Reveling through the subterranea – Terry Pratchett’s Dodger

Terry Pratchett’s Dodger is a wonderful skit on early Victorian London which plays with Henry Mayhew and Charles Dickens. Rather than fashionably going with steam punk, Dodger is a historical fantasy with a distinctly darker social history of manners.

Dodger is a tosher, making his living from delving in the pre-Bazalgette sewers of London. One evening he saves Simplicity after she has been beaten badly and gets her to the Mayhew’s house. Meeting Charles Dickens, Dodger makes his way from the sewers of society through his use as an informant to both Mayhew and Dickens. On the way he burnishes his own mythology when he is involved in the capture of Sweeney Todd.

Whilst hiding Simplicity, Dodger and Dickens play on Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White but changes it slightly. A detective story becomes a spy story, changing voice from passive to active.

Given the setting, just before the great works which sorted out the sewage, Pratchett paints a Britain that teeters on the edge of being great but also being forgotten. Bazalgette, Babbage. Names which inspire for those who know them and their ideas, but who are still largely forgotten. You can almost see the argument for great public works and leaders who have that vision rather than short term goals.

Dodger, who will appear in one of Dickens’s more famous works, almost made me think of Chris Priestley’s Mr Creecher (earlier post here).  I suppose it sets up an origin story but I am a little glad that it went a different direction.

Having set up the story, he argues that all stories can be changed if there is the will.

An aside. Just noticed on Amazon that there is a collection of short stories called A Blink of the Screen: Collected Short Fiction which is due very shortly. So more Pratchett goodness to  come.

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