If you haven’t heard, Terry Pratchett has died. I heard the news in second period comparative government, when my teacher got a BBC alert. He was unimpressed. “He’s an author?” my teacher asked, “What’s he write?” Various students chimed in with answers. “Oh, fiction,” said my teacher dismissively.
I think if you’re reading this blog, you already know the power of fiction and stories and how important they can be. Explaining that would be preaching to the choir. And yet… Terry Pratchett explained this better than anyone in his book Hogfather:
“All right,” said Susan. “I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need… fantasies to make life bearable.”
REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.
“Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—”
YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THELITTLE LIES.
“So we can believe the big ones?”
YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.
“They’re not the same at all!”
YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THENSHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET—Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME…SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.
“Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point—”
MY POINT EXACTLY.”
I am very sad to hear of Terry Pratchett’s death. His books contain so much wisdom, and they are immensely capable of making you think, laugh, and (rarely) cry. And what’s more, they came from an incredibly wonderful person. As a general rule of thumb, I try to avoid learning about authors in case I stumble upon something that makes it difficult for me to enjoy their work. But Terry Pratchett was an exception. In middle school, I looked up everything about him I could, and if I’d had enough material on him, he would have been the subject of my 7th grade biography paper.
Everything I’ve ever seen or read about Terry Pratchett says what a wonderful person he is. He was overwhelmingly kind and always a courageous proponent of human decency. My condolences go out to his wife and daughter.
I also want to talk about how much his books mean to me personally. Like it probably is for most people, middle school was a wretched time in my life. My parents moved me to a private school in fifth grade, and I didn’t have many (or at points any) friends. Most of middle school was spent reading alone during lunch. For those years, books were my principal companions.
The summer before sixth grade, I spent a week at my grandparent’s house. Before the trip, my mom had grabbed a stack of books from the library for me to take with me. One of those was Pratchett’s Monstrous Regiment.
I devoured Monstrous Regiment and Polly Perks’s story. I remember floating in my grandparent’s pool after I finished, overcome by it all and my love for Polly and Mal and Sergent Jackrum and all the amazing characters and witty lines and moments filled with intangible emotion. It was the sort of book where you can’t believe when it’s over, and where you are both happy with the ending but also want to cry because there’s no more.
Despite this, I didn’t pick up another of his books for a while. I don’t know if I knew any existed, or if I knew, maybe I didn’t care because they weren’t about Polly. Then our most recent Netflix DVD (remember when it was DVDs?) happened to be the BBC adaptation of Hogfather, which I quoted above.
The next thing I knew, I was at the local bookstore staring at the shelf and wondering where to start. I don’t know which was the next book I picked up because from then on I devoured them in quick succession. I would get two or three at a time, and I would sit down and not move until I’d finished one.
Instead of being alone, I was with Angua and Carrot and Granny Weatherwax and Magrat and Death and Susan and Vetinari and Moist and Andora and of course Sam Vimes, who is still my utmost favorite fictional character. When I had to walk laps for PE, I would think about them and my favorite moments and go over his writing endlessly in my mind.
I want to say here that Pratchett writes great characters. He writes great female characters too, something which I’ve always been drawn to. Th witches Granny Weatherwax and Tiffany Aching and Sergeant Angua, the best werewolf around, are especially dear to me. They are all so different from each other, but each one is written so well that it feels like she could walk off the page at any moment.
The summer before seventh grade, I had eye surgery and couldn’t read for a week. In that time, my dad started reading aloud to me, a practice we continued even after I recovered from the surgery. After we finished the Bartimeaus trilogy (which we’d started during the surgery), I handed him Soul Music, since he loved guitars and music and anything to do with the Beatles. He read it aloud to me, and we continued with other Discworld books. I think these will always be cherished memories.
At some point, my dad thought his mother might like the books, and he convinced her to try them even though she was reluctant about picking up a fantasy novel. She agreed, and I picked Maskerade out for her. She loved it, and I ended up loaning her other Pratchett novels. I think she even still has my copy of Going Postel. I don’t have much in common with my grandmother, but Discworld and Terry Pratchett became something that connected her, my dad, and me.
My freshman year of high school when someone asked me out and I felt overwhelmed, I read Wintersmith again. I was amazed. How could an old British man get so deeply inside the head of a girl my age, write something that resounded so well with what I was going through? I remember sitting in the school library and thinking, “How does he do it?”
I a rough point during sophomore year, when anxiety combined with mild depression. It was the lowest I’ve ever been, and reading Terry Pratchett’s books, particularly Night Watch and Good Omens, helped me immensely. I needed more than anything to get out of my head, and Pratchett’s books could do it like nothing else. They could make me smile when it felt like I could never be happy again.
At every point in my life since I first picked up Monstrous Regiment, Terry Pratchett’s books have been there for me. More than just giving me solace or distracting me from my problems, they contained ideas that I still hold close to my heart today. Granny Weatherwax and the fact that sometimes there is no good choice, just two bad ones and you’ve got to do the best you can. Samuel Vimes and believing that people are fundamentally good because otherwise you couldn’t make it through the day. The character Death and seeing the inherent wonders of the everyday world.
Over the coming weeks, I will be rereading and reviewing his books. However, I can’t say it any better than Terry Pratchett himself, so I will end with some of his quotes:
“Stories of imagination tend to upset those without one.”
“And what would humans be without love?”
RARE, said Death.”
“Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
“She was already learning that if you ignore the rules people will, half the time, quietly rewrite them so that they don’t apply to you.”
“The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to the presence of those who think they’ve found it.”
“If you trust in yourself. . .and believe in your dreams. . .and follow your star. . . you’ll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy.”
“HUMAN BEINGS MAKE LIFE SO INTERESTING. DO YOU KNOW, THAT IN A UNIVERSE SO FULL OF WONDERS, THEY HAVE MANAGED TO INVENT BOREDOM. (Death)”
“If you don’t turn your life into a story, you just become a part of someone else’s story.”
“There isn’t a way things should be. There’s just what happens, and what we do.”
“Evil begins when you begin to treat people as things.”
“No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away…”