The World of Poo, by Terry Pratchett with Bernard and Isobel Pearson
Poo. A source of endless amusement and fascination to children of a certain age. A universal subject too, for it’s hard to deny that everyone has to do it. And now Terry Pratchett’s written a book about it. To give it its full title, Miss Felicity Beedle’s The World of Poo is a companion volume to last year’s Discworld novel, Snuff, in which young Sam Vimes, son of Sir Samuel, commander of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, is carrying this very book around everywhere with him, and actually gets to meet Miss Felicity Beedle herself, in the course of an adventure that does involve a certain amount of poo (naturally).
A previous Vimes book, Thud!, also spawned a spin-off children’s volume (Where’s My Cow?) but there’s no doubt that The World of Poo has much more to commend it – as it’s putatively aimed at older Discworld children, it has more words and thus much more scope for Pratchett’s trademark humour, along with some lovely black and white illustrations by Peter Dennis. The plot concerns young Geoffrey – sent to stay with his grandmother in the city while his mother is having a new baby, he is pooed on by a pigeon and, encouraged by the gardener, quickly develops a fascination with poo, and builds up quite a collection, even opening his own museum.
Geoffrey’s adventures take him all over the city, and he collects scat from elephants, hippogriffs, gargoyles (animate creatures on the Discworld), horses, owls and much else besides – and the climax is a visit to the empire of Harry King aka The King of the Golden River, a self-made man whose collection of pee and poo from all over the city is turned to profit through recycling and use of the constituent chemicals for making leather and dye and so on (all soundly based on actual Roundworld science of course, and thus educational).
The World of Poo is a very enjoyable nugget of a book, with all of Pratchett’s trademark wit, rambling footnotes and incisive observation. The other thing it confirms beyond doubt, especially through the illustrations, is the extent to which the aesthetic of the Discworld, or at least that of major city Ankh-Morpork, has evolved firmly from swords-and-sorcery / Middle Ages to a profoundly Victorian vibe – cod-Dickensian, if you like. It’s no bad thing, though it does seem like a very different world to that which long-term readers first encountered in The Colour of Magic. Progress on the Discworld, it seems, is a lot quicker than on Roundworld – but that aside, they are clearly both full of poo…