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Pratchett casts a bitter spell on rivals

HIS best-selling fantasy books have made him millions, won him countless awards - and the dubious accolade of being the most shoplifted author in Britain.

Yet as he added the Carnegie Medal, the most prestigious award in children’s literature, to his list of trophies yesterday, Terry Pratchett couldn’t resist taking a sideswipe at his fellow fantasy authors, JK Rowling and JRR Tolkien.

In an acceptance speech which hovered dangerously on the precipice of bitterness at his having been ignored by the literary establishment for too long, Pratchett warned against the pigeon-holing of the fantasy genre.

In a clear reference to Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy, he said: "Far more beguiling than the idea that evil can be destroyed by throwing a piece of expensive jewellery into a volcano is the possibility that evil can be defused by talking."

He added: "The fantasy of justice is more interesting than the fantasy of fairies, and more truly fantastic."

Pratchett went on to launch a thinly veiled attack on the gentle world of Harry Potter, the boy wizard who features in Rowling’s novels. "Fantasy is more than wizards," he said.

Speaking about his award-wining book, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, he added: "For instance, this book is about rats that are intelligent. But it is also about the even more fantastic idea that humans are capable of intelligence as well.

"Fantasy isn’t just about wizards and silly wands. It’s about seeing the world from new directions."

Yesterday, he was accused of sour grapes by one children’s book agent.

"His general chippiness has come probably because a prize like the Carnegie Medal is long overdue," said Lindsey Fraser, formerly of the Scottish Book Trust, who now runs Fraser Ross Associates. "His books have been overlooked because people think, ‘Oh, that’s fantasy,’ but to debunk Tolkien is slightly to mix his message. It’s classic fantasy and in a way no-one would have qualms about giving Tolkien’s book an award."

She added: "I think Harry Potter is about a lot more than wizards and silly wands."

Pratchett is best known for his popular Discworld novels, set in a whimsical universe peopled by trolls, werewolves, wizards, witches and humans, who all live together in the Victorian-cum-medieval city of Ankh-Morpork. Before becoming a full-time writer in 1987, he was a journalist in the regional press and a press officer for the Central Electricity Board.

Ms Fraser suspects that the cult following these books could be one of the reasons he has been ignored by the literary establishment for so long.

"His Discworld books have very much a cult following," she said. "He does get his fair share of anorak-wearers queuing up to meet him, but you get that in any cult. It does put people off, but it’s just another clubbiness. His fantastic writing skills have seduced many boys into reading books when they wouldn’t read a more literary novel."

Caroline Horn, the news editor for children’s books at The Bookseller, said: "He’s saying that his fantasy is very different from what people generally perceive.

"He is written off because fantasy is misperceived. There is a lot of ‘me too’ publishing around Harry Potter, a lot of books about magic, but the flip side is that publishers are more experimental and they are willing to take a risk."

A spokeswoman from Rowling’s publisher, Bloomsbury, said: "My interpretation of what he said was the fact that he gets pigeon-holed as a fantasy writer.

"He was warning the literary establishment not to ghettoise fantasy writers."

Yesterday, Pratchett did acknowledge that the likes of Tolkien had pushed fantasy writing into the mainstream.

He told the audience at the British Library in central London: "As a genre, it has become quite respectable in recent years. At least it can demonstrably make lots and lots and lots of money, which passes for respectable these days.

"When you can buy a plastic Gandalf with kung-fu grip and rocket-launcher, you know fantasy has broken through."

Pratchett is one of Britain’s most popular authors and his books have sold more than 27 million copies worldwide. The Amazing Maurice is a reworking of the Pied Piper fable and is set in Discworld.

It is the third time Pratchett had been nominated for the Carnegie Medal, and he said he was amazed to have won.

"I’d have bet 1,000 against me winning. Maurice is a fantasy book with a fair amount of humour in it and I seriously doubted that was a prize-winning combination," he said. "I’m hugely pleased to find out that I was wrong."

Pratchett was picked from a shortlist of seven authors who were nominated by librarians across the UK.

Observer cartoonist Chris Riddell won the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal for outstanding illustration in a children’s book. He won it for Pirate Diary, a fictionalised account of the adventures of a young boy on the high seas.

Authors with fantastic styles

FANTASY has an extremely long history; it goes back to the middle ages, writes Dr Alice Jenkins. Yet the genre has split into so many directions, the label "fantasy" is perhaps inadequate to hold them all together.

Terry Pratchett began by spoofing the conventions of fantasy fiction. He took wizards and put them into real-world conversations. Interactions are based on money, food - things that don’t get talked about in fantasy fiction.

He also deals with questions of social justice and how societies work. In Jingo, two large civilisations clash over a tiny island, which then disappears into the sea. It’s about the futility of conflict. Small Gods is a hostile attack on organised religion.

Pratchett deals with real-world questions with humour. In this sense, he is likened to Jonathan Swift. He is becoming increasingly satirical, using the mechanisms of fantasy in a fairly subversive way.

JRR Tolkien creates a very profound moral cosmos without much of a direct connection to the real world, although many have read The Lord of the Rings as an allegory of Hitler.

Tolkien was imbued with a sense of justice; how to be a good person, the nature of evil. He gives a sense of real evil, whereas, for Pratchett, most people are somewhere between good and bad.

Tolkien believes in absolute evil but also shows absolute evil being destroyed.

He creates a world without culture or manners. It is based purely on moral drama. He poses fairly profound questions, such as what can an ordinary person do in the face of great evil?

Pratchett takes up some big questions and considers what kind of conversations people would have. He has a wonderful ear for dialogue. Tolkien’s dialogue is just to move the plot along.

JK Rowling has learned a lot from Terry Pratchett . She tries to represent pure evil, but because she doesn’t have Tolkien’s profound commitment to a moral universe, her notion of evil is rather trivial. Many readers are disconcerted by her return to hierarchical and traditional social values. She marks a return to fictional values which are not seen in Pratchett.

Dr Alice Jenkins is a lecturer in English literature at Glasgow University

 
 
 

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