Tuesday 17 September 2019

Frank Whelan - Terry Pratchett’s Discworld was the mirror that made sense of life

Terry Pratchett
Terry Pratchett

Frank Whelan

There’s a point in a child’s life when they start to gather the opinions that form the adult they will become. Before there’s any urge to crack open weighty books on philosophy, there’s the comfortable escapism of fantasy. There’s one world, travelling through space on the back of four elephants standing on the shell of a turtle, where a reader will find insights into life that are valuable, timeless and damn hilarious.

The denizens of Discworld have a peculiarly clever way of revealing truths about our own world and making points without ever preaching. Terry Pratchett’s passing will strike deep into many hearts, not only because his books were funny and interesting, but because he made real points through his work.

Novels such as Small Gods pointed a spotlight on religion and worship, while the likes of Making Money and Going Postal looked at business and bureaucracy. When Pratchett wanted to highlight something, he never came out and said it, if anything he’d say the opposite. The ruling tyrant of the major city of Ankh Morpork was generally considered to do a much finer job than the rulers before him and the fear and disappearances were an acceptable price to pay for efficiency.

Concepts such as freedom of expression and critical thinking were woven throughout storylines with dragons, walking suitcases, orangutan librarians and unionised golems. There are so many levels to not only the humour of Terry Pratchett's work, but to the messages he conveyed.

Terry Pratchett didn’t follow genre norms, if anything he made a point of highlighting the conventions and tropes found in various areas of pop culture. Carpe Jugulum took on vampires, Soul Music played a merry tune with the music industry and Hogfather looked at the objective peculiarity of Christmas. While some people might have said "the carry on in Hollywood is ridiculous," Terry Pratchett created Moving Pictures to capture the essence of the thing and squeeze it back out in concentrated form.

Like his stories, Pratchett’s characters stand apart from the stereotypes. Discworld is full of reluctant heroes and such twists as vegetarian vampires. Pratchett had a skill for creating well-developed female characters. Never one to indulge in the easy damsel in distress, many of his most memorable characters are strong women. For example, Tiffany Aching, a young apprentice witch, epitomises courage and logic, showing strength where others in the books failed. Aimed at younger readers, a young girl would be hard pressed to find a better role model. In fact, anyone would be hard pressed to find a better role model.

Sir Terry Pratchett insisted the UK government should wake up to the reality of those seeking assisted suicide
Sir Terry Pratchett insisted the UK government should wake up to the reality of those seeking assisted suicide

It stands testament to Terry Pratchett that it’s nearly impossible to compare him to another author. I’ve never heard a “he’s just like Terry Pratchett” recommendation end well. He has the sort of style that you can enjoy and admire, but any attempt at emulation will surely end with disappointment.

There’s a special spark to his writing, a spark that ignites a love of his characters and the stories he weaves. If two people have a love of Terry Pratchett in common they will always get along for a time, or so I’d like to believe. It is a sense of humour and satire that unites.

Terry Pratchett was not only one of literature’s true masters of wit and humour, he was also a skillful satirist, something often missed by those who judge a book by its wonderfully illustrated cover. Paul Kidby take a bow.

Although his alzheimer’s meant fans were cherishing every extra book he wrote, the news of his death still comes as a shock. At only 66, it’s easy to lament all the books he might have written if he had lived longer, but with over seventy books under his name, Terry Pratchett made a greater contribution to culture in his 66 years than many could ever aspire to given three life times.

So let's raise a glass of scumble to the memory of Terry Pratchett. Shaper of young minds, entertainer of millions and by all accounts a genuinely nice bloke in a big hat.

The problem is trying to decide which of his books to re-read first.

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