When I was 14 part of my English GCSE was an oral presentation of my own devising. The title I came up with was “Discworld is a superior to Lord of the Rings”. Bare in mind this was 2003; peter Jackson was finishing up the trilogy and there was influx of people to Tolkien fandom and my teacher at the time had been a fan of middle earth since she had been a child. The presentation itself was an explanation of why Terry Pratchett’s charters are more believable and well-rounded, siting the fact that the people of Gondor are weirdly accepting of some random hobo claiming to be the true-born king. Particularly because wandering around the Forrest with a sword isn’t an activity that qualifies you to run a country. I got the only A I every got for English for this academic nerd rage, which is something I’ve always been proud of. I tell this story to try to explain why it is that this morning, when I found out Terry Pratchett had died; I cried for losing someone I’ve never physically met.
I’ve been a fan of Terry Pratchett since I was eight, when Channel 4 broadcast cartoon versions of Wyrd Sisters and Soul Music, (by the way if you’ve never heard of these two cartoons stop reading this and follow the links provided, you wont be disappointed) on seeing my enjoyment my big sister lent me her copy of Mort which is the first book I can remember reading all the way through and enjoying. As a Dyslexic person, reading fiction has always been hard for me, Pratchett’s writings are the sole exception to this rule, whilst almost every other book is somewhat of a challenge for me, his style as well as his compelling narratives were what made it easy for me to fall in love with reading and storytelling; I have the same feelings about Sam Vimes, The Librarian and Granny Weatherwax that other people of my generation have for Harry, Ron & Hermione. Discworld Novels provided me with a way to cope with being a weird, awkward teenager who felt very disjointed from the rest of the world by providing me with stories about people who didn’t fit their pre-ordained narratives.
It’s hard to explain exactly why Terry Pratchett’s is such a formative element of my childhood, a good place to start is this quote from ‘Hogfather‘;
This is very similar to the suggestion put forward by the Quirmian philosopher Ventre, who said, “Possibly the gods exist, and possibly they do not. So why not believe in them in any case? If it’s all true you’ll go to a lovely place when you die, and if it isn’t then you’ve lost nothing, right?” When he died he woke up in a circle of gods holding nasty-looking sticks and one of them said, “We’re going to show you what we think of Mr Clever Dick in these parts…’
Someone took a paragraph in a YA novel parodying Christmas to explain the premise of, and then the fundamental flaw in Pascal’s wager. That’s why Terry Pratchett is an Amazing author. His novels are at a fundamental level social commentary. They discuss; racism, community policing, feminism, economics, industrialization, class warfare, LGBT rights, Fat shaming, nationalism, Darwinian evolution, football, art, theater, folk memory, diplomacy, governmental corruption, privatization, religion, orientalism, science and a host of metaphysical and philosophical concepts; and they do it all in a pre-modern fantasy land populated by wizards, witches, Dwarfs, Trolls, Vampires and Werewolfs. Terry Pratchett didn’t just introduce me to reading he introduced me to life. He taught me skepticism of ideas whilst simultaneously empathy towards other cultures and peoples. The fantasy genre was ruined for me by Terry Pratchett because my attempts to branch into Middle Earth or Narnia always ran up against one-dimensional villains with little motivation beyond being evil fighting equally flat heroes hellbent on doing nothing other than being good – this is something that doesn’t stand up very well to complexities of Lord Vetinari or Death.
I wouldn’t say Terry Pratchett is the reason I write, he is however the reason I write the way I write. I wish I could say another author has had anything close to the impact on me that Sir Terry has, but that just wouldn’t be true; I’ve tried to love other writers as much to be more rounded – George Orwell got close but never quite took the number one spot. The best part of being this in love with Discworld novels and the host of other Pratchett writings, is that as I grew up I discovered that I hadn’t’ been alone, friendships have been secured and I’ve bonded with so many strangers over our mutual love of Ahnk-Morpork. Terry Pratchett didn’t just give me a fun fantasy world to camp out in every so often, he gave me an identity as well as a groundwork to craft my own ideas about the world and he did it by making the ordinary profound and the fantastical relatable. For this I will be forever grateful.