How difficult, how exquisitely difficult it is to know where to begin. Anyone who has had the time or disposition to read the comments that readers have submitted to these pages over the last three weeks or so will be aware of a number of issues that need addressing.
Firstly and most crucially: how do Terry Pratchett readers eat soup?
We’ll answer that vital point momentarily, as they say here in the US. I do enjoy hearing American waiters using that word; as you enter a restaurant they might say, “I’ll be with you momentarily”. They are usually righter than they know: a fleeting vision that flickers before your eyes and then is gone. I suppose ‘in a moment’ takes too long to say in their busy lives and ‘presently’ is English English to the point of being more or less flagrantly homosexual, so ‘momentarily’ it is.
MomentARily of course rather than the English MOment’rily. Anyhoo … other things:
Do I know how to spell ‘Whoa’? Clearly not. Thanks for the spanky botty from one sensitive commentator, fully deserved.
Back to the boiling question of the moment – Pratchett fans and their soup-stylings.
Let me quote the ‘offending’ sentence from the first Guardian ‘Dork Talk’ article reproduced on this site: ‘Nor does it [being deeply dippy about all things digital] mean I read Terry Pratchett, breathe only through my mouth and bring my head slightly too close to the bowl when I eat soup.’
Now, in what possible world does that mean Terry Pratchett readers bring their heads slightly too close to the bowl when they eat soup? In what universe (whether supported by turtles, elephants or badminton rackets) does it follow from the above that I, Stephen Fry, do not like, reverence or appreciate Terry Pratchett and his works? By what black arts can it further be construed that I believe Pratchett’s books to be useless, his readers stupid and his whole world contemptible? My use of the conjunction ‘and’ rather than ‘or’ might just allow some to make that construction, but surely they can see they would be entirely wrong to do so?
I was addressing the whole issue of stereotyping here: being a device geek doesn’t make one a predictably anoraky nerd, I (thought I) was saying. You can’t make assumptions, that was the message. I could just have easily written: ‘Being deeply dippy about Terry Pratchett doesn’t mean I love digital devices, breathe only through my mouth and bring my head closer … etc’. Don’t you see that, you silly little Pratcheteers? C’mon now. Don’t be so insecure. Just be grateful I didn’t include the lines about halitosis, scurfy shoulders and bottle-end spectacles.As references to the public image of dorks, he hastens to add, not as observations on Pratchett fans. Phew! Talk about sensitive…
As for the books themselves. I suppose I ought to come clean. I’ve never read one. Not a one. I have a friend whose opinion I respect. He tells me they’re actually damned good, so I’ll probably get round to it. I’d like Captain Nimes, apparently. (I am suspicious though of character names I am unsure how to pronounce: Nimes rhymes with reams or rhymes with rhymes?) But why haven’t I read one, you wonder? What claim do I have to call myself a rounded human being (aside from pointing to my swelling tummy – thanks, American food – obliged to you, high fructose corn syrup) if I have not bothered to glance at so much as one of the works of this astoundingly popular author? Good point. I think it’s the fans really. So insecure. Such strange ways of tackling soup. And my dear the breath!
Another apology: I used the phrase “paint a scenario” which enraged one reader (or perhaps delighted that reader, because it afforded them the opportunity to give me a damned good ticking off in public) – I bow my head in meek submission.
Back to America. Aside from my enjoyment of the way waiters here say ‘I’ll be with you momentarily’, I’m also fond of a phrasal mannerism common amongst shop assistants, or clerks as I suppose they should be called. Suppose you go up to the till with no more than a stick of chewing gum. You hand over the money and he or she will invariably hand back your change and a till receipt with these words, “Okay, you’re all set.” As if they’ve just kitted you out for some perilous adventure up the Amazon or across the Himalayas. Inoculations, visas, anti-malarials, stout boots? Okay, you’re all set. I do love it. Hurrah for being all set. Hurrah for America.