The short: 4.5/5 ✦. It’s a real joy to be able to read Sir Terry Pratchett’s first novel–even if it is co-written by himself.
I saw this sitting on the “New Reads” shelf at my local library, and my heart skipped a metaphorical beat (possibly literally, too, it’s hard to tell). Terry Pratchett sadly passed away in March of this year, and I knew his last book wasn’t to be posthumously published until September. So what was this, then? These “Carpet People”?
As the blurb on the back so kindly informed me, this book is not only “an epic saga of miniature proportions,” it is also Pratchett’s very first novel, published when he was only twenty-three.
Talk about a go-getter!
This particular copy was an updated version, containing the revised novel from 1992, illustrations by Pratchett himself, and the original short stories from Circle magazine circa 1965, when he was seventeen. That may sound a bit confusing, but the important thing to remember, and the most interesting, is how much of his humor and satire was already showing itself in his early work.
To be fair, however, the novel itself as can be read today is not the one initially published. As Pratchett puts it in the 1992 introduction:
“This book had two authors, and they were both the same person. It had a lot of things wrong with it, mostly having to do with being written by someone who was seventeen at the time. I wrote that in the days when I thought fantasy was all battles and kings. Now I’m inclined to think that the real concerns of fantasy ought to be about not having battles, and doing without kings. I’ll just rewrite it here and there . . .
“Well, you know how it is when you tweak a thread that’s hanging loose. So this is it. It’s not exactly the book I wrote at seventeen. It’s not exactly the book I’d have written at forty-three. It’s a joint effort . . .”
If you’re already familiar with Pratchett’s work (which is very likely), you’ll probably be able to see where the forty-three-year-old likely added and poked a few things. The wonderful tongue-in-cheek similes and metaphors are there, and it’s just so Pratchett to have a Lord of the Rings-style story told with infintisimal people living in a living room rug. (Also noted in the introduction is that the biggest city on the Carpet is no bigger than the period at the end of this sentence. Which is helpful for visual reference, but also incredibly mind-boggling.) Even the original short stories are very compelling and humorous, hence why it feels more like a collaboration than a rewrite. Tiny people dealing with big issues is a common theme in Pratchett’s work, especially in the Bromeliad Trilogy, which is also about little creatures living unnoticed in the human world.
Where the two differ is where The Carpet People falters a bit. There’s seemingly no rhyme or reason as to why the setting is a Carpet (or a Rug, for a more American-friendly term). References to the great Bookcase or “Achairleg” are funny enough, but the Fray is never explained (a vacuum, maybe?), and you kinda wonder if the Carpet is supposed to represent something or not. I think why it’s more confusing than perhaps it should be is because there are very few Carpet-exclusive things that the characters interact with. They have normal horses and pigs and water and crops–which are surrounded by hairs (threads) the size of redwoods and a matchstick that takes a day to walk the length of. Of course, Pratchett manages to make it work without too much questioning, but it is a little odd, and you kinda wish for more bizarre creatures instead of just Pones and Snargs. There are also very few female characters, with only one or two that are named, so you may also find that a bit off-putting. (I think their addition near the end may have been part of the revisions.)
Regardless of all that, it’s a fun, adventurous story in Pratchett’s signature style and featuring memorable characters like Snibril and Pismire (and good ol’ Glurk; sorry I ever doubted you!). I picked it out of the “Teen” section, though it was intended for children, and adults are likely to get the most out of it, anyway. So to be fully cheesy, it’s for the whole family to enjoy! Recommended for Pratchett newcomers and old, and anyone who likes parable-esque stories with a slight twist.
Header image: The Carpet People by Terry Pratchett, published November 5, 2013 by Clarion Books