I remember the day Terry Pratchett died – I had just finished teaching at school and I read the news. I got on the bus, went to the Old Town and bought two of his books. Since the day was an amazingly sunny and warm one (not unusual for March in Dubrovnik), I took the books, chose one of the two and, sitting in the sun, started reading it. The book was Guards! Guards! (8th novel in the Dicsworld series but the first one that focuses on the City watch characters). I spent a couple of hours there, I started reading the book with a tear in my eye for the sad event of Terry’s death, and finished it with tears running down my face from laughter. That is one of my favourite Discworld books. I love Carrot and Lady Ramkin. From the moment they are introduced, from the first sentences of their description, I loved them.
The same was with how my life with Terry began. I was hooked from the first sentence.
I first met Terry not alone, but in the company of Neil Gaiman. I was at university, at a lecture in English Syntax, and I was really bored. But next to me was a friend of mine, and he was reading a novel, instead of listening to the lecture. This was nothing strange, but what was strange was that he was red in the face from trying not to burst out laughing. I asked him what the book was and he showed it to me. It was Good Omens.
Like an addict that I am, I wanted to see what it was all about, so I started reading it. After the first few lines I liked the book, after a page and a half, I was in tears. One of the deciding sentences was about the demon who is described as “An Angel who did not so much Fall as Saunter Vaguely Downwards.”
I wrote the title and the authors down in my class notes, returned the book to my friend and left the lecture hall. I sat on the tram, went to the book store and bought the book. I started reading it on the way home, and finished it that week.
I was in love. The humour was so dark and yet so realistic at times. The characters were human in the same way we are, but at the same otherworldly (angles, demons, Antichrist, the four horsemen…) As soon as I finished that book I got another one, this time just by Terry – Mort. And again the same thing happened. I couldn’t stop reading it. And the jokes in that one – one of a kind. But with all those jokes, it delivers a serious depiction of the human condition.
“It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people.”
But, you might ask yourself, why is she writing about Terry now? Well, I have just finished watching the BBC documentary “Terry Pratchett Back in Black” and I was reminded of those first books, of hearing about his death and about all the hours of enjoyment I’ve had over the years reading his books.
You might hear people say, well, he’s just a fantasy writer, or that he is just a parody writer who who makes simple jokes. To both those types of people I have just one thing to say – you couldn’t be more wrong.
He is a life-writer. He talks about the greatest of topics and tries to deliver, if not a solution, than at least an option to facing the issue. He presents the good and the bad in people, in societies. He unmasks our prejudices and out discrimination through characters that are so far removed from us that our sensitive selves are not offended. He reveals the goodness in ordinary men and women. He respects the rule of law but also he shows us that laws are there for the benefit of the people and not the other way around. He show us our own beliefs and questions them.
And he does all that with such a mastery of language and idiomatic expressions that is at times mind-boggling. His plays on words could be taught at school. And jokes crop up when you least expect them.
“Either you can be charged with Aiding and Abetting or … with an axe.”
People in the documentary were asked what their favourite novel was, since I haven’t read them all, I chose to say what my favourite characters are: Carrot (6ft something man adopted by dwarves who doesn’t believe he is adopted), Granny Weatherwax (unable to explain her, you just have to read about her understand) and Lord Vetinari (ruler of a Machiavellian mind and methods, with a unique sense of dead-pan humor. (but this is almost a lie, since there are sooooooo many more interesting and funny characters)
But look at Vetinari:
“If per capita was a problem, decapita could be arranged”
“I shall deal with the matter momentarily,” he said. It was a good word. It always made people hesitate. They were never quite sure whether he meant he’d deal with it now, or just deal with it briefly. And no-one ever dared ask.
He didn’t administer a reign of terror, just the occasional light shower.
Since that first book I have visited Discworld many times, but I am pacing myself, like the crime author Val McDermid said, I don’t want it to end.
P.S. Terry also wrote about cats
“Humans, eh? Think they’re lords of creation. Not like us cats. We know we are. Ever seen a cat feed a human? Case proven.”