The Story Behind Terry Pratchett’s The Abominable Snow Baby – Channel 4 Christmas Animation
You wait decades for a new Terry Pratchett screen adaptation, and then you get two in the same year. But while BBC America’s The watch was, to put it generously, rather imperfect and compromised, Christmas will bring us a much more faithful and completely charming distillation of Pratchett’s vision.
Terry Pratchett’s Abominable Snow Baby is the latest in a long series of prestigious Christmas Day animations commissioned by Channel 4, after the beautiful Quentin Blake’s clown and dating back to 1982 and The Snowman. This is a magnificent, delightfully silly, satisfying British work and beautifully animated, the tone of humor and visual style, like a classic Beano the comic book comes to life.
Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of the source material. baby snow adapted from a short story written, not by award-winning professor Sir Terry Pratchett, OBE, both the best-selling living author in English and the creator of the World’s Conqueror (Flat) Disc world seriesâ¦ but by a twenty-year-old trainee journalist working for a local newspaper.
In 1965, at only seventeen, Pratchett dropped out of school to begin an apprenticeship at the Free press, the local weekly which served its particular corner of South Buckinghamshire. Almost immediately, she was assigned one of the less popular jobs on the newspaper – writing the column “Children’s Circle”, under the pseudonym “Uncle Jim”. The column consisted of a list of readers’ birthdays and a short bedtime story, serialized over several weeks. Prior to Pratchett’s time, the stories had focused on the rather tasteless sub-Beatrix Potter adventures of characters called “Boo Boo Bunny”, “Frances Frog” and “Peter Piper the Grass”. Young Pratchett had none of these. He already had aspirations to become an author and had published two short stories to his credit, printed in prestigious science fiction magazines. Fantastic Science and New Worlds.
On November 8, 1965, “Boo Boo Bunny” was put aside and the new “Uncle Jim” began his first series, an idea Terry had been working on since he was fifteen – a fantastic tale about microscopic tribes that lived in dust and hair. of a carpet, called ‘Tales of the Carpet People’. He was immediately darker and more imaginative than anything the newspaper had previously offered to its young readers. Terry continued to write dozens of stories for the diary between 1965 and 1973, when he finally moved on. The stories quickly developed an irreverent and pleasantly silly tone, full of silly imagery and silly puns influenced by Spike Milligan and The Goons, Punch Magazine and his own sparkling imagination. There are also nuances of Roald Dahl, whom Terry interviewed for the diary in 1968. Most of the ideas, names, and phrases that would appear in Pratchett’s later novels have their origins in “Children’s Circle” tales. , and two stories, ‘Tales of the Carpet People’ and ‘Rincemangle, the Gnome of Even Moor’ would eventually be extended to full novels, People of the carpet and Truckers.
“They were written by the same Terry but a different Terry because he was still learning, âsays Rob Wilkins, former personal assistant to Pratchett and now one of the owner-operators of his estate (â the representative of Terry Pratchett on Earth “is how Neil Gaiman puts it),” the voice in them is slightly different; it’s not quite the Terry we know. He was trying things on the page. It’s easier now – we can walk to the bus and type a few hundred words on our phones, but back then it was sitting there, winding the paper in the typewriterâ¦ “well let’s see if that – here flies â. Have you seen the recent footage of Paul McCartney sitting there with the guitar in front of George and Ringo and composing ‘Get Back’? I think it is exactly the same.
baby snow is based on a story printed over four weeks from December 1968, and is an example of a textbook, full of silly turns of phrase, puns, and daring, quickly sketched but memorable characters like Granny voiced here – rather perfectly – by Julie Walters. You can read the original story online for free.
The “Children’s Circle” stories were all but forgotten as Pratchett focused on his career as a novelist (he wrote surprisingly little news once his career launched, often saying they “cost me blood”) , languishing in the unread spine. the issues of a local newspaper, hidden under a pseudonym. Newspaper content, by its very nature, is completely fleeting – Terry’s early stories had become the fish and chip wrappers of tomorrow. It was Pratchett’s agent, Colin Smythe, who had met Terry in 68 and remembered them well, who unearthed them again in the early 2010s. Pratchett’s failing health meant he was able to ‘writing less and less – he had been diagnosed early with Altzheimer’s in 2008 and would eventually succumb to it in 2015 – devastating for a man accustomed to publishing at least two novels a year. In 1990, he had published five. It was Smythe who suggested that a collection of these early stories could bridge the gap. Pratchett was surprised at how well they had stood up.
âI sat down on the stairs to read him a few,â Wilkins said, âand he said,â these are actually pretty damn goodâ¦ he wasn’t that bad, was he? “, Speaking of her young self”. The stories have received the “lightest varnish” by their author and collected in a series of anthologies, Dragons at the ruined castle, The witches vacuum cleaner, Santa’s fake beard and The caveman who travels through time, published between 2014 and 2020, illustrated in mind-blowing Quentin Blake style by artist Mark Beech and credited to “The Fantastically Funny Terry Pratchett”. While they don’t quite carry the weight and sophistication of his later writings, the stories hold up really well – delicious little pearls that work just as much for the kids of 2021 as they do for those of the late sixties.
Yet those stories have always been – and rightly so given Pratchett’s writing style – a footnote in his career. Millions of dollars have been spent over the years as rights to Terry’s major works are optionally available for the big and small screen. A second Amazon season Good omens, Pratchett’s collaboration with Neil Gaiman, is currently filming, an animated feature film based on 2001 The astonishing Maurice and his educated rodents with a star-studded cast headed by Hugh Laurie and Emelia Clarke is heading to theaters in 2022, while a huge deal to faithfully adapt the Discworld series was announced by Narrativia, the production company of the Pratchett Estate, last year, and of course BBC America’s The watch finally emerged in 2021 after being in the works for almost a decade. Disney once almost adapted Dead, while Danny Boyle was going to do Truckers with Dreamworks. These humble short stories haven’t even been part of the conversation. Until now.
âThe last house I expected them to find would be Christmas Day,â Wilkins says, âI mean in a good way, it’s just that it was completely unexpected. Terry always wanted the Doctor Who slot on the telly. That’s the only thing he wanted – half past seven on a Saturday night, sitting down with your mom and dad with fish and chips and an angelic delight for the pudding, and I think we gave him better than that. Christmas Day, seven thirty, Channel 4; Yes please.”
Once you think about it, of course, Pratchett at Christmas makes sense. ‘Abominable Snow Baby’ and other stories from the ‘Children’s Circle’ are perfect for Christmas Day – short, approachable, light and sweetly funny, with the added bonus of the name of one of the country’s most popular novelists to help sell it all. It’s amazing that this hasn’t been done before.
Which, of course, raises an obvious and tantalizing possibility. There are dozens and dozens of Pratchett children’s stories, and Christmas comes back every year. For more than twenty years, a new Pratchett novel hit stores every fall, ready to be wrapped and placed under the trees of fans around the world. Could the Terry-at-Christmas tradition move from page to screen?
âLet’s absolutely determine that there is no big plan,â Wilkins laughs, âYes, please! Absolutely, yes please! We use Terry as a point of reference, you know – he wrote a book and it went pretty well, so he wrote another one, and then, ‘yeah, you better do another one after that ‘ And so on. It’s very good like that here. If that could happen, I would love it, but there’s no gigantic plan that Channel 4 has commissioned one for the next fifty-seven yearsâ¦ which I think they should. The stories in Santa’s fake beard only could maintain it for years.
Aside from the short stories, Narrativa, of course, Is it that have a ‘big plan’ for Pratchett onscreen, and maybe Terry will one day get his longed-for Doctor Who slot, complete with fish and chips and angel food. In the meantime, he will have to be content with the place traditionally attributed to The Snowman, a cheese board and leftover turkey. One could imagine that he would be quite happy about it.
The Abominable Snowbaby is on Channel 4 at 7:30 p.m. on Christmas Day.
Marc Burrows is the author of The Magic of Terry Pratchett, the first full biography of the late author.
Buy it direct from him here https://www.askmeaboutterrypratchett.com/