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The Discworld: Practical Applications
SSar's Beast

So, for my Literary Linguistics summer course, I somehow persuaded the professor to allow me to write my main essay on Terry Pratchett's Discworld, and adaptation theory. This involved a lot of silent squeeing, and saying things like, "Hey, can I borrow your THUD! game? I need it for my essay. Thanks starzend."

Two things are making me post it now: 20thcenturyvole has been posting her essays, and I approve of this; and a TV adaptation of Going Postal has just been released (hopefully I'll sit down and watch it soon). Also, although the friends who loaned me books to help write the essay may not be interested, I feel they should at least have the option of reading the result!

Disclaimer: Although I did research for about two weeks preceding, the actual essay writing was accomplished over one night.

Terry Pratchett has written 36 novels situated within the fictional 'Discworld' (now trademarked). Of these novels, there are few that have not been adapted into another medium; and the modes into which Discworld books have been adapted include audio books, radio plays, stage plays, scripts, animated movies, live action movies, graphic novels, single-player computer games, multi-user-dungeon computer games, and musicals. The diversity of these texts is meanwhile contained by the internal consistency of the imaginary world they share and the extent to which they have remained largely under the creative control of the 'original' author. This is true even for Discworld texts not directly based on a Pratchett novel, such as the 1999 computer game Discworld Noir, developed by Perfect Entertainment (in which Pratchett was consulted and is credited with “Far Too Much Interference”) and the 2007 fan film Run Rincewind Run, directed by Daniel Knight (in which Pratchett appears as himself). Because of its limits and its simultaneous expansion in every direction, this multi-modal cluster of texts offers a wealth of materials to anyone with an interest in the theory, practice, and politics of adaptation. To illustrate this, I will examine in particular several adaptations of the novel Wyrd Sisters, then the cluster of supporting texts which are THUD! (the novel), THUD! (the game) and Where's My Cow.

Original and derivative text, and even adaptation, are all loaded terms. They presuppose an attitude and school of thought referred to as “fidelity discourse”, in which the relationship between one text and another that refers to it is constructed in a strictly linear fashion, and the latter text is judged according to its success in realising key elements of the former text. This is a school of thought which, while often criticised as narrow-minded and outdated by academic writers (for example Leitch 2007; Cartmell and Whelehan 1999; Naremore 2000), is often taken up by default, such as when a fan is disappointed by a movie that didn't live up to the book. The prior text is constructed as superior, because for a text even to be labelled an 'adaptation', it requires that a prior text exists which is sufficiently well-known to be the basis of the adaptation, and that recognition – for example, of a famous novel or play – lends immense prestige. There are many films which are sufficiently reliant on a particular 'source' text to be technically adaptations, but are not called that because the source text is obscure and the later production has entirely occluded it – such as Jane Campion's The Piano (as discussed in Gelder 1999) or Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds.

Fidelity discourse is problematic as it presents a Catch-22 for authors of an adaptation. When an 'original' is known, any adaptation which deviates or fails in its project is considered to be somehow destructive of the original text because it presents a competing version of the story. Transformation of some kind is inevitable across media, or to produce any new text; but fidelity critics who concede this simply hold the new text up to a less definable standard that seems to represent the intentions of the author of the original – how, say, the playwright or the stage director might have done it if they had been in charge of producing their play as a movie. On the other hand, many adaptations which are judged to be sufficiently faithful to the original are then criticised for being too imitative, lacking unique artistic merit. If transmodal, they may be criticised for a failure to live up to the challenges of a different media. That is, they are criticised for failing to treat the exercise of adaptation as an artistic opportunity.

In a 2007 article by Gary Bortoletti and Linda Hutcheon, the authors seek to reclaim the term 'adaptation' in the sense meant by a prior discourse – that of the evolution of species. They point out that in biology, the 'success' of an organism is measured by its ability to replicate itself, and 'successful' species change over the course of each replication. In fact, the entity whose success is being measured is not the single organism, or single narrative text, but recognisable elements within that text:

There is a popular misconception in the lay understanding of biology today (and, in fact, this is what plagued early evolutionary biology) of whose survival adaptations are for. They are to ensure not the survival of the group or the individual organisms, but instead the “relevant replicators themselves.” This is why it is important to define the replicator as a distinct and discrete entity, for this is the unit of selection by which we can understand change over time. For our purposes in discussing the process of cultural adaptation, then, Dawkins’s replicator would be a core narrative idea (or in short, a narrative).
Bortoletti & Hutcheon 2007, p447

One radical effect of this approach is that it withdraws privilege from an 'original' text – in fact, the concept of the original is not assumed at all, as each prior text has its own prior text or texts stretching back into obscurity. A narrative text is celebrated if it continues the lineage of a recognisable narrative, or if it inspires new realisations of a narrative to follow it. This re-definition of 'adaptation' is a highly useful concept as it allows adapted texts to be judged more easily by their own merits than as if they are simply extensions of another text; but at the same time it opens the door for intertextuality by implying that a text may be the vehicle for 'core narratives' other than that of its direct source. It requires that we are able to separate out 'core narrative ideas' from their 'vehicle' – much as narrative theorists may already distinguish 'story' and 'discourse' (as in Chatman 1978:19). It is a less subjective approach than that of fidelity discourse – and one way in which it achieves this is by sidelining the issue of authorial intention which plagues that theory. Bortoletti and Hutcheon deal with such potential influences obliquely by relating them to the biological environment:

When an environment changes in one particular identifiable direction, then we expect [directional selection], as adaptations move toward a new cultural norm: for example, what was a minor terrorist subplot might shift to center stage after 9/11. But when an environment is stable we can predict that adaptations will differ little from the previous generation. The latter evidently was the case when director Christopher Columbus adapted the first Harry Potter novel to the screen. Because the film came out soon after the immensely popular book, the fan culture was arguably not expecting or desiring a reinterpretation of the story, but simply a retelling of it in a new medium.
Bortoletti & Hutcheon 2007, p449

If this is applied to the Discworld texts, then the environment in which their highly faithful and consistent adaptations are produced must be judged extremely stable, and Terry Pratchett himself can be identified as a significant stabilising influence by his rate of output of 'core' Discworld texts, his collaborative interactions with fans and other co-authors, and his desire to retain creative authority over the Discworld universe.

One series of relatively conventional adaptations in this corpus are those of the sixth Discworld novel, Wyrd Sisters (1988). It was adapted for the stage by Stephen Briggs, in 1990, in consultation with Pratchett (Briggs 2010). Briggs and Pratchett then published the script, with an introduction and production advice written by Briggs, in 1996a. (It should be noted that Briggs then went on to publish 14 other Discworld play scripts, and co-write several other Discworld texts with Pratchett.) In 1997, Wyrd Sisters was also adapted into a two-part children's animation, which was released on video, and then published as an illustrated screenplay in 1998 (Terry Pratchett holds the copyright). It has also been separately adapted as a radio play. Both the stage play and the animated adaptation stick closely to the novel's fabula, its ordering of events, and its descriptions of characters and settings. Each, however, foregrounds aspects of the text which are particularly relevant to its own genre.

As a novel, Wyrd Sisters is an ironic choice for adaptation to the stage, as it parodies several different Shakespeare plays, especially Macbeth, Hamlet, and King Lear. All versions have as their first line of dialogue the ''eldritch screech'', “When shall we three meet again?” As well as blurring plot elements of Shakespeare's most famous tragedies (the villain Duke Felmet kills his cousin, who becomes a ghost, and takes his crown at the urgings of the ambitious Lady Felmet; Duke Felmet also develops a preoccupation with washing guilt from his hands and, while going gradually mad, is followed throughout by a faithful, talkative Fool) the novel features a troup of players including the playwright Hwel, who along with his company erects a theater and calls it the Disc: “All the Disc it is but an Theater, he wrote, Ane alle men and wymmen are but Players.” Pratchett, 1989 p213, italics in original. As if to call attention to the chopping and changing going on in Pratchett's novel, Hwel is depicted writing plays with yet more jumbled elements of drama: “The dwarf stuck out his tongue as he piloted the errant quill across the ink-speckled page. He'd found room for the star-crossed lovers, the comic grave-diggers and the hunchback king. It was the cats and the roller skates that were currently giving him trouble...” Pratchett, 1989 p78.

This is not a detail that makes it through to the abbreviated stage play. Hwel becomes involved only in the latter half of the play, when he is commissioned to write and direct a piece of dramatic propaganda (basically a version of Macbeth that vilifies Duncan). And, too, rather than being built up throughout the story, the idea of words creating a reality is mostly explored in the play-within-a-play which comes at the climax of the text. The witches are totally taken by surprise by the Duke's commissioned entertainment and its attack on witches, as Granny makes explicit:

GRANNY. ...The audience are taken in: it's more real than reality. It's not true, but that has nothing to do with it. Words. As soft as water, and as powerful as water, too, carrying away the past. We've lost. There's nothing we can do about this.
Briggs and Pratchett 1996b, p135

The effect is very similar to that in Hamlet, when the play that Hamlet arranges with the Player King shocks Claudius. But particularly, in both the Shakespeare and the Briggs play, the idea of presenting a story to establish its truth has not been tested prior to the presentation of the play. In the novel, Granny Weatherwax is shown coming 'up against' staged narrative much earlier on: “The theatre had been the worst part. All people pretending to be other people, things happening that weren't real, bits of countryside that you could put your foot through.. Granny liked to know where she stood, and she wasn't certain she stood for that sort of thing. The world seemed to be changing all the time.” (Pratchett 1989 p54). In the novel, witches' eventual dismay at the Duke's play is thus prefigured. Meanwhile, in the stage play of Wyrd Sisters, the scene where the witches watch the play does not evoke earlier conflicts in the text as much as it evokes the analogous scene in Hamlet, which in turn prepares us for the way the witches rally in Wyrd Sisters, and by ghosts and magic cause the embedded play to reveal the truth. In the play adaptation of Wyrd Sisters, it is the nuclear elements which recall the dramatic ancestry of the novel which are foregrounded and emphasised, and catalyzers which help to establish internal logic for these elements are backgrounded or omitted. In his costume notes, Briggs requires for the Fool, “a hanky with bells at each corner (which he offers to the Duke in the 'Is this a dagger I see before me?' bit).” (1996b pxvii). This is an elaborate prop which is not strictly necessary; but it does vividly illuminate the discrepancy between the Duke's delusions and the harmless, jingling, artefact. Another example is the Duke's obsession with getting his hands clean of blood and guilt. In the novel, this is represented by asides from the Duke's perspective: “[He] concentrated on the matter in hand.... hand. He'd scrubbed and scrubbed, but it seemed to have no effect. Eventually he'd gone down to the dungeons and borrowed one of the torturer's wire brushes...” (Pratchett, 1989, p59). In the script of the play, this is a running gag that comes with specific advice from the playwright:

The Duke enters. His hands are now covered in bloody bandages. He scratches away under the bandages with a large knitting needle – if this doesn't get your audience squirming in their seats... well, you've had your chance and muffed it!
Briggs & Pratchett 1996b, p136

The conclusion of the story, in which the Fool, Verence II, receives the crown of Lancre, is clear in the novel but is not explicitly stated. Briggs suggests a way of dealing with this in the play which employs a kind of dramatic post-script: “In the curtain call, we brought our Fool on wearing the crown on his fool's cap – just in case the audience hadn't got the point!” (1996b, p155, my italics). Other advice from Briggs offered in the introduction to the play script (1996b) suggest ways in which the live play ignores some of the novel's restrictions. “The Discworld stories are remarkably flexible in their character requirements. Mort has been performed successfully with a cast of three.” (p.viii). “The script as it appears here is now tried and tested, but it isn't the only way to adapt the book. Other groups have made different choices... Perhaps the late King Verence is given a bigger role... Death is left in but the 'three old ladies gathering wood' is cut; the Magrat/Verence reconciliation scene is left out..” (p. xii, italics in original). “The books stand on their own, but some knowledge of the wider Discworld ethos helps when adapting the stories, and can help the actors with their characterisations.” (p. vii) A combination of the last two is particularly noticeable in the script of the play Mort, where the characters Mort and Ysabell are talking in Death's realm:

MORT. It's quite a garden, isn't it? Big, black bees buzzing around black hives in the black grass under black-blossomed trees that will – eventually – produce apples that, I wouldn't mind betting, won't be red.
Briggs & Pratchett 1996a, p76

This is not a description taken from the novel Mort (1988); it is lifted almost exactly from the first page of the novel Eric (1990).

But while it's possible to be free with the play's scenes, Briggs' website warns: “Just to stress, there are rules about staging the plays. They're not onerous, Terry and I do aim to be reasonable and the royalties are payable to the Orangutan Foundation. But there are rules. Anyone thinking of staging a Discworld play should contact me as soon as possible - preferably before you spend any significant sums of money!” (Briggs 2010). In this case, the author of the 'source' text has established a clear line of financial and creative control over future texts.

Just as Briggs' and Pratchett's Wyrd Sisters play uses the threshold of the medium – the curtain call – to clarify the text, the animated version of Wyrd Sisters employs techniques specific to its own genre to faithfully transfrom the novel. Most obviously, Pratchett's novel is comic fantasy, and its central characters, the three witches, are each an exaggeration: “Nanny... was as gummy as a baby and had a face like a small dried raisin. The best you could say for Magrat was that she was decently plain and well-scrubbed and as flat-chested as an ironing board with a couple of peas on it.” Pratchett 1989, p43. The comic potential of the witches' description is fulfilled by a Nanny Ogg who is drawn as round and red-nosed as a female Falstaff, and a Granny Weatherwax whose facial lines are drawn as sharply as if they have been etched.

This particular adaptation was targeted at children; an interesting development, as Pratchett has written four Discworld novels for young adults, and Wyrd Sisters is not one of them. Apart from an expurgation of swearing, the animation is very similar to the novel; the animated adaptation is actually longer and includes more material than the stage adaptation which precedes it. It seems that the genre of the text is created mainly by the animation medium and by labelling. However, the medium and the implied audience support the foregrounding of another aspect of the novel: the references to fairy tales. Shakespearean plots provide some of the nuclei of Pratchett's novel, but destiny, quests, and the conventions of how to treat old women in forests provide catalysts and recurring motifs. These are part of parody, as in the dialogue,

'It's true, is that,' said Nanny Ogg, earnestly. 'How many times have you thrown a magic ring into the deepest depths of the ocean and then, when you get home and have a nice bit of turbot for tea, there it is?'
They considered this in silence.
'Never,' said Granny Weatherwax irritably. 'And nor have you...'”
Pratchett 1989, p32; see also Pratchett 1998, p16.

The fairy tale aspect is foregrounded partly because of the conventions of this medium and target audience. It also has the effect of situating the witches more firmly in the centre of events and actions; in the fairytale, where witches are stock characters, this is their rightful place, but this is less so for dramatic theatre, in which witches are lucky to come in ones, let alone threes. In this adaptation, while the actual changes that occur in the events, characters, conversations, and narrative ordering of the text are minimal, the selection of marketed audience and medium has the effect of concentrating an aspect of the text, by locating it in a space where that aspect (fairy tales) is especially relevant.

Wyrd Sisters's ability to be shifted in this fashion between a focus on Shakespearean references and a focus on fairy tale elements can be attributed to another way of examining the relationships betweeen texts, broadly labelled intertextuality; this is something of a state of mind which acknowledges that all texts rely on multiple prior texts in order to be understood. It is nearly the opposite of fidelity discourse, as it undermines the idea of a clear lineage of texts; it requires us to remember that every text we read has an impact on our understanding of the following text, whatever else their relationship may be. In this case, we can point out that Wyrd Sisters, as a novel, already exists in a collection of texts which are labelled 'fairy tale', as well as in a collection under the name of 'parody'; similarly 'set in mountains' or 'supernatural occurrences'. However, proponents of intertextuality (such as Culler, 1976) warn that it is not an easy theory for specific application; and thus in this instance it may not take us much farther.

To return briefly to the conflicts invoked above by fidelity discourse, one tension is that between high art and low art. Stam illustrates the asymmetry of privilege that often exists in the study of adaptations:

The arts accrue prestige over time. The venerable art of literature, within this logic, is seen as inherently superior to the younger art of cinema, which is itself superior to the even younger art of television, and so forth ad infinitum. Here literature profits from a double “priority”: (a) the general historical priority of literature to cinema, and (b) the specific priority of novels to their adaptations.
Stam 2005, p4

Although he is concentrating here on adaptations of print to screen, Stam's remarks have wider implications. As stated above, texts are generally identified as adaptations when there is already prestige attached to the 'source'. That prestige exerts a pressure on the derivative text either to equal it in aims that are presupposed, or (less frequently) to equal it in individual artistry. And derivative texts that move away from imitation are threatening; they are assumed to somehow steal thunder from the original, whether they are bad or they are good. When a source text is notable for unusual artistic merit, the role of the adaptation is often to make its core ideas more accessible by offering them to a wider audience. In conclusion, the movement of adaptations, whatever the change in media, is often assumed to be from “high art” to “low art”. When the imbalance of prestige is particularly high – as in a tie-in novelisation of an acclaimed and popular film, or a movie adapted from a classic play or novel – the adaptation more explicitly acknowledges its debt. In both of two streams of the Wyrd Sisters adaptations examined above, this phenomenon occurs. Because of the close involvement and ownership of Pratchett in both the stage and screen developments, these adaptations were expected to take the imitative rather than the individual route. Thus, both Wyrd Sisters the play and Wyrd Sisters the animation are solid but not especially innovative examples of their art. In the texts by which these adaptations are adapted into print, even less 'literariness' is aimed at – the published script of the play reads like a manual, and the first part of Briggs' introduction is duplicated in other published scripts of the Discworld plays, creating a sense of prefabrication. The published screenplay of the animation abases itself further; its back cover proclaims it to be “the perfect accompaniment to the acclaimed Channel Four/ Cosgrove Hall series of Terry Pratchett's bestselling novel” and also states, “You have the essence of Shakespeare without having to read thirty-seven plays.” In none of the other adaptations is the Shakespearean relationship explicitly stated; this, like the reference to other authors and authorities from which it derives, seems a strategy to acquire by association the prestige which the text conventionally lacks.

Another set of more recent texts, a novel, a picture book, and a boardgame, have a far less linear relationship. The boardgame THUD! was created in 2001 by a Discworld fan, Trevor Thuron, as a tie-in for the Discworld series, and Pratchett referred it to in the novel Going Postal published 2004. The 2005 novel THUD!, which followed Going Postal, incorporates the game as a recurrent motif. The novel implies by use of presupposition, backgrounding, and avoidance of topicalisation that the game is a known quantity and exists as a referent in the the Discworld at least as much as it exists as a referent in the “real” world:

A desk was covered in paperwork. Beside it, on a small table, was an octagonal board covered in little playing pieces. Vimes sighed. He hated games. They made the world look too simple.
Pratchett 2005a, p72

Within the novel, 'Thud' is a simple strategy game such as chess, familiar to Ankh-Morpork citizens. It has its own story: “Dwarfs versus trolls. Eight trolls and thirty-two dwarfs, forever fighting their little battles on a cardboard Koom Valley.” (Pratchett, 2005a p214). Koom Valley is a key concept to the relationship between the game and the novel as they exist in our world.

Koom Valley, the novel reveals, is the site of a semi-mythical battle between dwarfs and trolls, and also the name of that battle. Further, it is described as a story that can and is being continually reenacted: “If he doesn't solve the murder of just one dwarf, Commander Sam Vimes of Ankh-Morpork City Watch is going to see it fought again,” (front jacket blurb, Pratchett 2005a) and “Where any dwarf fought any troll, it was Koom Valley.” (Pratchett, 2005a p31). Even more tellingly: “We're not going to have Koom Valley replayed in this nick, Fred,” says Vimes. Presumably building on the idea of the game, Pratchett emphasises the iterative and performative aspects of the story of Koom Valley which are also features of this or any game. Further, Thud games and fights between dwarfs and trolls continuously occur throughout the book, until events in the historic Koom Valley at the end of the book resolve this tension by revealing secrets about the original troll/dwarf enmity.

A “Koom Valley” rules variant of the basic game was released to coincide with the release of the novel THUD!, to directly refer to the “Koom Valley” story particular to this novel. While in the real world, Koom Valley THUD! and [Classic] THUD! are variants of the same board game, in the Discworld, 'Thud' is the only game variant. According to the short fictional article “THUD! An Historical Perspective,” (2001) by Pratchett, which is included in the rules to THUD!, the game as played within the Discworld is based on the ancient enmity of dwarfs and trolls; according to the novel THUD!, the ancient enmity of dwarfs and trolls was, if not begun, at least “made official” at Koom Valley. That is, within the Discworld, the 'Koom Valley' story precedes the idea of 'Thud', and in the real world the opposite occurs. The complexity of these hyper- and hypo-textual links is increased by the fact that THUD! the board game contains short narrative texts – Terry Pratchett's 'Perspective', and a highly coloured version of the rules:

Captured dwarfs are carted off the battleground with their ears ringing. Dwarfs can only overpower their much bigger enemy by forming a line and hurling the front dwarf straight at troll and walloping it in the midriff. This causes the troll to lose interest in the proceedings and it leaves the arena for a long lie-down until the next battle.
Pratchett, Truran & Pearson 2001, p5

Whether the game itself, without Pratchett's pseudohistorical introduction, is a text, is an interesting question. However, the existence of the dramatised rules and the historical introduction establish a way for players of the game to situate themselves within the Discworld, just as Trevor Truran is titled “Thudmaster Truran” on the rule book and “Thudmeister” on the online THUD! Site (2006), these being implied titles for expert players of the game within the Discworld, where the game has been long enough established to have its own culture and rankings.

The artwork on the front cover of the novel THUD! is a picture of the central character, Vimes, standing on a THUD! board and surrounded by THUD! playing pieces as large as him, one of which has fallen and is bloody. (The version of the THUD! game released in 2005, which includes the Koom Valley rules, has the same cover image). This is a metaphorical link between the board game on one hand, and the story of the novel on the other, as this scene does not occur in the novel; and is also possibly an allusive link to the metatextual relationship created between the books by the author. Meanwhile, the art on the back cover of the novel THUD! is an ostensible advertisement for another book, Where's My Cow. There is a picture of this book, which appears exactly as it does in the real world. However, it is surrounded above and below by references to institutions and people who exist only in the Discworld city of Ankh-Morpork, such as, “Winner of the Ankh-Morpork Librarian's Award”, in a parody of ordinary examples of such advertising, which are usually framed by reviews from the real world. In fact, THUD! the novel is literally framed by closely related texts; and where Genette would call these the thresholds, or fringes, between the text and the outside world (Genette, 1997 p2), for THUD! they are are simultaneously constructed as borders between different aspects of the Discworld corpus, or the Discworld composite text.

Where's My Cow (2005b) has links to THUD! the novel which are as complex as those between the novel and the game. It is a children's book, and shelved as such in a real-world library. It was intentionally released at the same time as THUD! the novel in 2005. Like 'Koom Valley', it refers to an iterative event – in this case, Vimes, the main character of THUD! (novel), goes home at six o'clock every night and reads a book called Where's My Cow to his son Sam. However, the book that the character reads is a fairly simple story with many barnyard noises, and one day Vimes decides to invent a version with the sounds of the city dwellers. It is that particular reading session which appears in the book Terry Pratchett has published separately. By the illustration on its front cover, which exactly matches the advertised illustration on the back cover of THUD!, it claims to be the same story that the Discworld character Vimes reads to his son, while in fact containing a report of that reading. And in fact a part of the presupposed 'original' text of Where's My Cow, of which we only read Vimes' reinvention, is not revealed until near the end of THUD!, when Vimes, in a berserker frenzy, appears to recite the entire thing, stopping at last at, “Hooray, hooray, it's a wonderful day, for I have found my cow!” (Pratchett, 2005a p326).

Each of these three texts, the game, the novel, and the picture book, are possible to read independently, although in the case of the game, such 'reading' requires a relatively light burden of assumption, in situating fantasy creatures called “trolls” and “dwarves” within a fantasy world called the Discworld, about which there have apparently been some other texts written; in the case of the picture book, the diverse characters provide more exercise for the imagination; in the case of the novel, without the open doors provided by its cover illustrations, the reader might not know that anything was missing at all. This reflects a pattern already established between the “core” Discworld novels and the “peripheral texts”, such as Nanny Ogg's Cookbook, or even Terry Pratchett's Mort: The Play. With the novel set up almost like the 'control', a reader can bypass the experiment in their selection of texts. But the point is that there is really no such thing as a 'control' text in literary experiments; there is merely judgement of success. Already experienced at overseeing the development of his work in conventional styles of adaptation, Terry Pratchett has here attempted a combination of cooperative texts which, by overtly occupying the same space, expand it. The game THUD! and the picture-book Where's My Cow, both unconventional genres for classic adaptation, have each been used as the vehicles for expanding a narrative embedded in the novel; further, their relationship as texts existing in the context of a real-world library is different from the relationship their contents have to each other; and different again from the relationship their covers imply.

“HAS IT NEVER STRUCK YOU THAT THE CONCEPT OF A WRITTEN NARRATIVE IS RATHER STRANGE?” asks Death, conversationally, near the end of Pratchett's novel THUD!. Such a question seems to be begged more by the covertly competitive relationships which exist among a series of relatively conventional adaptations, a textual experiment which seems defined by the mantra, “If at first you don't succeed, then try, try again,” than by the cooperative experiment demonstrated by THUD!, whose results are not yet in. Retaining control over many new texts which draw inspiration from his core Discworld texts allows Terry Pratchett to avoid some of the pitfalls of fidelity discourse, but not all, as can be seen in the decline in literary status in successive generations of adaptations of his work. New terminology is called for to improve on the unremittingly biased and hostile discourse of 'original' and 'derivative' texts, but even re-defining the term 'adaptation' according to its use in biology merely redirects our focus on the behaviour of texts without removing some of the previous problems. Another state of mind opposed to fidelity discourse, intertextuality, is as yet not a practical tool for establishing the relationship which exists between specific texts.

I have only barely touched on the questions raised – consciously and unconciously – in Pratchett's work which have relevance to the field of adaptation study. But while his work continues to expand in both linear and nonlinear fashions, it seems that all that may be required is to hang on to the ride, and evaluate the results of the experiments he himself is carrying out within his narrative canon.


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Stam, Robert, and Alessandra Raengo (eds. 2005. Literature and Film: A Guide to the Theory and Practice of Film Adaptation. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Terry Pratchett Website – UK. 2009. The Random House Group Ltd. http://www.terrypratchett.co.uk (accessed January 17, 2010).
Truran, Trevor. 2006. 'Wisdom of the Grand Thudmeister'. On MorganAlley Ltd. 2006. “THUD! The Official Boardgame”. http://www.thudgame.com/thudmeister (accessed February 6, 2010).

Wordcount: 5477 (although Open Office, a creature of many flaws, is giving me the same wordcount whether or not I delete the references. Odd beast.) And I am very proud of myself for getting the smallcaps and blockquotes HTML done.

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Very cool subject to treat.

It was! I only got away with it because the course had four set texts, one of which was Eric, and I was able to springboard off that.

I will forever look on my Honours year with fondness because I managed to convince a lecturer to let me write an essay on Small Gods.


Not one I've read, actually.

Ohhh! I have it, and I will lend it to you, because prior to Nation it was the Pratchett book that got me the most emotional. It is basically TP's Thoughts On Theology, except that even though he is a very definite atheist, his portrayal of faithful people is always remarkably respectful. Plus, one of the two main characters is a very angry turtle. :D

Sweet! This is especially interesting with regards to Discworld, since the canon is drawn with such broad strokes that pretty much every book retcons something, making interpretation particularly a matter of personal taste. Even with Pratchett having a great deal of control and influence over adaptations, those adaptations all have very different flavours. (I still need to see Going Postal!)

Though what course did you take that had an essay with a 5000-word limit?

Ooh yes, it would have been fun to talk about retconning a bit more, though that would have required more Discworld knowledge than I actually have.

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