I was enjoying a lazy bank holiday Monday. OK, it’s raining and I’m slightly hungover, but not being at work on a Monday is a great feeling. Then I read the Jonathan Jones article on Terry Pratchett called “Get real. Terry Pratchett is not a literary genius”. I’m not the only one to be offended or annoyed by this article. There are several responses to it on various forums and blogs etc. but I felt sufficiently peeved to write my own.
The article starts badly and gets worse. Jones openly admits that “I have never read a single one of his books and I never plan to.” (1) This begs the question – how the hell do you know what you’re talking about then!? How can you judge someone’s work to be mediocre and “ordinary potboilers” (2) when you’ve never actually read anything by them?
I first came across the Discworld when I was about 13 years old. I’ve always been an avid reader, and whilst I didn’t know what I was about to get into, I’d been attracted by the Josh Kirby covers for a while, and I eventually picked up Reaper Man. I loved it, and I’ve since read many of Discworld novels, and I’ve never regretted it. I don’t like them all equally – I prefer the stories involving the witches and Death and his granddaughter, Susan. But these are great stories, and I’m glad that the 13 year old me made the wise decision to dive into the Discworld on that day.
What the Jones article boils down to is genre snobbery, something which seems to be strangely persistent despite the ridiculousness of it. Just because a book is set in a made-up world does not mean that it is not worth reading. People should be able to read whatever they want to read, without fear of judgement from literary snobs such as Jones. I read fantasy novels. I read science fiction. I also read what I’m sure Jones would consider to be more ‘serious’ fiction, I’m currently working my way through the previous winners of the Man Booker Prize, for example.
Being genre fiction does not make it any less worthy of attention. It’s not for everyone, and that’s fine, but to refer to an author’s work as mediocre when you haven’t even read it is being “a complacent book snob” (3), however much the individual in question may try to argue otherwise.
I will always consider Sir Terry Pratchett’s work to be literary genius, and I will continue to read and reread his novels because they are excellent, and because they have as much to say about our society as any work that is not considered to be genre fiction.