Moving Pictures, Terry Pratchett
I love Terry Pratchett's Discworld series of novels. I came late to reading him, with 2003's Monstrous Regiment, but that just meant that I had all the older novels to catch up with, as well as the new ones to look forward to. I'm not quite sure, then, why this book sat on the TBR pile for so long.
The Discworld books are set in a world that rides through space on the back of the star turtle, the Great A'tuin. It is a world with witches and wizards, trolls and dwarfs - and gods who are only as strong as their followers' belief in them. This world also resembles our own, though, in quite a few ways, particularly in the human characters. The contrast, and sometimes the overlap, between the other-world and the actual-world elements provide some of the funniest moments in the books. Pratchett uses them to satirize elements of modern life, and to point up their absurdity.
As one might expect from the title, Moving Pictures is a story about films and popular entertainment. As it opens, on a small spit of sandy beach about 30 miles from the great city of Ankh-Morpork, Deccan Ribore, the last Keeper of the Door, meets DEATH. We aren't told what the Door is or why it needs a Keeper, but as he explains to DEATH, he hasn't had time to find and train his replacement, so there will be no Keeper after him. When he leaves, with DEATH, something emerges from the sandy hillside known as Holy Wood: "Something invisible. Something joyous and selfish and marvelous. Something as intangible as an idea, which is exactly what it was. A wild idea." An idea that immediately makes tracks for the bright lights of Ankh-Morpork.
In the city, all kinds of people are soon infected with wild ideas. The alchemists have figured out how to capture images on film, and suddenly a moving-picture industry springs into life. Crowds of people find their way to the new studio town born out in Holy Wood, hoping to break into the "clicks." Among them is Victor Tugelbend, a reluctant student wizard at the great Unseen University. Cast in a one-reeler with an ingenue named Theda Withel (who goes by Ginger), Victor finds himself possessed by a force that turns him into the screen's best lover and fighter. He and Ginger are on the way to stardom, but they begin to realize that there are forces swirling around Holy Wood with a deadly purpose, one that must be stopped.
To be honest, I didn't completely follow that part of the story. It has something to do with the drowned city in the bay just off Holy Wood, and the duties of the Keeper of the Door, and beings from another dimension. Even at the end of the book I still wasn't sure how it all fit together. For me the great fun of the book was watching the rise of the "clicks" industry, and catching all of the film references and in-jokes. Terry Pratchett clearly knows his classic films. The greatest click ever made in Holy Wood, the one that sets off the final struggle, is called Blown Away: "A Man and A Woman Aflame With Passione in A Citie Riven by Sivil War!. . . Brother against brother! Women in crinoline dresses slapping people's faces! . . . A great city aflame!" There are references to Snow White, The Sheik, King Kong, Singing in the Rain, and Casablanca, among others - not to mention a dog named Laddie that rescues people. All this adds up to such a good, fun read, and as always, I am left in awe of Terry Pratchett's wit and cleverness.