Night Watch is to the Lord of the Rings as Pyramids is to The Hobbit (it's easier for me to compare these with Tolkien than any other author and anyway Terry makes similar comparisons himself
books have humour, but one's easy and free-flowing and the humour in the other is very patchy and used to relieve what would otherwise be an unremittingly dark and dreadful tale.
Where's the humour in NW? The answer is as always with Terry in the detail, but it's more deliberate and mainly assigned to the minor stock characters like the Agony Aunts, Throat and Reg Shoe (I thought he was hilarious cast in the true revolutionary role) and of course those the reader needs to know very well to appreciate. Lu Tze too is always a very wise and shooting from the hip street comedy act - I laughed out loud at the cigar landing in the stone garden. You have to work to see the silliness and in NW that's really hard to do as the main storyline is so gripping and overwhelming at times. This is possibly why Sharlene can say there is no humour in NW because she's fascinated with the big theme and the way that the context of the worst aspects of AM are explained and slotted into the background of older Sam and Vetinari's city that has been made to work so well under the latter's more enlightened rule. NW is the story of how that happened and why
it has had to be that way with walking the line between self-serving power-tripping and cynical, but intelligent juggling of what makes the city tick to incorporate the murky and the practical whilst ensuring that no one element or faction triumphs over another to go back to bad old days of injustice and oppression. Vetinari had
to go through what Sam did (twice) but he never had the advantage of innocence that young Sam had. This book shows why Vetinari is the political genius and Sam is the cop who has to follow orders up to a point
. Also why
Vetinari does recognise Sam as a very necessary part of the City's government almost as a passionate and caring counterweight to his own measured and deliberate cold objectivity. They are the mind and heart of the city and working at their best together they are its spirit as well. Nightwatch is their story in the end but Keel is the focus of how they got that way, became such good guardians of the city - whether or not John Keel, as he effected the city
, was always Vimes...
Pyramids - I love Pyramids too. Aside from introducing the idea of time manipulation (remember this is several books before
Lu Tze and Small Gods) the reason why it lacks appeal for some is that, like CoM, LF and ER, it's on another learning curve for Terry where he leaves his own comfort zone once more and embarks on a tale that doesn't rely on AM or Death (much - as this book is about the evasion of 'death' essentially).
Dios, the force driving the whole of Djelibeybi isn't
funny in any way, but everything around him is because it's founded on an almost criminal disregard of the natural order and a crazy religious fervour which is a lot like that of Vorbis later on in SG. I'm sure most people have noticed that Dios is the word for god in Spanish? Well Dios is, moreso than Om's first 'coming', a cruel god, who in the end gets more than his just desserts in immortality of a sort, trapped in his self-made anal time bubble. Nothing funny at all in that is there?
I know I'm going on again, but I hope I'm raising some interesting points here about how Terry writes and why most people on here hold him in such esteem as a author of humorous literature not
comedy romps. His writing transcends the inherent humour that is so important to his work because he uses it to tell the tale and make us look at things in a different and sometimes kinder light. This is why the more ridiculous aspects of roundworld reality is held up for scrutiny in his humour and allows us to see why it's wrong or even evil at times. Egyptian culture and myth were in reality horrible in many ways and he shows us why when the perfect pyramid triggers the return of the dead kings - who are bloody annoyed at not being able to get to the afterlife - wouldn't you be? A city like Ankh-Morpork, as rotten, filthy and smelly as Dickens East London (which was firmly based on a real place in the Liverpool Street Station area of the modern city that is thankfully long gone) is a pretty grotty place to have to live, but it was far worse when Sam and Vetinari started to become the men they are now.
Nightwatch, like Small Gods is a profound, skilfully written book at the heights of Terry's powers as an author. Pyramids is a very good book too, but it's a transitional one, like Wyrd Sisters before it, in that it's in part an experiment in moving Discworld on away from A-M and the wizards.
I get the impression that Terry got bored with the wizards pretty early on and the pivotal role of Ridcully, especially up against Ponder and Rincewind, is the way he's hit upon to be able to keep them in the picture (especially in the Science
series). Here again there's a comparison to Tolkien in that it explains why we have such an interesting and unusual forum on here - both flesh out their fantasy worlds beyond the books. Tolkien did it with languages and background lore far beyond the 2 Middle Earth novels (I do not count the Silmarillion as a novel - it's a readable (just) reference book). Terry does it more on paper and keeps developing the geography, history and characters of Discworld to form a believable and workable world that appeals to and is very firmly based on human nature.
Other authors may sell better (slightly
), but their actual work cannot do what Terry's books do, which is to create a viable and alternative universe where we can really believe that magic is a raw and free-roaming element that is virtually untameable and where the impossible can be supported. But the 'people' are still much like us even if they're dwarves or vampires etc, etc. Pyramids doesn't quite
match up to SG because it's at the start of the journey where Terry's mapping out a new direction for his fantasy. NW is the culmination, not only of the Watch series but of Ankh-Morpork too. What NW isn't
is typical Terry - it's bigger than that for him as well as us and in a strange way it's a little like the Silmarillion if you read that after you've read the Lord of the Rings - suddenly you realise why Sam and his
city is how it is, but it's not just about him it's about everything that goes on in the A-M we know best. So it's not a typical Discworld book in some respects - it's a seminal study of the city at a time it was evolving away from it's dark and corrupt past and into the throbbing, unique and awe-ful place we know better. Pyramids is also atypical, but it's 'practice' in the same way that CoM and LF were for the whole concept of discworld.
Someone else's turn