When I heard that (Sir) Terry Pratchett had died, I immediately thought, Well, I never liked his books anyway, but too bad he’s dead. The latter is, I think, a normal human reaction to hearing about the death of someone you don’t know personally but who has been a public icon of some reknown for most of your adult life. It’s weird and puts a damper on your day. The former is more ungenerous and goes quite against the common courtesy of not speaking ill of the dead. But I’m nothing if not contrary, so I thought it again, and out loud: “Well, I never liked his books, anyway!!”
Unfortunately, my husband was there. And, lest you be fooled, his absent-mindedness is only a disguise. Not only is he smarter than me (this is a pre-requisite of dating or being married to me – if you aren’t smarter, you had better be quicker, because I’m going to lose patience with you pretty fast if you’re not), he doesn’t mind calling me out when I am wrong. So he immediately looked up all innocent and wide-eyed, and said, “But you love his books. Don’t you love his books? You always talk about…” and I interrupted him there to admit that, indeed, I do like Terry Pratchett after all (just not the Discworld series).
I do like The Carpet People. And although I can’t find it right now because we have a dearth of shelving and many of my books are in boxes, I can write this review from memory because I’ve read The Carpet People that many times.
The Carpet People is, conceptually, an interesting book. By far the shortest of the Pratchett books that I’ve seen, it was originally written and published when he was in his twenties. He then became a successful and prolific writer and, twenty years later, revised and republished the book. Hence his opening: “This book had two authors, and they were both the same person.” So it is intriguing from the start.
Our hero – because the book does have a hero – is Snibril, whose tribe, the Munrungs, live in a provincial village in the Carpet. Their quiet and ignorant life is forever shaken up when their little village is destroyed by Fray and, out of fear and necessity, the Munrungs become nomadic, traveling through the Carpet in search of a new home. Along the way, Snibril and the Munrungs get into lots of adventures, making friends and fleeing enemies, learning about new things and people, and narrowly escaping the many dangers of the Big Bad Carpet.
Themes include Carpet domination (i.e. Empire), slavery, other-isms (i.e. are you People, or are you Other?), as well as magic, family, science, fatalism, and choice. A lot of things to pack into a little book. Some say that the Discworld series explores these themes in more depth, with more wit and satire, and that this is what makes Discworld great. But I’ve never had the patience for the Discworld series – and yes, I did try. The Carpet People, on the other hand, is just enough of a taste of Pratchett’s humour, but not so much that it overwhelms. I’ve read it again and again, and am always charmed by the playful way that Pratchett works so many Real Life Themes into the Carpet’s fabric and Underlay. I predict that even non-Discworld fans will enjoy The Carpet People. It’s short (very short), easy, and the images stick in your head. I haven’t read the book in several years and – even though it is not illustrated – I can still see balloon-horsey-elephantine sentient creatures bouncing down in a spectacular and buoyant run from slavery.
My suggestion? Try The Carpet People with an imaginative teen who enjoys fantastical stories. If they like it, the Discworld series is the natural next step: a world of books with proper grammar, complex sentences, and Real World Themes with a sly wink. A high cut above some of the fantastical trash that is peddled to teens today.
Reading Ages: It’s short and the language is not super hard. I read it when I was about 18, but friends of mine had been reading Discworld since Grade 10. My guess is that The Carpet People would work as early as Grade 7 or 8.
Rating: A-. I would give it an A+, but I still get the feeling that not everyone enjoys fantasy writing. So if a kid is dead set against fantasy as a genre, they’re just not going to read this at all. That said, if they would start reading it, they probably would like it.
The Other Pratchett Book I Like: Good Omens, co-authored with Neil Gaiman. It’s a great book.
Broken Cardinal Rule: I’ve said before that a cardinal rule of fantasy is to have names that are easily pronounceable. Pratchett has broken that rule (Snibril? Munrungs? Really?!). Then again, he also lived in a country where both Welsh and Gaelic are spoken, and where “Padraig” may be pronounced “Porrick”. So I admit that there may be a different standard for “pronounceable”.