What is the best thing about fiction for you? The plot? The characters?
For me, the characters are everything. The best plot in the world will fail unless it has the characters to “run” with it.
Do you prefer stand alone novels or a series?
I love both types but I think a series has the edge because characters develop over time and several novels.
My favourite example of a series is Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld as there is everything from police procedurals (Vimes) to politics (Vetenari) to wizards under some control (Unseen University and all the college/university politics that unleashes).
My favourite series within Discworld is the police procedural with Commander Samuel Vimes but my overall list of top ten characters is given below.
Commander Samuel Vimes
I love this character for the way Vimes develops from being renowned as a drunk (Guards, Guards) to becoming a hero unafraid to tackle villains, awkward dwarves, the Summoning Dark or argue with the Patrician, Lord Vetinari. I would say the last of those things is easily the most dangerous thing Vimes does on a regular basis. (My favourite books here are Men at Arms, Jingo, The Fifth Elephant to name but a few).
See Goodreads for some great quotes from another Vimes book, Night Watch.
I was glad to discover while researching this piece that there is potentially a Sam Vimes series in development with Hugh Laurie as our man on the beat. See the Facebook link. I hope this series does make it on to our screens. Vimes is a great character and Hugh Laurie should have huge fun in bringing him to life. It would also make a nice change to have a police series set on another world. (Doctor Who has touched on this theme with the Judoon but of course this is not the main focus of that wonderful programme).
I like Death, as Terry Pratchett portrays him, for his compassion and for making me see humans from the viewpoint of someone who isn’t. My favourite Death book is Reaper Man because I also like the feisty character of Miss Flitworth and Terry Pratchett does not flinch from the inevitable ending to this story. It is what happens along the way that is most important here. Isn’t that so true of life?
Moist Von Lipwig
Moist Von Lipwig is the ultimate in reformed rogues. In real trouble with Vetinari at the start of Going Postal, with it looking impossible for Moist to get out alive, the book takes off from there and hits the ground running. I’ve given the link to the film and thought David Suchet was superb as Reacher Gilt.
I also love Raising Steam (but as I am fond of trains, this was inevitable). Sir Terry visited the Watercress Line to help him research this book. That must have been fun… My family visit the Line just after Christmas each year and have a wonderful day out. I highly recommend it.
The film version of Going Postal was great in that you had renowned actors, Charles Dance, Timothy West and David Suchet, in it but it also introduced, to me at least, people like Richard Coyle and Claire Foy. See links below.
Every hero has a love interest somewhere but Adora Belle Dearheart is more than a match for Moist and he knows it.
This witch can and does face down almost anything. She has a brutal honesty about her. My favourite book here is Maskerade, a wonderful send up of The Phantom of the Opera. Maskerade has been staged as a play at HMS Collingwood and Ringwood School to name two examples (see page 7 of the Ringwood link). Granny is fearless, highly critical of herself (and more so of others!) and has accepted, grumpily, that her role in life is to be the good witch, as opposed to her sister, Lilith. Granny has faced down elves, vampires and the “delights” of Ankh-Morpork (see Maskerade) in her time.
The Unseen University’s Guiding Hand does not believe in subtlety. It’s just as well really, he’d be no good at it. If tact was an endangered artefact, Mustrum Ridcully would have cheerfully destroyed it long ago. Mustrum was played by Timothy West in Going Postal. Mustrum is a great survivor, which is just as well given what happened to previous Archchancellors of Unseen University. See Sourcery for more on that.
As a character, Mustrum can sniff out evil, a trait he shares with Granny Weatherwax. Having said that, the way Mustrum treats Hex, the nearest thing Discworld has to a computer, is well… how would you like someone booming down your ear trumpet whenever they felt like it? Think Brian Blessed crossed with someone loud and you get the general idea.
My favourite Mustrum book is Lords and Ladies, where we discover Mustrum has a past, as does Granny Weatherwax. Now there’s a match made in… well I hesitate to say heaven. They could have had some wonderful rows though.
This witch likes a good pint and a good time in equal measure and is clever enough to know it pays not to look clever. She also believes she has a gift for music, a belief which is not widely shared by others (but who would dare tell her so?).
Granny Weatherwax would be lost without Nanny. Nanny is the foil to Granny in many respects. Both witches know it but would never say so. This shows up particularly well in Maskerade where Nanny skilfully makes Granny go to Ankh-Morpork. Nanny also shows genuine concern for Granny and knows it does not do the latter good to feel unwanted or not needed.
Nanny is also happy for Granny to have the traditional “crone” role in a triumvirate of witches. Nanny herself is the “mother” and until Magrat Garlick married King Verence, the latter was the “maiden”, a role that later fell to Agnes Nitt. Nanny did not want to inherit the crone role, which would have fallen to her in Granny’s absence. Nanny hated inheriting it briefly when Granny was “unavailable” for a while in Carpe Jugulum.
My favourite book with Nanny Ogg is Witches Abroad. Nanny likes the arts too. She is an author and loves cooking, though it such a shame her maids of honour always end up as tarts. Nanny, like Granny, will not tolerate evil. She also has a pivotal role, without Granny for once, in Thief of Time.
The Patrician, Havelock, Lord Vetinari
Clever, oh so clever, the ruler of Ankh-Morpork can issue dire threats with the best of them. And someone who can try and reform Moist Von Lipwig is capable of almost anything. Havelock does see the wider picture, has no time for extremists (see Thud and Raising Steam especially) and has a rare talent for spotting people he can use to the benefit of the city.
Neither is he intimidated by the wizards at Unseen University (this almost certainly annoys Mustrum Ridcully). Having been caught out in the earlier Discworld books (see Moving Pictures and Sourcery), the Patrician is wary of magic being let loose on the city. Politics is his life though he was devoted to his dog, Wuffles.
My favourite book here though features him with Vimes in Men at Arms. My second favourite with Vetinari is Raising Steam, which is probably my favourite Discworld novel after Reaper Man. (Though it is lovely to find it difficult to choose!).
Susan Sto Helit
Death’s adopted granddaughter has had a lot to get used to over the years. None of it is her fault either. As a result she is impossible to shock (and some would say just plain impossible). My favourite book here is Thief of Time where I agree with her views on nougat. Go on… find out… you know you want to!
She really comes into prominence as a character I think in Hogfather. The clip below comes from the film adaptation. She is the ultimate in cool, calm and collected and, unlike her grandfather, has the advantage of being human. This is critical in Hogfather as there are places Death cannot go where she can.
The coward’s coward has heroism thrust upon him at every opportunity. It was a shame really. He never wanted it and spent much of his time vainly trying to avoid it. He has avoided monsters, sharks, giant film stars but has never shook off The Luggage, which has been known to kill, has made at least two rare species scarcer, and was given to Rincewind by Twoflower, the most lethal tourist in any dimension, fictional or otherwise.
Twoflower could never see The Luggage as anything but a rather useful travel accessory… on hundreds of little legs. Rincewind saw it exactly for what it was – murderous.
Rincewind first meets Twoflower in The Colour of Magic, The Light Fantastic (the first two Discworld novels) and then they meet up for the final time in my favourite Rincewind book, Interesting Times. In the latter we find Twoflower has a long history, none of which was known to Rincewind during their earlier meetings, and the bespectacled, accident prone tourist turns out to be a hero.
The clip below is from the film adaptation of The Colour of Magic.
Once a powerful mage (Alberto Malich), Albert is now Death’s personal servant. Albert is to grace, charm and good manners what a dung beetle is to grace, charm and good manners on a better than usual day.
The only one who can smoke as ferociously as Albert is Adora Belle Dearheart though Albert is unique in his cooking, which has to be seen to be believed. It is probably best not eaten though. He has views on muesli and on the merits of boiling food. You do need a strong stomach to cope with his culinary “delights”. Indeed it would be useful if you had two strong stomachs on the grounds one might not cope.
My favourite book here is Hogfather. Once seen as a pixie, Albert is never forgotten. Is fiercely loyal to his master, Death, and plays a very useful role on filling his master with information Death really does need to know, which is obvious to us, but not to him.
Many thanks to Janet Williams for finding the wonderful pictorial tribute to Sir Terry, which was in Eastleigh Library.
Great characters will always live on… Even without adaptations of any kind, you should be able to picture them, their words and actions should stay with you.
Summer Reading Challenge
And reading should be fun. I love the idea of the Summer Reading Challenge issued by the libraries, including ours throughout Hampshire. The link for Hampshire shows a round up events for 2014. I hope they, and those taking part in the challenge, have as much fun this year.
I hope this, and other initiatives, open up whole worlds of stories and characters for youngsters. As I was growing up, reading was taken for granted. Now, in a world of competing media, I think it is less so. Books must live on or we lose something very special.
Books can play a very special part in life. The Discworld series makes me laugh, makes me think (Small Gods) and takes me out of this world when I most need that kind of escape.
It has been said before many times but the comparison between Terry Pratchett and Charles Dickens is a justified one. They both produced great stories and characters that have lived on (Dickens) and will live on (Pratchett) long after their creators. Perhaps their unforgettable characters are the best tributes to their authors.
Who are your top 10 book characters? If you are a Discworld fan, who are your favourite Discworld characters and why?
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