Terry Pratchett and Literary Snobbery

Just in time for the release of the latest Discworld novel, The Shepherd’s Crown, Guardian critic Jonathan Jones decided to pen an article criticizing the late, great Terry Pratchett and his series of Discworld books. As Jones exclaims in the first paragraph of his article “I have never read a single one of [Terry Pratchett’s] books and I never plan to. Life’s too short.”

So…you’re criticizing a set of books and an author that you’ve never even bothered to read. But Jones assures us that it’s totally cool because he “did flick through a book by him in a shop, to see what the fuss is about, but the prose seemed very ordinary.” He then goes on to associate the Discworld books with “trash” and ordinary “potboilers”.

Never mind that Jones is critiquing works that HE’S NEVER EVEN READ let alone understood. But he seems more upset that Terry Pratchett’s death elicited such a “huge fuss” than say Gabriel García Márquez or Günter Grass, who Jones feels is more deserving of “emotional outpourings” of grief because they write “actual literature” that has more artistic merit than some basic fantasy novel. But Jones is so wrong about the Discworld series; as Gavia Baker-Whitelaw points out:

The Discworld series evolved from cheerful fantasy pastiche into complex political and social satire, lampooning literary clichés and exploring issues of social class, religion, and cultural heritage.

In his critique, Jones comes off as self-aggrandizing snob who thinks that he understands the “great works” that he venerates but who’s actually just hanging onto the guise of high literature like some hipster who defends himself by stating that “Actual literature may be harder to get to grips with than a Discworld novel, but it is more worth the effort. By dissolving the difference between serious and light reading, our culture is justifying mental laziness and robbing readers of the true delights of ambitious fiction.”

Pause for MASSIVE FUCKING EYEROLL.

I’m a voracious reader. I read “actual literature” and popular fiction. I enjoy both. I don’t see one as being better than the other by virtue of being “ambitious”. Ambitiousness is all well and good, but it’s not the be all and end all of what’s worthy to read.

Jones’ article left me unsatisfied and a little annoyed – the entire thing came off as some asshole twat’s pathetic attempt at trolling in an article that was obviously meant as click bait. The author came off as a wanker with absolutely zero credibility in his criticism. It’s the worst form of literary snobbery – elitist, classist, and pretentious for the simple sake of being elitist, classist, and pretentious.

Full disclosure time: I wasn’t a fan of Jonathan Jones to begin with – he once critiqued the current state of graphic fiction (i.e. comic books and graphic novels) as banal, pretentious and simplistic. At that time, I decided that I wasn’t going to defend graphic fiction to someone who purposely misses the point.

But not this time. As important as graphic fiction has been for me in my life, Terry Pratchett’s work has been more important to me.

I have to say that, in the end, for a man whose profession is that of a professional literary critic, Jones’ lack of understanding as to why Pratchett and his work are so widely beloved and respected was simply embarrassing. His wasn’t just an unpopular opinion, it was a woefully misinformed one. To criticize anything you should at least experience it for yourself first. But that would be beneath Jones and his so-called high literary sensibility.

Perhaps Damien G. Walter said it best:

I also hold a Masters degree, have been a senior university lecturer, and am a columnist for The Guardian, the very same bastion of middlebrow values that Jonathan Jones penned his opportunistic attack on Terry Pratchett. Unlike Jones however, I see no conflict in being both an intelligent educated human being and loving the fuck out of Terry Pratchett’s discworld books.

In fact, I would argue that having that intelligence and education gives you more insight to see just how bloody brilliant and clever Terry Pratchett and his works are.