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Regarding Sir Pratchett's Interesting Times

Posted: Sat Apr 17, 2021 2:58 am
by A Clever Weasel
This is a question I have long wanted to ask that does not seem related to any of the existing threads. If it's incredibly rude to start a new topic for a comparatively frivolous subject, forgive my ignorance.

Obviously Sir Pratchett was a great wit and a brilliant author, but his depiction of the Orient in Interesting Times has always struck me as a tad condescending. The stereotypes- bad Chinese-American food, ceaseless intrigue and dastardly plots, etc.- are mildly concerning, but less so than when the man begins to assert, apparently sincerely, that an English poem can say in forty strokes what an Oriental (sigh) poem cannot say in a thousand. It recalls the more unpleasant kind of Chestertonian stereotype. I rather doubt whether he had read any Chinese poetry at all.

What are your opinions on the book?

Re: Regarding Sir Pratchett's Interesting Times

Posted: Sun Apr 18, 2021 12:10 am
by Maeve
I will first admit that I am whiter than white and sometimes racism flies right past me and I don’t notice. But... always remember that Pratchett was a satirist. And a cynic.

And I have seen pictures of his workroom, there were stacks of book, books on shelves, books being used as bookmarks in open books. Neil Gaiman would often say that (I am paraphrasing) Terry Pratchett would call in the middle of the night, tell him stories that he had read doing research and wasn’t that interesting and then hang up. From various stories about him, he basically read everything, and he was trained as a journalist.

I learned a great many things from his books that I always thought were merely Discworld things that he made up. Nah, usually it was some odd historical quirk that he stuck in a book.

So, I’m not defending him, exactly. If the book makes you feel uncomfortable, that’s valid.

And starting a topic is totally cool! You have proved you’re not a bot and nowhere in your post do I see a thing about buying shoes or trawling for clients, so welcome to The Board! We like frivolous :)

By Chestertonian, do you mean GK Chesterton? I believe that author was a pretty big influence for both Pratchett and Gaiman. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything.

It’s been a while since I read any Pratchett, but it used to be my comfort read, and whenever a new book came out I would re-read the books in that character arc. I loved this book, because of Twoflower. And I adore his daughters.

Re: Regarding Sir Pratchett's Interesting Times

Posted: Tue Apr 20, 2021 11:14 pm
by A Clever Weasel
Thank you! I’m glad to find people so welcoming.

My knowledge of Discworld is kind of patchy; I’ve read most of the early stuff. I don’t remember many of the early Rincewind books, which is doubtless my fault rather than that of the books. I mostly remember Interesting Times because while I was reading it I happened to read a review of it highly indignant about the points I mentioned above. The book, I thought, certainly didn’t approach racism, but as far as I remember it seemed, unlike other depictions of other lands in the Rincewind books, e.g. The Last Continent, to not really pay attention to the thing it was making fun of. It took a cursory selection of elements from the popular conception of China- games of go, long robes, the Terracotta Army- and arranged them as devices to move the plot along. It did not feel like a proper novel. And then on top of the structural problems it made disparaging comments like the ones above, comments that in older writers would have betrayed a belief that English poetry or government or civilization was really materially higher and more exalted than the poetry or government or civilization of everyone else. (Chesterton is one such writer.)

However I too haven’t read Pratchett attentively in a while, so I might be misremembering.

I adore Chesterton and on the whole his view of the universe is mine. He seemed a good sort of guy, enormously erudite and joyously articulate, and at least two of his novels (The Man Who Was Thursday and The Napoleon of Notting Hill) deserve to be read forever. (In case you didn’t know Fiddler’s Green is modelled on him.) However anyone who denies that he was antisemitic and racist, I suspect, hasn’t read very much of him. Whenever one encounters a reference to “the East” or people of color in his works, one braces oneself for the worst.

However, I do believe that most women and men of sensibility who read him like him very much. They usually start with his detective stories, the first volume of which is called The Innocence of Father Brown and is available in the public domain.