Monday, April 27, 2009

It's Funny, Because It's True

I've written before, at length, on the ambiguous situation of being a teacher in our late capitalist, late modern wold. And I've written before, also at length, on the conflicted anguish which the month of April so often brings to academics. But now I realize that all of that was wasted space, because Terry Pratchett has already described the character of teaching--our intellectual pretensions, our relationship to our students and those who pay our students' bills, our funny hats--as well as anyone probably ever will:

Bands of [teachers] wandered through the mountains, along with the tinkers, portable blacksmiths, miracle medicine men, cloth peddlers, fortune-tellers, and all the other travelers who sold things the people didn't need every day but occasionally found useful. They went from village to village teaching on many subjects. They kept apart from the other travelers and were quite mysterious in their ragged robes and strange square hats. They used long words, like "corrugated iron." They lived rough lives, surviving on what food they could earn from giving lessons to anyone who would listen. When no one would listen, they lived on baked hedgehog. They went to sleep under the stars, which the math teachers would count, the astronomy teachers would measure, and the literature teachers would name. The geography teachers got lost in the woods and fell into bear traps. People were usually quite pleased to see them. They taught children enough to shut them up, which was the main thing, after all. But they always had to be driven out of the village by nightfall in case they stole chickens. (Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men, HarperTempest 2003, pgs. 21-22)

Yes, in case you're asking, I've only just discovered Terry Pratchett; I have no one to blame for this except myself. Specifically, I've discovered the Discworld books. Even more specifically, I've discovered Pratchett's wonderful heroine, Tiffany Aching. But all of that is besides the point; one I read the above passage, I was hooked. I think I'm going to have to put it up on my sideblog.


Withywindle said...

After the first two books, I find the best ones to be the Night Watch sub-series. It's also fun to read the continuing adventures of Rincewind. But the Night Watch ones have moments of real power, mixed in with the comedy.

My favorite Rincewind line is probably: "I didn't talk to the trees, even when they started talking to me."

Stephen said...

Ah, but you left out the coda that (when I discovered this quote recently) I liked almost as much:

"Zoology, eh? That's a big word, isn't it."
"No, actually, it isn't," said Tiffany. "
Patronizing is a big word. Zoology is really quite short."Incidentally, I agree (as do a plurality of discworld fans I suspect) that the Night Watch subseries is the best one, with the caveat that the "industrial revolution" subseries, which branches off from it midway, is if anything better. More information here.

Jacob T. Levy said...

I've only just discovered them too (assuming we don't count Good Omens as a crossover)-- read the first two pretty recently.

Seems odd not to have been exposed to them before; they're such a natural fit for my tastes! But I first became aware of them when Thud! came out, and the name and cover made me think that the series was probably broader, simpler humor than it is.

Russell Arben Fox said...

Ack--Stephen, you'd already found and celebrated that quote! I feel bad--now I'm just another copycat. Bummer.

Jacob, is Good Omens really a cross-over Discworld novel? It's been a long time since I've read it, and I don't know the Discworld stuff well enough yet to be sensitive to whatever parallel's Pratchett and Gaiman may have put in there.

Jacob T. Levy said...

No, it's really not, but the Death character seems to be the same.

William Morris said...

I too highly recommend the Discworld Reading Order guideIn particular, I recommend reading the Death novels, Watch novels, Ancient Civilizations novels, and Industrial Revolution novels all leading towards Night Watch. It's with Night Watch that, imo, you see the true genius of the Discworld books.

And yes, Tiffany Aching is one of the great characters in young adult fiction. I can't wait to introduce her to my daughter (it'll be awhile though -- she's only 5).

Camassia said...

Funny, I just read my first Pratchett novel last year, and it was also The Wee Free Men. It all got started when my family was having a discussion about heaven, and my sister suddenly said, "Crivens! What's an afterlife without drinkin' and smokin' and fightin'?"

Stephen said...

The quote is definitely fine enough to deserve multiple promotions.

Anonymous said...

Read Small Gods.

Right now!

You'll thank me.

John Casey