Sometime in 1983, the world was divided between those who knew Ankh-Morpork and those who soon would. Ankh-Morpork is the largest city on the Discworld, the literary planet invented by a then-grown bespectacled boy who had not hesitated to write to JRR Tolkien after reading The Lord of the rings —and had received a reply——that he had become, first, a makeshift library assistant, then a published author at 15, an ardent local reporter—who was sent to interview a little-known and laconic Roald Dahl—and finally chief press release of the Central Electricity Generation Board. Yes, at the time when the Discworld timidly began to conquer readers —today, its sum is stratospheric: more than 100 million copies have been sold worldwide—, sir Terry Pratchett went to the office every day. That is to say, he was still planning novels in front of the coffee machine.
Actually, he did it in the common room and before a board of Dungeons & Dragons. Pratchett, by then a regular at sci-fi conventions—she had met his idols Larry Niven, JG Ballard, Michael Moorcock—as a sort of promising former wunderkind, had begun trying out role-playing games with co-workers. . Some knew that he was a writer. Others don’t. Although it was clear that he was good at creating all kinds of crazy stories. It is recounted by Rob Wilkins in Terry Pratchett. A life with footnoteshis official biography recently published in Spanish and Catalan by the Mai Més publishing house and written, with his unmistakable and devourable style, for which he was his personal assistant for years based on the enormous amount of notes that Pratchett himself began to take later after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s that ended his life in eight years, just turned 66.
He had published three novels by then. The first, the carpet people, is held today as a kind of prehistoric Discworld; after all, they were people, in this case, tiny, facing all kinds of misfortunes in a world flat. But none had finished attracting attention. After discovering Douglas Adams and his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the GalaxyHe told his good friend Dave Busby that, like Adams, he was a “humorous” writer and that was what he was going to be. Determined, he began to write, with a leading couple in mind —similar to the one formed by Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect: the clumsy magician Rincewind and the delusional tourist Twoflower—, the first story of the Discworld, the flat planet that travels through space at backs of four elephants which, in turn, are mounted on the shell of a gigantic stellar tortoise, the now mythical Great A’Tuin. He couldn’t even imagine how he was going to hit the mark.
40 years ago this year, Colin Smythe Limited, his small publishing house at the time, released just 500 copies of the first Discworld title, The color of magic. And no, they didn’t sell out instantly. The series, which would grow to 41 titles—the last published the same year as Pratchett’s death, 2015—and would be written, at times, at a rate of two a year, began as little more than a striking rarity. What prompted her? A radio serialization that was inserted in Woman’s Hour, a program aimed at women that did not take long to interest anyone who crossed its path. “Pratchett’s audience, as Wilkins recounts, has always been the most heterogeneous. We are all potentially readers of the Discworld. My mother read the books before me!”, says Sergio Pérez, editor of Mai Més, a label that has launched (successfully) to translate Discworld into Catalan, one of the few languages in which it was not available.
It was the Martínez Roca publishing house that brought the series to Spain, and Cristina Macía, today one of the three people in charge of the Celsius 232 festival and a distinguished translator —of, for example, Game of Thrones—, the one in charge of translating it into Spanish. She remembers those early days as “long nights drinking shots of whiskey trying to come up with puns that would live up to the original.” She often did it at the bookstore where she worked, Gigamesh. She had grown up reading comic books and English editions of science fiction classics. “When I finally met Pratchett, I saw him blanch when he heard me pronounce whatever I said in English. At that time, speaking was terrible for me! ”, He points out. From those years, and Pratchett’s visits to Barcelona, she remembers that she “was crazy about horchata”: “We looked for her all over the city in a taxi when she once came in February.” In addition, she “always got on an attraction that pretended to be a magic carpet in Tibidabo.”
By then, in the middle of the 1990s, Pratchett was already selling three million books a year, but he tried to ensure that the advances for new titles were not millionaires in case he did not meet expectations later. [habitualmente el autor no cobra por la venta de los libros hasta que el sello haya recuperado precisamente el adelanto], even though the initial print runs exceeded 300,000 copies. Success wasn’t just about humor. For Ian Watson, writer and friend —”we went to conventions together and our daughters would throw what they called elevator parties, for which they later scolded us,” he recalls—, “Discworld satirizes our world and turns the reader into protagonist, because the feeling is that you are there, that you could be any of them”. Did it get to be Pratchett, who had published that first title at 33 and had at least a dozen arguments pending on his death, a slave to success? Watson says that yes, he did think about quitting. “But the publisher put a truckload of money at his doorstep so he wouldn’t do it,” he says.
And what happens today? “Well, 40 years later, the series is still in top shape,” says Alix Leveugle, its editor at Plaza & Janés, who points out that, in Spanish, around one million copies have been sold in all these years —almost all in Spain. , well, he says, “in Latin America it has never really taken off”—, and that in recent times it has made the leap to audiobooks: the first six titles are already available, and this year the next three will be released. that just opened The amazing Mauritius, the film adaptation of installment 28 of the series —the one that earned him the Carnegie medal—, does not count as an anniversary celebration, since the official acts are yet to be finalized. Surely there will be some nod to the Kenneth Grahame classic, The wind in the willowsthe book without which Terry Pratchett, “of all the dead authors in the world, the most alive”, as the writer John Lloyd said, would not have existed.
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