Well, not an ode really. Just a blog post. A post to Terry Pratchett on his birthday.
For those of you who don’t know, famed British fantasy writer Terry Pratchett died two years ago, leaving behind a plethora of some of the best, funniest, most inspiring fantasy novels ever written – most significantly, the “Discworld” series.
I’ve mentioned Pratchett a few times on this blog, and that’s because he was a formative influence in developing my reading tastes and in understanding the interaction between politics and society.
My first introduction to the amazingness that is Terry Pratchett came in the form of the Discworld novel “Soul Music,” wherein Death’s (as in the Grim Reaper) granddaughter is forced to take on his duties while he contemplates the meaning of life, to the extent that he has one. As Susan Sto Helit takes up the Grim Reaper’s mantle, magical horse and skull rate included, she crosses path with a young musician who is meant to die in a stupid accident. As Susan struggles with the apparent unfairness of taking a young life in such a meaningless way, the man is saved…by music.
Then, he and his band invent Rock N’ Roll.
To say that “Soul Music” is a rolickin’ good time is an understatement. This book is gold from start to finish.
“There are millions of chords. There are millions of numbers. And everyone forgets the one that is a zero. But without the zero, numbers are just arithmetic. Without the empty chord, music is just noise.”
– Terry Pratchett, Soul Music
From there, I was hooked. At time of writing, I’ve read the bulk of the Discworld novels and a few of Pratchett’s other books. The beauty of Pratchett’s writing is that it’s not just about the laugh. Discworld is a parallel to the real world, in many ways a mirror of it – its countries based on our own, its civilizations and cultures mimicking ours. And with that comes all the good and all the evil people create: racism (or speciesism, if you want to get technical), sexism, xenophobia, insulation, tyranny, money (which is a special kind of evil when amassed in too large a chunk).
[T]here…are people who will follow any dragon, worship any god, follow any iniquity. All out of a kind of humdrum, everyday badness. Not the really high, creative loathsomeness of the great sinners, but a sort of mass-produced darkness of the soul. Sin…without a trace of originality. They accept evil not because they say yes, but because they don’t say no.
Lord Vetinari in Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett
Pratchett was the first person I ever heard ask: Who watches the watchmen? Who guards the guards?
These are two of the most important questions a society can ask itself. It goes to the core of what keeps societies intact: trust, in a system, in justice, in fairness. In the idea that if you work hard and stand up for what’s right, you will find those who will stand with you and you will prevail.
It’s an optimistic belief that too often fails to manifest here on Earth, but in the Discworld Pratchett’s acute sense of justice can prevail.
That’s what makes his books so great. They’re funny and deep, so you laugh as you marvel at the selfishness and deliberate stupidity of beings, human and otherwise.
So today’s the anniversary of his birth, so I wanted to take a moment to remember all the good times I’ve had on the Discworld, relive them, and say thank you, Terry Pratchett, for asking me the important questions, for making me laugh, and for inspiring me to want to write my own books.
And speaking of writing, I’ll leave you with some words of wisdom from the man himself:
In my experience, what every true artist wants, really wants, is to be paid.
-Glod the dwarf in Soul Music by Terry Pratchett
Ain’t that the truth?