Page 1 of 2
An Interview with Terry Pratchett, author of
Q. Night Watch is a dark novel. Would you agree?
A. For a given value of dark, perhaps. Fairy-tale dark, maybe. In a fairy-tale our hero has to walk through the dark forest, kill the monsters, evade the giant spiders- but the important thing, without which the story could never be written, is that he emerges from the other side, into the light.
Q. Our hero being in this case Commander Sam Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch-except that he's demoted to sergeant.
A. Yes, and the monsters are on two legs. But let's not give too much away, eh? There's a revolution, except that the people behind the barricades aren't revolutionaries, and there're murders and assassinations and a breakdown of law and order. And some laughs, I must admit. It's amazing how they turn up.
Q. And through it all walks Sergeant Vimes, having the time of his life as a street cop again.
A. Yep. Well put. He stands to lose everything, but there's a part of him that's gloriously happy. He's fighting dirty and double-crossing and using all his old skills to survive. There's no damn paperwork and people are trying to kill him all the time. In an odd way, a way he's ashamed of when he thinks about it, he's loving it.
Look, I think when people mean that Discworld books have become darker they really mean the series is growing up. In The Colour of Magic most the city is set alight. It's a joke, in much the same way that the Earth is destroyed almost at the start of Douglas Adams's The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. I could not do that quite so easily now-and this time, we know that people are dying. But I think the books are richer for that. You need tragic relief. You need darkness for the light to show up. You need a way out of the forest.
Q. You need redemption.
A. Right. And that means you need to let in more than laughter.
Q. In Night Watch people get hurt or killed, sometimes quite nastily. Where does that fit into comedy?
A. Right slap bang in the middle, I think. There's humour in the book, but you can't build a plot out of jokes. You need tragic relief. And you need to let people know that when a lot of frightened people are running around with edged weaponry, there are deaths. Stupid deaths, usually. I'm not writing "The A-Team" - if there's a fight going on, people will get hurt. Not letting this happen would be a betrayal.
There was a famous incident during the Falklands War when a shell landed amongst some squaddies and one yelled "I've lost my leg!" and another one shouted back "No you haven't, it's over here!" And they were so high on adrenalin they all laughed. Humour turns up in strange places. It can unite people, and blunt the edge of terror.
Q. Is this trend going to continue?
A. Well, yes. It's been noticeable, I'd say, ever since my novel, Men at Arms, possibly earlier. And all it is, is me saying: supposing these people were real? Suppose that when they were cut, they bled? What's that Mel Brooks line...'tragedy is me cutting my finger, comedy is you falling down a manhole'? I still do the comedy, I just look down the manhole sometimes.
Copyright© 2002 HarperCollins
. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. The interview has been provided by HarperCollins
and is printed with their permission.