Saturday, June 20, 2015

Terry Pratchett: His Place In My Life

Two of my favourite authors are dead; Douglas Adams, and now Terry Pratchett. I should really post something about Adams’ influence on me; he got me into writing and reading. For now, though, let’s stick with Terry.

I didn’t take to Pratchett straight away. A friend gave me the first two Discworld novels, The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic. I found Colour hard to read, and not the laugh-fest I’d been promised (this friend knew I was an Adams fan, and assured me Pratchett was just as good). It wasn’t a novel so much as a series of episodes involving a wizzard named Rincewind, an Inn-sewer-ants salesman named Twoflower, and a very aggressive piece of walking Luggage. I made it through the book but wasn’t terribly impressed, so I didn’t bother with Light. At least, not straight away.

Two things happened that changed my mind about Pratchett’s work completely. My cousin William loaned me a book Terry had co-authored with a fellow named Neil Gaiman. I thanked him and put that book on my shelf.

The second thing that happened was a TV show called Prisoners of Gravity, a talk show with a sci-fi twist; comedian and Frantic member Rick Green interviewed genre authors on a variety of themes and topics. One such episode was on the subject of God in sci-fi and fantasy. Terry Pratchett was an interviewee, and I was impressed with his intelligence and wit. He talked about his latest Discworld novel, Small Gods, and how it related to the subject matter. I bought and read Small Gods right away, and loved it. I pulled The Light Fantastic and Good Omens off the shelf and devoured them; Light was good, but Good Omens is my favourite novel of all time.

I’d like to add here that Small Gods and Good Omens came to me at a time when I was seriously questioning the Christian faith I’d been brought up in. Those books asked similar questions, and even provided one or two answers. I didn’t immediately turn into the agnostic I am now - I was far too terrified of eternal damnation for that - but my journey to spiritual enlightenment had begun. Lucky thing I read those books when I did, eh? Quite a coincidence I came upon them when I did, at exactly the time I was ready for them. Divine intervention, perhaps? I like to think so. It makes me smile.

And so did all of Pratchett’s books I’ve read since. Except for Strata. Never could get into that one. I got used to the regulars, as it were, who appeared in the Discworld series: the Ankh-Morpork City Watch; Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlik; the Patrician, Lord Vetinary; the Wizards of Unseen University; and of course, Death. And the Death of Rats. SQUEAK. The world they inhabited - the Discworld - was a fully realized place, especially the city of Ankh-Morpork. I never wanted to end up in The Shades alone!

I got quite a kick out of his ‘children’s’ books, especially the Johnny trilogy. And I use quotes around the term ‘children’ because, well... Terry put it best when he said “people assume they are children’s books because the main characters happen to be children.” If I had decided I was too old for Johnny and the Bomb when I picked it up, I never would have learned of the danger in going down the wrong leg of the trousers of time.

Terry understood children. When he wrote them they were never marginalized or waiting for a grownup to sort things out. They were intelligent and capable. But still children.

I’m a few novels behind, so I have more Discworld (and that book he co-authored with Stephen Baxter) to look forward to. Terry will remain alive for me for a few more years while I catch up. The end will come, as it must for all of us (and all series, eventually). I can only hope I’ll leave behind a similar body of work when Death taps on my shoulder.

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