The first of two Pratchett books due for publication this year, Dragons at Crumbling Castle is a collection of fourteen children’s stories written by Pratchett when he was a young journalist, and published between 1966 and 1973 in the ‘Children’s Circle’ section of the Bucks Free Press. There’s been some minor tinkering with the originals, to make them less dated – references to the Lottery and the Council Tax – but otherwise these stories have not been interefered with since their original publication. This is very much ‘prentice work from Pratchett, and his introduction hints that he would have preferred to keep these buried and forgotten, and on the evidence of the first couple of pages of the title story, that would indeed have been the wisest course.
These are not children’s stories as Pratchett has written them during his professional career: Johnny Maxwell, the nomes, Nation. These are k children’s stories to be read by fathers and grandfathers to toddlers on their laps, until they reach the age of about seven. They lack even the merest scintilla of depth, the lines are only marginally less spaced out than in a board book, and even then are bulked out to 336 pp by applications of large, shouty letters in a fantastical variety of typography and a constant stream of sub-Quentin Blake illustrations.
When Pratchett agreed to have his debut novel, The Carpet People, (written during this period) reissued, he insisted first on a thorough re-write. Frankly, he should not have let these stories out without doing the same, though to be honest I doubt there’s enough in any of them to provide a basis for a better treatment. Not even the two ‘Carpet People’ tales reprinted here, which are the most substantial of the bunch, and the only ones to come anywhere near suggesting the foreshadow of the adult Pratchett peering through the fog.
I shalln’t be keeping this book: in fact, it was listed on e-Bay less than eighteen hours after I bought it. It’s for two classes of people only: Terry Pratchett completists, and the parents, grandparents and uncles of children aged seven and under who still think sitting on laps to have stories read to them is a cool way to spend their time.