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Rarely There

A collection of discourses - myriad, profound, uplifting...
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Monday, July 9, 2007

Escapism

humor humorists books Jeeves wodehouse terry pratchett discworld literature
One lazy summer in India, basking in the well-earned first rank in my class, and not-particularly-excited about the promotion to ninth grade, I decided that it was time to expand my reading horizons a bit.

I nonchalantly walked over to the row of used-books stores in my neighborhood, the ones my Dad usually took me to, just to browse and kill time, and maybe get lucky and find something good to bring back home.

That's when I happened upon a tattered, antique-yellow-paged, paperback copy of Carry On, Jeeves by P.G.Wodehouse (PGW).

I bought it without much thought, (afterall, I did need some new material to read, and I was never the Mills & Boon type of reader, leaning more towards Alistair MacLean after graduating from Enid Blyton-ish books), and headed home with absolutely no inkling of what I was letting myself into.

The book was an instant hit. I went back and bought all the other PGWs I could find at the used-books stores nearby - viz., Pigs have Wings, Aunts Aren't Gentlemen, Spring Fever, Plum Pie and Something Fishy.

My summer was made. I read and re-read the books, marked the pages where I keeled over laughing, underlined the sentences that were pure genius, dreamed of writing in his style - in fact, imitated his style in my letters to my Dad those days, which I diligently typed using my Remington portable typewriter that typed in cursive!

I did not want to go back to school at the end of that summer. I wanted to remain in the idyllic world PGW had created through his whimsical characters and delightful settings. I wanted to be a writer like him. I wanted to stay home, tap away at my typewriter, and churn out the kind of stuff that made people take a deep breath and proclaim it as unparalleled.

Escapism is a beautiful thing. Fantasy and Sci-Fi novels do it easily by creating an alternative world quite unlike the one we live in. But, for a simple work of fiction by a humorist to transform my world like this was quite magical.

And over the years, increasingly aware of the subtleties and nuances I missed in my inital read, I grew to appreciate the sheer genius of his prose. I managed to fill my bookshelf with many more PGW books, becoming an ardent fan of his writing...

To this day, especially when I am down (mentally or physically), I grab a PGW from my bookshelf (doesn't matter which, they are all simply incredible), curl up with a cup of tea, and just savor the experience.

There is no way I can even begin to scratch the surface here, so, am not going to describe the characters or even some of the plots, which seem formulaic, but, have layers of tangled subplots that unravel to a happy ending. ("Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive").

I hadn't found equally brilliant style of writing until I stumbled upon The Colour of Magic (1983) by Terry Pratchett (TP) and got hooked on his Discworld series.

A little late, but, certainly better than never.

wodehouse terry pratchett discworld literature humor humorists books Jeeves


One fine weekend, a couple of years ago, D came home with a fresh new paperback that I didn't pay much attention to - just a book he wants to read, I said to myself. Plus, I was in my second trimester and not too comfortable physically. Little did I know...

I've read the first three so far (The Colour of Magic, The Light Fantastic, Equal Rites) and am onto the fourth in the series (Mort).

Now, the curious thing is, I have grown to be the savoring kind: when I find a good thing, I want to bask in it, make it last as long as possible... so, I am in no rush to tear through the Discworld books.

The Discworld books don't have to be read in order, though. They have recurring characters who are superbly crafted and presented, not to mention the Discworld itself which is anything but ordinary - it is a flat rotating disc, supported by 4 elephants who are themselves standing on top of a giant turtle, the Great A'Tuin. How could you possibly go wrong with that?

Rincewind, Granny Weatherwax and Death are a few characters I have encountered so far who showcase the brilliance of TP. Rincewind, is a bumbling, cowardly wizard who is described as "the magical equivalent to the number zero". Granny Weatherwax is a witch (crone) who relies more on headology than magick to "help" people who come to her with their woes. Death, is the Grim Reaper, who TALKS IN ALL CAPS all the time, but is a superbly sculpted character who is not evil, not menacing, just doing his job of collecting, not killing (leave that to Fate).

When I started reading TP, I casually told D that his style is so reminiscent of my favorite PGW, when he pointed out that apparently PGW was one of TP's literary inspirations!

There is no way I can do justice to reviewing PGW and TP books, so, I have no inclination to write a review here... just the fact that I get to read these fantastic works, appreciate them, and rely on them for escapism is itself such an honor.

Now, I've read my share of Robert Ludlums, Tom Clancys, Dan Browns, Tad Williams, David Eddings, George RR Martin and such adventure/fantasy fiction... I am not particular about boxing myself into a specific genre: I read both fiction and non-fiction, on various topics, and am always on the lookout for brilliant writing to inspire me.

No doubt, the style can get tiresome for a different audience, but, the mastery of the language, the seeming ease with which the words are strung together delivering side-splitting laughs, the magical simplicity in PGW's and TP's writings are absolutely indescribable. One has to read it to get it. Even among the PGW and TP fans, it is hard to "discuss" the books except to marvel at the writing... and possibly practise the best form of flattery :-)

Excerpts:
...this is also a story about sex, although probably not in the athletic, tumbling, count-the-legs-and-divide-by-two sense unless the characters get totally beyond the author's control...
Equal Rites
...with an almost perceptible click wound her voice up several social classes...
Equal Rites
Scientists have calculated that the chance of anything so patently absurd actually existing are million to one.
But magicians have calculated that million-to-one chances crop up nine times out of ten.
Mort

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