(British, 1948– )
In terms of sales Terry Pratchett is the most successful British author writing today; it has been calculated that 1 per cent of all fiction titles sold in Britain are of his writing. Yet, although he has a multitude of devoted readers, his work has attracted very little attention from critics. It is not hard to see why. Although he has written other kinds of fiction, notably books for children, his chosen genre is one not usually regarded as ‘serious’ in literary circles. His best-selling works are novels of fantasy: his mise-en-scène being Discworld, a plate-shaped planet which sails through the universe supported by four elephants, who in turn stand on the back of a great turtle. Magic is essential to keep such a world in being and figures largely in the Discworld novels, of which there are now over twenty. The first of them, The Colour of Magic (1983), which makes an excellent introduction to the series, has as hero the incompetent magician Rincewind, who appears in several novels. So do the witches Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, down-to-earth country-women who stoutly defend traditional ways of life against destructive powers such as cruel fairies (Lords and Ladies, 1992—one of the best stories) and sophisticated vampires (Carpe Jugulum, 1998). Given their magical background the novels are remarkably matter-of-fact, and they are also saved from the romantic artiness of the ‘swords and sorcery’ fantasies by Pratchett's acute sense of humour. He even humorously portrays Death, who appears as a character in Mort (1987)—perhaps the best Discworld novel of all—and in several others, accompanied by his white horse ‘Binky’. Establishing his own world has given Pratchett unlimited scope to create new scenes and characters, and his vein of invention shows no signs of petering out.