Liz and Ben (who had microphone issues this episode) introduce children’s author Oliver Phommavanh to the world of Terry Pratchett with Johnny Maxwell’s return, in 1993’s Johnny and the Dead.
Twelve-year-old Johnny Maxwell is enduring Phase Three of the Trying Times between his parents, which involves living with his Mum at his Grandad’s place. His shortcut home from school takes him through an old rundown cemetery, where he knocks on a tomb door – and discovers he can see dead people. As Johnny gets to know them, the dead discover the Council has sold their cemetery for development – and they want Johnny to put a stop to it. While the gang delve into the history of Blackbury and discover a whole new side to their boring hometown, the dead begin to wonder if there might be more to life after life – earning the disapproving scowl of Mr Eric Grimm…
Content note: this episode contains discussion of (fictional) suicide, from around 1:34:00 to 1:40:00. If you or anyone you know needs help, use the Wikipedia list of crisis lines to find one local to you.
Johnny Maxwell and (most of) his friends are back, this time dealing with the mundane as well as the fantastical. Touching on themes of history, tradition, belief and capitalism, Pratchett makes a very different kind of “boy sees dead people” story as Johnny tries to save the local cemetery. There’s lots of Pratchett philosophy in here, like his well-known positive attitude towards death as a part of life. It’s also full of his trademark little jokes and asides, some of which feel very, well…early nineties.
So what do you think? Has this aged well since 1993? Do the lessons about the past and present, living and dead still ring true? Do the trials and tribulations of a small English town translate to 2020 and wherever you live? Use the hashtag #Pratchat34 on social media to join the conversation!
Guest Oliver Phommavanh is a children’s author, teacher and stand-up comedian based in Sydney. At the time of recording he’d written ten books, including the semi-autobiographical Thai-riffic and Con-Nerd, and his next book was the short story collection Brain Freeze in September 2020. (Please consider supporting your local bookshop by ordering his books from them!) You can find out more about Oliver at his web site, oliverwriter.com, and find him on Instagram and Twitter as @oliverwinfree.
Next month we’re celebrating National Science Week in Australia by reading Pratchett’s collaboration with science writers Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen, The Science of Discworld! We’ll be joined by science communicator and chemist Anna Ahveninen of the Australian Academy of Science! Get your questions in via the hashtag #Pratchat35 by science week, which starts August 15, 2020.
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