Terry Pratchett and the Discworld

Men At Arms by Terry PratchettI remember when I picked up my first Terry Pratchett novel. I don’t remember the day, or how old I was, (Although I’m guessing I couldn’t have been more than 15 or so, since I had to wait on my mom to take me to the library, so it was sometime in ’94 or ’95) or anything else that went on that day. But I remember the cover of the book clearly, and I remember thinking it looked absolutely bizarre. Who’d ever seen a fantasy novel with that kind of weird fractal-esque cover? and what was with the weird handcuffs? But I was 15 (or maybe 14), and I had time to read anything I wanted. Besides, it was the library. Free. I took it home without knowing anything else about it.

My early memories of Discworld are a little bit muddled, though, and I attribute that to the fact that after reading Men At Arms, I picked up every Discworld book the library had. Feet of Clay. Interesting Times. Lords and Ladies. Guards! Guards!. I devoured the things. Terry Pratchett, to the day he died, was on my short list of Authors Who Are Pre-Ordered. (The list contains two others: John C. Wright and Gene Wolfe.)

Terry Pratchett: Dr. Seuss for Grown Ups.

As a child, I remember reading Dr. Seuss books and loving them to death, particularly the pages that were full of monsters and things going on. In particular, There’s a Wocket in My Pocket had a page that always stuck with me: the narrator, peaking his head into his basement, finds that it is full of Seussian creatures playing cards, eating sandwiches, napping, and having what looked like a rocking good time in general. I used to stare at that page for long periods of time, imagining what it would be like to be there, in that basement, playing cards with those things.

Discworld, the proud and filthy city of Ankh-Morpork in particular, is the grown up version of that for me. I’ve tried a couple times to put words to what it is that I love about Pratchett’s imagination, but that’s exactly what it is: It’s Dr. Seuss for grown ups. There are always Things Going On. There are tons of characters, most of whom are imminently likable, up to and including Death– Y’know, the Grim Reaper.

Death is a perennial fan-favorite character– for me as much as anyone else– but he’s not an anomaly. All of Pratchett’s characters are warm and living. My favorite novels were the ones about the city watch, and about how Samuel Vimes, once an alcoholic constable, now the commander of the watch, takes Ankh-Morpork’s Night Watch from a laughable farce to an efficient and fair organization that accepts people from all backgrounds and treats all races the same– Human, dwarf, troll, whatever Nobby Nobs is….

If that sounds a tad like modernity creeping into your fantasy, that’s because it is. The first Discworld novel, The Colour of Magic, is a fairly straight-forward satire of high fantasy. But later on, the books became about an Industrial Revolution centered on Ankh-Morpork. Ankh-Morpork at times evokes images of London or New York in the 1800s; at other times, it evokes the insanity of modernity. Ankh-Morpork has discovered and overcome the hidden temptations and powers of everything from the printing press to “Music with Rocks In It.”

Terry Pratchett: The Friend I Never Met

Unlike Jagi, I never got to meet Terry Pratchett. I would have liked to have done so. I would have liked to have told him how, in a time of my life in which I read very little fantasy, he remained one of the only fantasy authors whose works I bought. I would have liked to have told him how he’s brought me both joy and embarrassment, because he’s made me laugh out loud in public places, and let’s see you try to explain why gargoyles being trolls that evolved a symbiotic relationship with gutters is so damn funny.

I never met the man, but I think you can get to know a writer from the things they write about. I know, I know. “Narrator does not equal author.” But y’know what? On a lot of levels, that’s bunk. The narrator, as a character, may not be a stand-in for the author. But the things the author chooses to narrate about? The things we write about? That’s us. That’s us talking about the things we love best, or things we are most concerned about, because otherwise, why would we bother? I write scifi because I love space battles and the secrets of the universe. I write a blog post about Terry Pratchett and Discworld because I loved the man and his creations.

I write this because I’ll miss him.

Rest in Peace, Sir Terry.