Small Gods : A Discworld Graphic Novel REVIEW
Adaptation by: Ray Friesen
Published: 28 July – preorder here
Ask any Discworld aficionado and they’ll tell you: Small Gods is one of Terry Pratchett’s best books. The 1992 novel was a standalone – that is to say, set on the Disc but not tied in to any of its ongoing storylines – and was immediately hailed as a classic.
It tells the story of Brutha, a lowly novice aspiring to priesthood in Omnia – a land dedicated to the glory of the Great God Om – as he comes face to face with his god… literally. Om manifests as a lowly one-eyed turtle, discovering in the process that in all of Omnia, Brutha is the only true believer he has left.
What follows is a tale of murderous fundamentalism, enlightened thinking, burned libraries and a good deal of puns. This graphic novel version sees US writer and illustrator Ray Friesen take on the not insignificant task of adapting Small Gods, and was sanctioned by Narrativia, the production company that oversees all things Pratchett in the wake of the great Sir Terry’s passing in 2015.
The results make for an entertaining, if occasionally head-scratching, read. Friesen’s art has a distinctive style, all bold, thick lines and expressive cartoony faces. It serves the characters well, and the lively colouring and creative panel layouts imbue the whole thing with an enormous amount of energy. He packs in sight gags galore, and there’s fun to be had poring over the background detail.
There is, however, a key problem, albeit one tied in with the essential nature of adapting one medium for another. Much of the joy of reading Terry Pratchett lies with the rhythm and style of the prose, and particularly the narrator’s voice – that now-familiar wry, wise, righteous voice that loves a footnote and cannot resist a pun. Fitting that in around images without swamping the pages or losing anything in translation is tricky, and Friesen never quite figures out an effective way to get enough Pratchett on the page. There are lines that float, untethered, on the odd page, and a handful of footnotes sneak in, but the overall impression is that there’s something somehow lacking.
The dialogue, of course, is all Pratchett, and retains the sparkle and wit you’d expect. Friesen does an excellent job of conjuring up Omnia, and has a lot of fun with some of Small Gods’ stranger moments. While this adaptation may lack some of the grandeur and philosophical heft of the source material, it retains the essential soul of the story, and as such is a valiant effort. This is still Pratchett, albeit Pratchett wearing a coat that doesn’t quite fit.
Review by Rob Power