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AADISHT KHANNA
LEFT OF COOL

Left of Cool abandons the respectable and the popular, and turns its gaze to the odd and wonderful.

Talking of weird books, good endings and new beginnings

his is the last Left of Cool I am writing — if not ever, then at least for a very long time.

A quick explanation: it's been great fun writing about offbeat books, but beyond a point, you run out of new things to say and new perspectives to offer, and I'd like to close this column before I hit that point. It's been a fabulous year, and I'm leaving the column in capable hands —Aishwarya Subramanian who will now do this column every week, and she's far better placed to keep the column fresh than I am.

And since this is my last column, let's talk about endings. Specifically, one of my favourite ending segments of a book — and how it compares to the endings of other books by one of its authors.

I say one of its authors — because the book in question, Good Omens — had two authors, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. When they collaborated on it in 1990, Gaiman was still writing Sandman, the comic book that would catapult him to superstardom; and Pratchett had written ten books of his Discworld series. The project was an enthusiastic — and possibly lunatic — enterprise taken up by two writers who had become friends and decided to do this just because it seemed cool. The result was a hilarious simultaneous spoof of the Omen movie and Richmal Compton's JustWilliam books.

Pratchett would go on to write another 30 novels for children and adults. The most recent novel, Snuff, came out last year. I liked Snuff much less than Pratchett's other books. The book seemed unfleshed out, as if it had been written to meet an urgent deadline. And in a way, it was — a few years ago, Pratchett was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, and he is acutely aware that he doesn't have much longer to write.

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Back in 1990, Gaiman and Pratchett’s ending for 'Good Omens' was similarly optimistic —but, since it was Gaiman and Pratchett, also managed to drag in a George Orwell dedication

suspect this has made Pratchett want to bring his mammoth Discworld series to some sort of a happy ending, and for the last few books, while the tone has been darker and bleaker, the resolutions have been — for want of a better word — nicer. They have given the Discworld's more hated and downtrodden races — orcs and goblins — civil rights, and even better, the respect of the dominant species. Everything is better at the end.

And unfortunately, while this makes the endings nicer, it makes them lose something the earlier Pratchett endings had — hope. Things would have returned to their horrible state, but the protagonists would have discovered they were able to rise above circumstances. There was always the promise that there were more adventures to come. Now, the endings are more pat, and have a sense of finality about them, that there's not much more to explore. For contrast, think of the last ever strip of Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes: "It's a magical world, Hobbes, ol' buddy! Lets go exploring!"

Watterson wrote that line in 1995, and so assured his readers that while Calvin and Hobbes would have no more strips, they would still have adventures. Back in 1990, Gaiman and Pratchett's ending for Good Omens was similarly optimistic —but, since it was Gaiman and Pratchett, also managed to drag in a George Orwell dedication:

"If you want to imagine the future, imagine a boy and his dog and his friends. And a summer that never ends. And if you want to imagine the future, imagine a boot... no, imagine a sneaker, laces trailing, kicking a pebble; imagine a stick, to poke at interesting things, and throw for a dog that may or may not decide to retrieve it; imagine a tuneless whistle, pounding some luckless popular song into insensibility; imagine a figure, half angel, half devil, all human...Slouching hopefully towards Tadfield...forever."

There may be no more columns by me, but there will always be weird books. I hope you enjoy discovering them.

 

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