“Terry Pratchett,” writes Neil Gaiman in the foreword to this tome, “is not a jolly old elf at all.”
Oh readers, did any of us really think he was? Can anyone read the words of Death and Vimes and Vetinari and think “What a cuddly fellow this Pterry must be!”
Rather what one (i.e. me) thinks is here is a man who is extremely thoughtful, a little cross with some things, impatient with fools and those who try to pull the wool over our eyes, a master with words, and very, very funny.
There is a rumour going around that I have found God. I think this is unlikely because I have enough difficulty finding my keys, and there is empirical evidence that they exist.
A Slip of the Keyboard is a very welcome addition to the Pratchett oeuvre, bringing together a collection of non-fiction writings and essays spanning the entirety of his career, from a 1963 letter to the editor as a young fellow to his recent, somewhat more unrelenting, pieces on the right to assisted dying. If reading Terry Pratchett’s new novels feels a little bit like watching a tide recede, reading A Slip of the Keyboard feels like watching that tide turn and start coming in, gradually pick up speed and flow, and crash up on the top edges of your brain.
Every book now makes me mourn Pratchett just a little bit. But it also sends me running back to all the other Pratchett books to once again discover the delight and enjoyment. As Gaiman reminds us in the Foreword:
I, who have seen some of them being built close-up, understand that any Terry Pratchett book is a small miracle, and we already have more than might be reasonable, and it does not behoove any of us to be greedy.
Every piece in this book is a bit of a gem, with a quote on every page. The timeline in writerly ability is amazing to see too, with not only the change in technique and in subject, but an obvious progression in tone. This is the story not just of Pratchett as a writer but as an aging human, with the growing sense that time is running out and he might not get every word onto the page…
I remember every detail of my visit like a jewel. I’m damn sure I wouldn’t have felt the same about aardvarks. I remember that the eyes of orangutans are the eyes of people, in a way that the eyes of dogs and cats are not, and how the orangutans would pinch the soap and go and wash themselves in the river, and how the camp’s motorboat had to be anchored in mid-stream because one young male was taking too intelligent an interest in how to start the engine. I remember the gentle feel of a hand that could have crushed every bone in mine.
This is an absolute must-have for any Pratchett fan, aspiring writer and lover of fantasy and sci-fi. It’s the perfect companion to the many Discworld books, bringing in to context the characters, ideas and history of that series. And, of course, everyone should read at least one Discworld book (I recommend starting with Lords and Ladies), which then means everyone should read A Slip of the Keyboard at some point also.
Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder.
Elves are marvellous. They cause marvels.
Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies.
Elves are glamorous. They project glamour.
Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment.
Elves are terrific. They beget terror.
The thing about words is that meanings can twist just like a snake, and if you want to find snakes look for them behind words that have changed their meaning.
No one ever said elves are nice.
Elves are bad.
– From Lords and Ladies
No, Sir Terry is not a jolly old elf. He is a little bit Pterry elf though, a little bit Vimes, a little bit of a tyrant and a little bit of Death, a little bit of an orangutan librarian, a little bit wizard, a little bit witch, a little bit Carrot and a little bit troll. He is all my favourite author and A Slip of the Keyboard reminded me exactly why.
Where do you get your fantastic ideas from? You steal them. You steal them from reality. It outstrips fantasy most of the time.