There is a preface to the book Dragons at Crumbling Castle, written by the author, Terry Pratchett. In it he warns us that this book is not quite what it seems. It is not ‘new’ writing (It was published in 2014). It is actually a collection of his juvenilia, short stories from when he was a cub reporter for a local newspaper. He comments that they may not be up to the standard readers have come to expect for this very reason, given that they are over forty years old.
This is quite true. If you’re looking for classic Pratchett, you’re going to be disappointed. If however, you’re looking for a series of short, amusing stories with occasional flashes of Pratchettian brilliance, showing all the promise of what is to come over the ensuing decades, and fabulously illustrated by Quentin Blake, then you will enjoy this book very much.
I am not generally a fan of the short story. Writing short stories is an art form, and just because someone is an amazing novelist it does not stand to reason that they will be equally skilled at the short story. This collection is patchy. Some of them work, and some of them seem rushed and are a little disappointing.
The humour is broad, and for the most part lacks the depth of his later work, but there are times when you find yourself sniggering at something, or laughing out loud. My son, Oscar, who got this for his birthday last year, and read it in two days flat, did find it very funny indeed, and I can imagine, knowing my readers at school, that this will find favour with the majority of them in terms of humour. They do love a daft joke, and this book is littered with them.
The stories vary in length, the longest being the two which eventually went on to form the foundations of his first novel, The Carpet People. I particularly enjoyed these for that very reason. Some of the stories though are only a couple of pages of widely spaced text at most. I think children will, for the most part enjoy the fact that they can whip through these and finish ‘a story’ or two or three in a sitting. My experience is that children love being able to tell you that they’ve read a chapter or a story or fifty pages or whatever. Measuring how far they’ve come is important, and each story is, for the most part, an entirely achievable goal in this book.
As for the non Carpet People stories, I rather loved The Abominable Snowman, Dok the Caveman and Hercules the Tortoise. There is plenty of variety in terms of subject and you should find something to please everyone in this collection.
The book is beautifully illustrated with fantastically busy drawings in pen by Quentin Blake. There are so many of these I suspect that the book would be about 40% thinner if you took them out. They’re a real pleasure and they complement the mad enthusiasm of these early tales.
This is ideal for bed time stories with younger readers, classroom story times, and children, both boys and girls aged about 7-12 as independent readers. It would make a fantastic transitional book for readers who are not quite ready for full on novels, but who have moved on from picture books.