Monday, December 10, 2012

Musings: Dodger

Dodger Terry Pratchett
Terry Pratchett's Dodger is set in Victorian era London and populated by many notables of that period - Charles Dickens, Sweeney Todd, Sir Robert Peel, and a few more names that will jog your memory.  The main character, though, is the Dodger of the title, a happy-go-lucky, street savvy teenager who makes his living by finding coins in the sewers.  Dodger has a chivalrous streak; one night, he sees a woman being beaten by thugs and saves her life.  And then spends most of the book trying to figure out who did it and how he can keep her safe.

 Dodger is very kind person - that's clear from the very beginning and it's one of the most simple reasons I love Terry Pratchett so much as an author.  All of his main characters are very nice and clever and practical.  This may seem like a small thing, but I don't know that it is - there are a lot of authors who write a few nice characters, but not many who write so many consistently nice characters as Terry Pratchett does.  Sure, that may lead to very black and white renditions of good vs. evil, but I don't think that is in any way a negative with Pratchett.  He brings to light so many OTHER things that you probably don't think of very regularly that the whole good vs. bad thing kind of takes a back seat.

One of the things that Pratchett brings to light in this book is the economic inequality that existed in London during Victorian times.  Dodger is what would be described in Disney's Aladdin as a "street rat."  He lives on his wits, really only has one set of clothes, and doesn't always go to bed full at night.  Each day, he interacts with people who live a hand-to-mouth existence, who are completely invisible and often disappear, and no one notices.  He spends his days below ground in the sewers.  But Dodger has managed to survive, to thrive, even.  And he's happy, and he answers to no one.

Contrast that with the woman he saved, Simplicity, who is obviously very wealthy but is terrified of being found by her husband and has no control over any aspect of her life.  Until she realizes that she can control her own life and sets about doing so.  And this is another thing that I love about Terry Pratchett.  He is a feminist.  While I wasn't a huge fan of the whole "Simplicity and Dodger fall in love because he saved her life and she is beautiful" storyline, Simplicity herself was very self-confident in the time we spent with her.

Hand-in-hand with Pratchett's descriptions of Victorian life is his clear respect for Charles Dickens.  I admit that I usually think of Dickens as a very prose-y man who said in ten words what everyone else said in two.  But here, he shines as a reporter determined to bring public attention to the London underworld, bullying MPs and taking tours of the sewers and making up stories.  He was actually quite fun and I can see that when I next read a Dickens book, I will focus much more on the underlying commentary about economic inequality than on the wordiness.

I know this is unfair, but I couldn't help but wish that this book was set in Discworld.  Dodger knows the streets of London so well and interacts with so many varied characters, but I just kept comparing him to Commander Vimes and he just kept coming up short.  Dodger is charismatic and fun and he spends the entire book determined to help Simplicity.  I appreciate all those things.  But he didn't struggle with decisions, really- he knew what he wanted to do and he did it.  Whereas Vimes (and even the characters that populate Pratchett's Nation) struggles a lot with his decisions, every step of the way.  The world to Dodger just didn't seem as complex or nuanced, even though he has been through so much in his short life.  I just felt distanced from him and consequently from the whole story, and I did not love this story nearly as much as I love Pratchett's other books geared to young adults.  Perhaps because there is no magic?  I do so love the way Pratchett uses magic in his stories.  Whatever the reason, I think if you are coming new to Pratchett as a teen, you should start with the Tiffany Aching series instead.


  1. I still haven't read Pratchett, though I have the first three of his Discworld series on my shelves and on my Kindle. It sounds like I would enjoy this book, based on the fact that I LOVE Dickens and have enjoyed more than a few of his stories. This year for Christmas, I am thinking of reading one of his lesser known Christmas tales. I liked this review, and can see myself liking this book. It sounds so charming and homey. I like the fact that the main character doesn't struggle between right and wrong, he is just and he is fair. Great review today, Aarti! I am going to make it my personal mission to read at least 3 Pratchett books in the upcoming year.

  2. I've only read one Pratchett novel from the Discworld series, and the main reason why I didn't fall in love with it is because I listened to the audiobook. I wish I had read it instead so I could really enjoy it! This one sounds interesting and because you wish it had been placed in the Discworld series makes me think I need to revisit Discworld again and soon!

  3. Not that I have read many Pratchett books, but yes I get why you would want that

  4. I still haven't read anything by Terry Pratchet yet. It doesn't sound like this is one I should start with though, or suggest to my daughter.

  5. As much as I love Terry Prachett, I've been hesitating about this book - though that's partly because I thought it was more Dickensian. Ankh-Morpork has sewers - and rats, and Mad Arthur, and all kinds of interesting things.

    I'm not sure I could pick a single book as a favorite, but the Tiffany books are definitely near the top of the list. I keep hoping for just one more.

    I have Hogwatch on my Christmas reading list - I do love the DEATH & Susan books.

  6. I read my first solo Pratchett book earlier this year, Thud!, and fell very hard for the members of the Watch and also for Pratchett's created universe. I will be reading many more Discworld novels in the years to come.

  7. I've still only read five Discworld novels so far so maybe I would like this better since I'm not totally in the Pratchett=Discworld place yet. I think I'll try Dodger sometime soon!

  8. I am so bad at reading Pratchett. I always want to and then never do...

  9. I didn't love this as much as his other books either, but I still enjoyed it a lot overall. And I know exactly what you mean about the practical, no-nonsense kindness of so many of his main characters.


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