If you don’t like Terry Pratchett, you either:
A. Don’t like fantasy, or…
B. Are desperately unfunny and dislike the sensation of smiling.
Terry Pratchett doesn’t care. He’s made his bank already. So much so, he can make an undefinable, unmarketable, unclassifiable YA novel called “Nation.” Lucky us.
Back up a bit first: Terry Pratchett made his name with his voluminous fantasy spoof series, Discworld. I’ve read the first one, The Color of Magic, and at first I didn’t know what to make of it. I recognized the fantasy setting sure enough — but the humor that was going on around it? It took me a while to fully understand these books were both fantasy and a satire of fantasy. A spoof and a love letter. And what a spoof, too! It’s easy to take a popular genre and snark on it (ask the makers of Scary Move, Epic Movie, Disaster Movie and the yet-to-be-conceived-but-not-by-much Lazy Rip-Off Parody Movie), but Pratchett’s humor goes well beyond send-ups of D&D or Robert E. Howard pulps. His settings might involve wizards in robes or over-muscled barbarians, but he’s making fun of life in modern day, too. No matter the genre, a prat is a prat, a pompous ponce a pompous ponce.
It might have taken me a while to catch on, but not the rest of the world. The infallibly informed Wikipedia tells me Pratchett has written more than 40 Discworld novels and companion books, sold more than 55 million copies, and even been admitted into the Officer of the Order of the British Empire for “services to literature.” You can call him Sir.
So how does Pratchett use his influence? To write any book he wants, any way he wants. Hence, Nation from HarperCollins late last year.
It’s a young adult book, that’s for sure. But beyond that, what is it? Post-apocalyptic: a tsunami destroys nearly every native of a string of South Pacific islands. Survivalist: Mau, the boy who would be chief, must recreate civilization, starting with how to extract mother’s milk from boars. Supernatural: Mau squares off against the voices of angry ancestors as well as the God of Death himself. Romance: A proper Victorian girl washes up on the island so let the teen sexual tensions mount. Agnostic rumination: Mau rages against the gods for letting such disaster happen; he even learns that what his ancestors worshipped may have been artifacts from earlier visitors.
It’s also a wry comedy:
The lonesome palm (Cocos nucifera solitaria) is common over most of the Pelagic, and is unusual in that an adult tree secretes a poison in its root that is deadly only to other palms. Because of this it is not unusual to find only one such palm on the smaller islands and a thousand cartoons are, therefore, botanically correct.
As I said, this book can’t be classified. But I am grateful to Pratchett for it. How many kids would pick up a book that challenges their assumptions about God? Or about tradition? Or about social order? Or even happy endings? Not that Pratchett condemns any of these things, either — he’s too smart and subtle for that. He simply faces the thorny, messy realities of tragedy with the pragmatism necessary for rebuilding. It’s uplifting without being upbeat. Hopeful without being hopped up.
“It’s quite complex. There’s nothing really Disney about it,” the author says on an Amazon.com promotional video. “They don’t really have a happy ending; they don’t have a sad ending, They have an absolutely appropriate ending.”
Funny he mentions Disney, since Pratchett has become the Pixar of children’s lit. Terry Pratchett simply writes what’s good, and lets the Marketing Department worry about the rest.