You might remember Jonathan Jones from his hilarious attempt to lecture an entire art form about how much better it would be if they’d just listen to a guy who doesn’t like and doesn’t read their work. And he’s at it again, this time whining about Terry Pratchett.
Pratchett, of course, is a beloved and popular fantasy novelist best known for his satirical series Discworld. The Discworld books have sent up everything from neo-Nazis to journalism, often by undermining or mocking fantasy tropes in the process. He recently died in March from complications from Alzheimer’s disease, after a long and emotionally difficult consideration of whether to take his own life. His final book, The Shepard’s Crown, was released last week in the UK and will debut in the U.S. tomorrow. So Jones, of course, chose this moment to whine about how nobody likes “real novelists” anymore.
The funny part is he opens his rant by admitting he’s never actually read any Terry Pratchett books, but he knows they’re bad because he idly flipped through one, once. And since people like them more than they like Great Novelists like Gabriel García Márquez or Günter Grass, who weren’t seen off with nearly the fanfare when they died, clearly, literature is in collapse! Nobody reads the classics anymore! Remember the good old days, when novels were seeee-rious?!
It’s telling that Jones hedges his bets hard in his column by closing with Bukowski and Jane Austen, instead of naming any modern authors he’s read. In fact, Jones doesn’t name a single living author in his column, which would seem to be a real problem for somebody worried about how people don’t read “real” novels anymore. One could also speculate on why such a highbrow intellect, as Jones clearly styles himself, is trolling a dead novelist’s fanbase for clicks; doesn’t seem very highbrow to me, but I’m not a fine-art critic.
It’s interesting how often you hear the novel is dead, and who’s supposed to be killing it. If it’s not a popular satirist, it’s gussied-up fanfic, or the internet, or some combination of television and academia. I’d argue instead that Pratchett’s popularity isn’t proof that serious literary fiction is in danger, but rather that fiction, as an art form, is changing and evolving at an ever-more-rapid pace. The ease of self-publishing has opened up new micro-niches, ranging from the prosaic to the, uh, odd. Granted, as the ground shifts under old genres and perceptions, at least a few of them are rickety enough they’ll collapse.
But that’s the beauty of fiction, isn’t it? Writers can take the rubble and make something new out of it. Instead of griping about the old falling down, we could celebrate what it gave us and see what’s new and coming out of its ashes.