In the book Where’s My Cow?, I was truly not ready for this journey. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Well, what the HELL. I went into this expecting one thing: that I would finally get to read the book that Sam Vimes raced home to read to his son at six o’clock sharp every evening. That seemed obvious. It had the same title, it was small enough to be a picture book, and while I didn’t look at anything but the cover, I felt sure enough that I was in for an adorable but predictable ride. Hell, I’d already “read” a number of pages while reading Thud!
I really should have thought more about that. This is Terry Pratchett we’re talking about.
I want to start first with Melvyn Grant, since I always have so much fun with illustrated interpretations of the Discworld universe. Grant’s illustrations felt much softer than Paul Kidby’s did, and I think that works wonders in this book specifically. Well, I should say that there were at least three distinct styles here, from the art of Vimes reading, to the art in the internal book, to the art that happens when both worlds combine. Which is… jesus, this is actually a really, really complicated book, now that I think about it. I mean, I’d realized that it was a book inside of a book that was then changed by Vimes as he was reading the book inside this book, but even the art itself changes to match what’s actually happening.
Still, there’s a softness to Vimes in these images, and it doesn’t negate that for most of his time, Vimes is perceived much differently by others. I could see this Sam Vimes turning on a dime and being the straight-laced, intense Sam Vimes we see most of the time. And then there are the drawings inside the book that Vimes reads to his son! They feel much like a picture book would, but I noticed something in looking through this after having read it on camera: a lot of the outlines of these animals could be mistaken for cows, couldn’t they??? Look at the sheep! It looks like a cow with horns… sort of? And that’s brilliant because THERE ARE LAYERS HERE. You’ve also got the fantastical element, like the elements of Young Sam’s room coming to life. The stuffed animals, the flying books. And there’s a small dragon who is very interested in the story that Vimes is telling! I love these details and the way they convey just how magical this moment is for Vimes and his son. And isn’t that the point? While reading Thud!, I could tell that this was an emotionally vital part of Vimes’s life, and you get a sense for the energy that drips from Vimes’s readings. It transforms Young Sam’s bedroom into a place where literally anything can happen.
Which is what the story told here does, too. Look, I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that there are stories within stories within another story. And while reading Thud! certainly helped me understand this just a tiny bit more, I don’t think you need it. How many of us have read to children? How many of us have seen kids holding on to every word, eager to hear the next one, who delight at the illustrations and want to study them for hours? Hell, sometimes I’ve seen this happen when reading to ADULTS. But there’s a fun here because Vimes, after having read this book a BILLION times, can’t seem to ignore how absurd much of it is. His thought process is basically: Clearly, they’re not all cows, why are you looking for cows this way, NONE OF THIS WILL HELP MY CHILD IN THE FUTURE.
Thus, Vimes changes the story. Where’s My Cow? turns into Where’s My Daddy?, and Vimes teaches his son some very important lessons. Like who will cough on you without covering your mouth, or whose pies you should avoid eating at all costs, or who you should report your problems to if you do happen to lose your cow. All of it is so very Sam Vimes, and all of it is so very Discworld, too. The real world mixed in with the fantastical! And of course Vimes would want to pass on the street smarts he gained from… well, sometimes, waking up in the literal street. Oh gods, he’s come so far, hasn’t he?
This was a genuine surprise, y’all. I was worried I wasn’t going to be able to say much about this book, but leave it to Terry Pratchett to write a picture book that’s this complicated.
Mark Links Stuff
– The paperback edition of my debut, ANGER IS A GIFT, is now up for pre-order! It comes out on May 7, 2019. If you’d like to stay up-to-date on all announcements regarding my books, sign up for my newsletter! DO IT.