I am always delighted to find a new Terry Pratchett book. Pratchett passed away (from Alzheimer’s disease) in 2015 and though inevitably there will come a day when I have read all of his works, I refuse to hasten that day any more than necessary, preferring instead to have his books delight and surprise me in the finding as well as the reading.
I found this one in the children’s section of the library, as I was searching out His Dark Materials, and, of course, I checked out it immediately. I’ve said before that I prefer Pratchett’s adult works to his children’s, and while that’s true, his children’s book are still whimsical and absurdly funny adventures worth looking in to. This particular book is a collection of short stories Pratchett wrote early on his career, reworked a little before publication as a book.
Dragons at Crumbling Castle contained stories from The Carpet People but there were plenty of other stories as well. I really loved the short story format; the quick reads meant the stories were intently focused on plots and absurdities and they made for a great laugh. Plus, I read this during a 3-day research workshop, so the short stories were about all my brain was up for.
While the writing was simple and the structure much clearer than Pratchett’s normal style, it didn’t feel like I was reading something that was only intended for children. Rather, it felt more like an all ages-type writing – clean and structured for kids, but cognizant of the fact that adults exist and might indeed be reading this very book. Very Pratchett-lite; I could feel the zaniness and humor that I associate with him, but the plot lines were much simpler and the characterizations that I so love just weren’t there.
The stories also go everywhere, from King Arthur’s court to a tiny speck of dust to a living room carpet to a time traveling bus. I think this was probably the best showcase I’ve read of Pratchett’s ability to set you up in a familiar plot line and then, in the blink of an eye, whiz you somewhere completely unexpected and leave you laughing. Not every story does this expertly – these are some of his earlier works, after all – but many of the stories. The stories do vary more than a typical collection of short stories work. All of them work, but some work uproariously well and others just made me smile a little and turn the page.
I loved the illustrations – simple, funny, and very fitting. I didn’t like that some words were written in a illustrative font; for instance, “huge” might have been written in giant, bold font, and “waggle” was always written in font with offset letters. But I could imagine this making the book really fun to read out loud with a child.
If you’re not a fan of absurdist humor, simplistic writing, or thematically loose collections of short stories, then, alas, this might not be the book for you. If you have a child in need of some humor or if you want some funny, easy-on-the-brain short stories, I would highly recommend Dragons at Crumbling Castle. If you are, for any reason, interested in Pratchett’s craft and his development as a writer, I would strongly recommend this book. I think there’s a lot of insight to be gleaned from these works into how he developed his wonderful voice and style.