathetic picture – Pratchett’s sympathy definitely lies with the little people who are crushed by the machinery of organised religion.
I have yet to read a Pratchett novel that I disliked, but there are those that I feel are less successful than others, and this is one of them. It’s competent, but it made me smile, not laugh out loud, and I feel it’s far less subtle about the point it is making than many of the others. For me the hook in a Discworld novel tends to be a character: Granny Weatherwax, Sam Vimes, Moist von Lipwig, who engages my sympathies, and I wonder if my disconnect with Small Gods is that I didn’t find any of the characters engaging.
Will it stay a Classic
The Discworld books appeal to a range of ages, and have a devoted fandom, so I think they will remain popular for some time to come. I’d like to think that a wider audience will come to consider them Classics, but I’m familiar with enough now-obscure Victorian novelists to know how fickle the reading public can be.
Who I’d recommend it to
Let’s be honest, I wouldn’t recommend Small Gods. My approach in recommending Discworld novels is to ask what kinds of books people like, and select something that I think is in tune with their preferences.
Next month’s Classic has yet to be decided: I may brave some Stephen King; I might go back to the Victorians for a spell; I could even reach the end of The Lusiads. Any encouragement or suggestions will be gratefully received. 🙂