Terry Pratchett is one of my favorite authors of all time. I’ve read the Discworld series in its entirety and several of Pratchett’s other works as well. When he passed away in March 2015, the literary world lost one of the contemporary greats, but it seems he left a lot of unpublished things or just works in progress or to be collected. I was looking forward to Dragon’s at Crumbling Castle and Other Stories, which is a collection of juvenalia fiction. Some of the stories did not disappoint, showing the sparks of what Pratchett would eventually become. Others worked less well.
One thing that irritated me throughout the book, and I really hope this is the editors at work and not Pratchett himself, was the reliance on large and random different fonts for dramatic emphasis. This collection originally came out in 2014, so it’s possible Pratchett had a hand in the visuals and illustrations done by Mark Beech. The effect reminded me very strongly of the illustrations in Roald Dahl’s books by Quentin Blake. The illustrations themselves are fine; I have no problem with them, especially in what was intended as children’s stories. It was just a little disheartening to me to see opportunities that the mature author would have used for wit and linguistic manipulation smothered with what in plain print would be ALL CAPS.
On the plus side, stories like the two Tale of the Carpet People, do have the beginnings of Pratchett’s clever use of language and world building. The geography involved would be worth a giggle even for a grown up with places like Shiandi Beneath the Bookcase and the City of South-West Chairleg. Many of the stories end abruptly, but that can be used to good effect as in the final story “Father Christmas Goes to Work”. Basically, Santa, or rather Mrs. Clause, decides he needs a job the other 364 days a year, but he just can’t manage to get anything right. When he gets fired (again) and his employment agency contact is thoroughly exasperated, he goes home to Mrs Clause feeling a little down. But suddenly, the guy from the agency bursts in with: “WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME YOU WERE SIX HUNDRED YEARS OLD?” “Is that important?” “Of course- you ought to be collecting Social Security! Come to think of it, you ought to get a bit for the five hundred and thirty-five years you missed too. THAT’D BE THOUSAND AND THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS!” “Social Security?” wondered Father Christmas. “FANCY THAT! COME IN AND HAVE A CUP OF TEA!” And so they did.
While this seems a little stupid, it’s an amusing kind of stupid that’s not totally predictable. While this is most certainly not my favorite of Pratchett’s works, I’m not totally upset, since everyone’s gotta start somewhere. Still, I can’t help wishing this stuff was just a little bit better.