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HALL OF FAMEon October 20, 2008
Folklore, ancient or modern, is one of the major foundation stones of the Discworld books. Human nature being another, one assumes. Discworld folklore is a trivia test among Discworld fans who will slyly ask one another [generally over a pint], if they can identify the origins of a certain figure or idea. With some slight discrepancies between UK and North American versions, such exchanges can become, well, spirited. "Elves or elfs?" is always good for starting an evening.

Pratchett and Simpson sort all this out - and much else besides - in this delightful work on matters folklorish. Typically, the prompt for the book was Pratchett chanting as he signed a previous release: "How many versions of the Magpie Song do you know?" A distinguished-looking lady gave the query a moment's thought and responded "about nineteen" Thus began the wonderful collaboration leading to FoD. It's typical also of the theme of the book. Discworld and Roundworld [Earth] are linked by the universal presence of narrativium, which Dimitri Mendeleev inexplicably omitted from the Periodic Table. Pratchett knows all about narrativium, carefully explaining how it drifts between universes, carrying ideas or stimulating new ones. Folklore on the Discworld compared to that of Earth may demonstrate strong similarities, or just vague likenesses that have been severely modified. The process is unhelpful, the authors note, in determining which world is the source of the story, which is sometimes a let-down.

The book's organisation is appropriate for what it must cover - it begins with the entire universe. From there it works its way through Dwarfs and Elves, giving us an interesting account of how the Elves, feared and despised on Discworld for their dark and evil ways, have somehow become transformed in modern times into charming little creatures who make toys for children. Drifting through space, narrativium must form some bizarre isotopes. The two witch types - those from Lancre and the Witches of the Chalk Downs are described. The Nac Mac Feegle are given a full chapter, which might be viewed as insufficient as you read it. Granny Aching truly deserves a book of her own. The chapter on Heroes is extensive, justifiably, when you discover the variety of Heroes Pratchett has introduced to us. Finally, almost as icing on a delicious cake, the authors provide a "Bibliography and Suggestions for Further Reading". Plan your book budget carefully.

For those in North America who think this book might be too limited in scope to be worth the investment, think carefully of your own family ancestry. While much of the material is limited to the British Isles, no small part is derived from the rest of Europe and elsewhere. Those tales and legends your ancestors took on board ship to cross the Atlantic didn't go over the rail with breakfast at the first roll of the vessels on the high seas. Those stories survived to take root here and sprout new versions of themselves in the new environment. Go through this book and see if you can't find a few you recognise. Besides the bloody elves and the obese bloke with the demented laugh. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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