Wednesday, May 05, 2010

ADD, Terry Pratchett, and the noble Burton Pond Eagle

Sorry about the brief hiatus—I've been trying to do some writing, and made the reasonable assumption that perhaps I should give the blogging a pass while I did so. However, based on my abject failure to produce anything of substance these past four days, I am brought back to a fairly elemental truth about myself: that I'm more productive when I'm always stepping sideways, as it were, from one bit of writing to another. So I come back to the blog today on a break from other stuff.

I sometimes think I have a mild form of attention deficit disorder. Actually, I'm fairly certain I do. Anyway, I—Oooh! Shiny!

[three hours later] ... OK, where was I? Oh, right. Blogging, etc.

I'll be back to the vampire cage matches tomorrow. The next fight is a fun but difficult one to write—the batshit insane Drusilla of Buffy and the well nigh feral Marlow of Thirty Days of Night. Not sure how to call that one.

Today's topic du jour is Carpe Jugulum, one of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, which I just finished reading and which is possibly the funniest one I have yet read. Given that Pratchett is generally one of the funniest writers I have encountered and this is the seventeenth Discworld novel I have read (out of thirty-seven!), that is saying a lot.

I'm not going to embark on a lengthy critique of the novel; I just want to share, over the course of two posts, some of the parts that tickled me the most. The funniest running joke I will leave for part two. Today I want to take use a moment in the novel as an excuse to post some pictures I've been meaning to get to for a while.

One of the best secondary characters in Carpe Jugulum is the royal falconer, an unfortunate soul named Hodgesaargh—whose name proceeds from the fact that the birds of prey he is always training are always attacking him:

[Agnes had] seen Hodgesaargh occasionally, around the edges of the woods or up on the moors. Usually the royal falconer was vainly fighting off his hawks, who attacked him for a pastime, and in the case of King Henry kept picking him up and dropping him again in the belief that he was a giant tortoise.

King Henry, in case you're wondering, is the name of the King's eagle. Which is as good a segue as any to mention the noble Burton Pond eagle, a rather impressive bird that hangs out in the vicinity of Memorial's student residences in the winter and keeps the duck population under control. A former student of mine, who has dubbed him "Lord Talonforth I," snapped some pictures of him some time ago and posted them to Facebook.

To come back to Hodgesaargh, who would almost certainly be victimized by Lord Talonforth, the following passage is a great example of Pratchettian humour for the uninitiated. The fledgling witch Agnes Nitt runs into Hodgesaargh at a royal banquet, who introduces her to his buzzard William:

"This is William. She's a buzzard. But she thinks she's a chicken. She can't fly. I'm having to teach her how to hunt."
Agnes was craning her neck for any signs of overtly religious activity, but the incongruity of the slightly bedraggled figure on Hodgesaargh's arm brought her gaze back down again.
"How?" she said.
"She walks into the burrows and kicks the rabbits to death."

For reasons unclear at the time, I found this passage unutterably hilarious and had to put the book down while I laughed. And then I remembered one of the other pictures of Lord Talonforth, in which he is very determinedly walking towards some ducks, looking for all the world as if he's about to kick the crap out of them.

As Pratchett intuits in Hodgesaargh's comment, there is something inherently comical about birds choosing bipedal locomotion over flight. It's why we laugh at penguins.

So there you have it—the merger of wildlife journalism and literary criticism. Next up: Pratchett hangs Braveheart out to dry.


Shaun Coady said...

Hey Chris,

I am ashamed to admit never having the opportunity to read any of Pratchett's work, but I would like to remedy that before I move home to Nova Scotia. I was wondering if there is a specific Discworld novel that would be the best place to start, and I have a preference for the driest British humor, so whichever would fill that empty English void in me, that would be great. I do know however that the Hogfather has been made into a film (possibly with 2 parts, I can not remember at this moment) and I am also trying to get my hands on that as well. Postal is rumored to be in production as well, though I am at present, too distracted by shiny things to double check. But I thought you might be interested in those films. Well, back to immersing myself in.....

Swords are shiny.....

oh no! the Rancor!

What color costume would a cowgirl wielding a spiked chain and saving a small town from an invisible warrior wear? And should it clash with her mount?

Oh yeah, and Chris, enjoy your summer freedom, well, what summer Newfoundland has anyways.

SVDL said...

Ha! I wanted to "like" this, then I remembered Blogger wasn't Facebook... Looking forward to part two.

P.S. Your ADD comment reminded me of this passage from Sourcery:

"Near the shores of the Circle Sea, in the ancient, sprawling city of Ankh-Morpork, on a velvet cushion on a ledge high up in the Unseen University, was a hat. It was a good hat. It was a magnificent hat [...] There was gold lace on there, and pearls, and bands of purest vermine, and sparkling Ankhstones*, and some incredibly tasteless sequins, and -- a dead giveaway, of course -- a circle of octarines. [footnote] Like rhinestones, but different river. When it comes to glittering objects, wizards have all the taste and self-control of a deranged magpie."

So perhaps it's less ADD and more an occupational side-effect? (Because, as we both know, professors are in fact wizards.)

Chris in NF said...

@Shaun: I have it on pretty high authority that you can give the film of Hogfather a pass, unless what you want is a pretty stark example of the novel being infinitely better than its screen version. As for which one to start with, I'd recommend Wyrd Sisters or Guards! Guards! or possibly Mort. If you want to start with the very first one he wrote, The Colour of Magic is your best bet.

@Stephanie: This is why I generally try to keep my office shiny-thing free. Unfortunately, the internet is pretty shiny ...

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