Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett
7 January, 2010
Last year I read The Folklore of Discworld by Terry Pratchett and Jacqueline Simpson and felt I had reconnected with my favourite series and revisited old friends. But this wasn’t just a book about the Discworld but also about our world and I learnt a lot about the folklore of many different nations. But that meant I hadn’t actually read any fiction by Terry Pratchett. The shame of it. So this year I found myself a cosy little Terry Pratchett 2010 Challenge and am submitting Unseen Academicals as my first completed read.
Unseen Academicals features one of my favourite Discworld groups, the wizards of Unseen University, the premier university of the Discworld, who have discovered that unless they put on a game of football as requested in a benefactor’s will, their endless heaving tables of sustenance (that’s food and drink) will shrink to a feeble display that will not sustain a grown wizard in his daily intellectual exercises. At the same time, Lord Vetinari, the ruler of Ankh Morpork has decreed that a football game was desirable, and so begins a mad dash and scramble to form teams and formulate rules for this exciting game, foot the ball.
I must say I’m not ravingly fanatical about the beautiful game, but I watch it occasionally (well, the World Cup, and only for the men – it’s totally understandable right, girls?) and am au fait with the rules (oh yes, I do know the offside rule). In fact, I wasn’t totally keen about the premise of the book and the only thing propelling me towards reading it was that 1) it featured the Unseen University and it’s wizards and 2) one of my friends said it was brilliant. And it’s Terry Pratchett after all, so it was just a matter of time before I got my mitts on it.
And you know what? Pratchett doesn’t disappoint. Well, he rarely disappoints now. I love him and I love his work. And with each book, his stories and his Discworld get better and better. I don’t know how much more it can improve because it’s perfect. I find that as the books progress, his stories are less fantastical and stereotypical pastiches and more human drama. He takes something from our world, and like alchemy transforms it into something funny, warm, profound and cuddly with a tap of his keyboard.
With Unseen Academicals, Pratchett introduces several new characters working below stairs in the Unseen University, the magical entanglement of fashion and football and the triumph of learning and worth over prejudice and violence. I particularly liked Mister Nutt, every little tortured bit of his tortured soul. And of course there is Mustrum Ridcully, blustery Archchancellor of Unseen University and the Librarian who loves bananas as much as books.
If you haven’t read this, do so. It’s brilliant. And if you’ve never read any Pratchett, then you may want to start with Guards! Guards! (where you get to meet the Night Watch), Wyrd Sisters (where you get to meet some lovely ladies of the wicked kind) or Mort (where you get to meet Death). Or if you like to start from the beginning, The Colour of Magic. And don’t give up after one book. It gets better and better. Trust me.