Wednesday, April 7, 2021

The darkness in Terry Pratchett’s young adult books

 Noted after my last commentary about Young Adult literature was that a lot of Young Adult literature  is dark and discusses dark themes.

Which is clearly not a bad thing. A lot of Young Adult literature has an educational component and is talking about serious stuff. And it also has a ‘You are not alone’ effect for kids and others who are going through trauma.

The first work that came to mind when I read that remark was The Amazing Maurice and His Highly Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett, which I admit is a little far afield when you consider how many non-fantastical dark books out there.

I have been told the late but eternally great Mr Pratchett defined his Young Adult books as books that had young adults as protagonists and otherwise didn’t bother pulling any of his punches. And, man, that man could punch hard and he never punched down. He had stuff to say.

(I don’t know if he considered Equal Rites or Morte Young Adult books. They weren’t marketed as such and I don’t know if it was his choice or the publishers choice to market Maurice et al that way)

I’m not going to go into any real details  about The Amazing Maurice and His Highly Educated  Rodents since people should read Pratchett for themselves so they can laugh and question things they never thought to question. 

But the actual young adults border on being minor characters. The real focus and emotional heart of the book are the intelligent, talking animals, a colony of rats plus a cat. Pratchett definitely dwells on how nasty the lives of rats can be, particularly when humans get involved. He clearly comes from the Maurice Sendak school of ‘Don’t sugarcoat things for kids. They live in the real world and they need to understand how it works’

The result is that the first Disc World book that was marketed for kids is one of the darkest and goriest in the series. The book is downright traumatizing, perhaps too much since I remember the nightmares more than the point. It definitely had an impact though! I am choosing to believe that Pratchett made a point of making Maurice et al so dark because he thought it was something that young adults needed. 

Some people would say that his later young adult books, the ones about Tiffany Aching, are better than Maurice et al. And I’d be one of those people. Tiffany Aching is a wonderful example of a character who is wise beyond their years but still has some growing up to do. But the journey in Maurice et al of what it means to be sentient and what responsibilities that means still made for powerful reading.

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