Pratchett’s stories are tremendously fun comic romps, but there are serious themes beneath them. Sometimes he descends into theme-mongering, but in Going Postal, he deals with a light but still savage hand with the capitalist mindset that greed is good and only the strong survive. This is irony at it’s finest since protagonist Moist’s entire life is based on greed and duplicity and yet he’s the one who defeats the perfectly named Reacher Gilt and keeps communication in Ankh Morpork, if not free, then definitely flowing with efficiency and speed that is not hobbled by inefficiency and greed. (He goes on to have Moist save the banking system before it crashes in Making Money, predating the 2008 stock market crash by a year.)
You’d think that that kind of cutting satire wouldn’t be funny, but Pratchett has fantasy on his side; one of the strongest aspects of his thematic work is that it takes place on Discworld, which is right up there with Narnia and Middle Earth as a place that doesn’t exist but really should. Or maybe it does: it’s very easy to see the parallels to New York and London in Ankh Morpork, the chaos of international relations in that city-state’s dealing with other countries that bear suspicious likenesses to places like Australia. Pratchett’s world-building grows out of his satire, he creates countries to make his points, but it’s still brilliant world building, even if you wouldn’t want to visit any of the places he’s built.
If you want a slightly more formal book club start, try these questions:
1. Theme is a universal statement about the human condition. It has no moral dimension, so it can be “Crime doesn’t pay” or it can be “Crime does pay.” There’s a good argument to be made that theme should be embodied in the protagonist, not spelled out on the page but made clear by his or her actions in the story. Our protagonist Moist also has no moral dimension. Does that help or hinder his ability to embody theme by his actions?
2. How is the theme of Going Postal strengthened or weakened by its doppelganger protagonist and antagonist?
3. The line between theme enhancing a story and theme-mongering sinking a story is a very narrow one. It helps that Pratchett tends to use a light hand and to cast his themes in very clear contrasts of Good Guys and Bad Guys. Even so, sometimes he oversteps and the theme crowds out the story. Was there any point here where you felt, “Okay, okay, I GET IT,” or were you with him all the way? Why?
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