Moving Pictures

by Terry Pratchett

Cover image

Series: Discworld #10
Publisher: Harper Torch
Copyright: 1990
Printing: February 2002
ISBN: 0-06-102063-X
Format: Mass market
Pages: 337

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This is the tenth book in the long-running Discworld series, but it's one of the approved starting points and starts a new sequence. Some characters from previous books (particularly the Rincewind novels and Guards! Guards!) do appear, but no knowledge of previous books in the series is required to understand this one.

Some distance outside the huge Discworld metropolis of Ankh-Morpork, in a largely abandoned bit of beachfront property called Holy Wood, the last Keeper of the Door has just died. This means the sacred fires above a drowned city will go out, and with that, something will have an opportunity to re-enter the world. Something magical, something all-consuming, and something that the world may not particularly want to have entering it.

Shortly thereafter, one of the despised alchemists of Ankh-Morpork has a breakthrough. Through a combination of trained imps, alchemical film, and well-charged salamanders, he succeeds in capturing and replaying a sequence of pictures. The motion picture industry is born on Discworld. He demonstrates it for the public, and the next thing various audience members realize, they're on their way towards the impromptu ramshackle town of Holy Wood for... well, they couldn't say exactly, but it's horribly important, and it involves making lots of movies.

Moving Pictures is a great, classic Discworld story and (like Guards! Guards!) an excellent place to start with the series if you want to avoid the early swords and sorcery parody and skip to the meatier books that Pratchett started writing later. It's obviously a parody of the motion picture industry (in terms of the movies they make, mostly early adventure dramas without sound, but there are references to all sorts of movie stars, movies, producers, and film companies throughout). But like the best Discworld books, there's an underlying fantasy plot due to the delightfully twisted way everything on Discworld happens, creating new and exciting perils. Vincent Tugelbend, a professional student, is the main character, who gets sucked into the vortex of Holy Wood in the vaguely befuddled way of so many Pratchett lead characters. He's surrounded by the usual Pratchett stable of larger-than-life crazy personalities, including a bit of a romance plot.

The best characters in this book, though, are the dogs. Cats are, for some reason, very disproportionately represented in fantasy, so it's rare to see dogs in starring roles. It's even rarer to see dogs done with wonderful, deft characterization, particularly when one of them is often a world-weary cynic who rejects (at least on the surface) most of the stereotypes of dog behavior. Gaspode the Wonder Dog is the best character in this book, particularly once Laddie shows up later in the story for Gaspode to play off of. If you, like I, am a dog person, this is a rare delight.

As expected with Pratchett, there's lots of humor, much of it by sly reference. Classic film scenes get most of the attention, and film buffs will have fun playing "spot the reference." Some of those are obvious enough for anyone familiar with western culture to pick up; the rest, as usual, are documented for later enjoyment in the Annotated Pratchett File. The climactic scene is carefully set up and engineered to culminate in two delightful extended puns (and, for an extra bonus, it involves the Librarian in daring defense of his library). For me, this was one of the funnier of the Discworld books so far.

Fans of Discworld will enjoy this book, and if you've not yet started on the series, it's a great place to start. It's far enough along on the series that Pratchett has hit his stride, but not so far along that every book continues an ongoing character or plot arc and there's more backstory than one can shake a stick at. Recommended.

Followed by Reaper Man in the chronological sense and (much later) by The Truth in the plot sense.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2010-12-31

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21