NB This post contains LOTS of spoilers. Be warned!
Pratchett’s writing is so clever, and so inventive, that it’s quite hard to plumb all its depths from a single reading. For instance: I’ve read all the books, some of them more than once, so I’m very familiar with the character of the Patrician, the benevolent despotic ruler of Ankh-Morpork. The Patrician is, of course, Lord Vetinari, a great adherent to democracy in the form of one man, one vote (provided that he, Lord Vetinari, is the man and therefore gets the vote). I had always known that his name was very close to the English word veterinary, and had assumed that this was just chance, one of those little tricks that one’s subconscious plays whilst one is writing. I had assumed that Pratchett was looking for a suitable name for his Patrician, came up with Vetinari, and only later realised that it was a slight amendment of veterinary.
Not so. During some of the extensive research I’ve been doing for this series of posts (by which I mean, obviously, five minutes on Google), I discovered that Vetinari is a deliberate reference on Pratchett’s part to Medici. Further, Pratchett makes an oblique reference to the fact that Vetinari’s name is deliberate via his school nickname of Dogbotherer (I bet Lord Downey, current Master of the Assassin’s Guild, lived to regret that one…)
This is so typical of Pratchett’s cleverness. To not just find the perfect name for his character – and Vetinari is the perfect name for Vetinari, who is a very unusual sort of tyrant – but also to give it these layers, and then not to make a big deal of it; I’m gobsmacked at the brilliance. There is so much of this sort of cleverness and creativity in Pratchett. It’s in all of his books, for me most of all in Going Postal.
Ah, Going Postal! My favourite Pratchett book! So creative, so clever, so beautifully written, so perfectly plotted, so complete in its presentation of some truly magnificent characters. Moist von Lipwig, the unlikely hero, and the Ankh-Morpork Post Office, the scene of his unlikely triumph, with all of its attendant cast and crew. Miss Maccalariat, who works behind the Post Office counter (“Fifth generation o’ Miss Maccalariat’s in that role. Maiden name kept for professional purposes, o’ course. Very old Post Office Family.”) Big Jim “Still Standing” Upwright. Mad Al, Sane Alex and Undecided Adrian. It’s a feast of invention, a thing of extreme beauty, the work of a master storyteller at the pinnacle of his powers, and I can read it and read it and read it again and never get tired of it.