Writers I Like: Terry Pratchett and Daniel Handler

I finished reading the Bromeliad Trilogy by Terry Pratchett this afternoon on my couch while the rainstorms battered the house. This week, my chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia has gotten much worse, sleeping 14 hours Tuesday night, 12 on Wednesday, and 12 again today. Instead of slogging through chores, I chose to shower, eat, read a book, and now write as my tired eyes try to squint at the screen. While reading the final book Wings, I thought of another beloved author of mine: Daniel Handler.

Terry Pratchett, author of the Discworld series, and Daniel Handler, author of the A Series of Unfortunate Events under the pen name Lemony Snicket, have elements in their writings that I quite like. Initially, I thought that they were similar in that they used humor to explain things which made sense to the characters in a different way than it did to the reader.  When I went  to find an example in one of the Lemony Snicket books, I started reading through and began to remember that the Snicket books were sad and had little humor in them.

However, one feature of Handler’s Snicket books is that gives off-beat definitions of words and situations that are humorous within the larger context of a gloomy story. I have an example but it’s not the best. Not having one makes me want to re-read the series. In book 2 , The Wide Window, at the beginning of chapter 9, Snicket explains:

The United States Postal Service has a motto. The motto is: “Neither rain nor sleet nor driving snow shall halt the delivery of the mails.” All this means is that even when the weather is nasty and your mailperson wants to stay inside and enjoy a cup of cocoa, he or she has to go outside and deliver your mail anyway.

The books have explanations like this all throughout, which is a delightful way to explain things to the kids who are probably reading the story; however, it is not usually this straightforward so the child has been old enough to understand the dramatic irony in some of the explanations.

In the Bromeliad Trilogy, Pratchett’s wit and genius is in his ability to write characters who are confused about what is going on, even when the explanation is being given to them. In this series, nomes are trying to find their way home to the heavens guided by the Thing, a computer with an intelligence and knowledge of nome and human histories. Thing tries to answer the nomes’ questions, but their limited understanding of the world makes their understanding comical. In the first chapter of the third book, Wings, Thing is trying to explain why the nomes idea to scramble into the bottom of a plane to fly to Florida where there is no oxygen will not be a good idea:

You would not be able to breathe,” said the Thing patiently.
“Yes I would,” said Gurder. “I’ve always been able to breathe.”
“You get more air closer to the ground,” said Angalo. “I read that in a book. You get lots of air low down, but not much when you go up.”
“Why not?” said Gurder.
“Dunno. It’s frightened of heights, I guess.”

Countless examples of this make the Bromeliad Triology a delightful read. If you want a positive series to counter Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, I would put the Bromeliad Trilogy on your list.


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