""All right," said Susan. "I'm not stupid. You're saying humans need... fantasies to make life bearable."
REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.
"Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little--"
YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.
"So we can believe the big ones?"
YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.
"They're not the same at all!"
YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET -- Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME... SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.
"Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what's the point--"
MY POINT EXACTLY."
- Terry Pratchett, Hogfather
On March 12th, 2015 Sir Terry Pratchett died. For those of you who don’t know of him, he was the author of over 70 books. He was labeled primarily as a fantasy writer that used a heavy dose of humor. He died at the age of 66 from a rare form of early onset Alzheimer’s. He was an inspiration to millions and he was the one who made me want to start writing.
The work that he is best known for is his Discworld series. It’s a series of over 40 books set in a world where magic governs the laws of physics, where dwarves and trolls fight each other over imagined slights from centuries earlier. It’s a world where Death speaks in ALL CAPS and rides a pale horse (named Binky). Most notably it is a world that is flat and shaped like a disk that rests on the backs of four elephants that stand on the back of a giant turtle named Great A’Tuin.
The truly remarkable thing about the Discworld is that despite all of the qualities that tend to scare off anyone not interested in fantasy (i.e. not realistic enough, not interested in reading about werewolves and dragons, etc.), he has somehow made this world of his just as poignant and just as real as the world we live in.
The Discworld isn't a farce existing only to allow readers a place to waste time in a world wholly unlike our own. It’s a mirror held up to the face of our world. While it may be a funhouse mirror, that doesn’t mean that the images it shows us are any less true. It accentuates the flaws in us as human beings and brings in to focus the warts on the soul of humanity that we may have otherwise overlooked.
Terry Pratchett took the worst of our world and showed it to us. He took those things that frighten us, such as racism, war, death, football (soccer), and our desperate greed for power, and he made us laugh at them.
He proved to us that our flaws shouldn't be hidden and covered up. He told us in no uncertain terms that the only way we can better ourselves and the world around us is to acknowledge our horrors, our blemishes, and our evils. Acknowledge them and face them together, armed with that which is the best in each of us; our love, our courage, and our humor (also, a half-brick in a sock can come in handy).
Terry Pratchett had the wisest sense of humor that I have ever witnessed. He laughed at the world, at life, and most of all at himself. His jokes were weapons to him; they’re how he dealt with the pain that he perceived in the world. He taught me that funny and serious are not opposites. He showed me that just because something is painful or scary, just because it’s a problem that needs solving, doesn't mean that it can’t be laughed at.
He did his best to show the world that it is okay to laugh at any time in life, and that at the hardest of times it’s not only okay, but perhaps necessary. His humor was a flamethrower that he used to light up the darkness.
Still, he continued to be widely pigeonholed as a fantasy writer, and thus ignored by too many around the world. I know it’s strange to say that one of the most prolific and awarded writers of our time was largely ignored, but in many ways it’s true. The fact that his books were filled with dragons and “Wizzard(s)” sidelined him in the minds of many readers who just aren't in to fantasy (Game of Thrones being the exception). Likewise many critics gave credit for his success to his wit so much more so than his wisdom and thus his lessons didn't reach quite as many as perhaps they should have.
Many people who have encountered him, or who have only read his work in passing have portrayed him later as a jovial, lighthearted man that viewed the world through a haze of laughter. Personally I don’t believe that to be the case. I think Sir Terry saw the world for what it is; a ball of well-organized chaos.
He witnessed the pain and the troubles of the world, everything from religious persecution to slavery and the dehumanization of others. He did his best to bring these troubles to light, to force those not currently faced with them to become so. He did all of this while providing us, his audience, with armor forged of his own sense of humor, so that we may feel the sting of the chaos of life, but we could protect ourselves all the same.
I don’t believe that he viewed the world around him through his humor; I think he allowed the pain in the world to hurt him. He met the evils in the human soul and he invited them in for tea so that he could get to know them better. He did it so that he could put them on display for the rest of the world to laugh at.
He wasn’t a jovial man, he was passionate, he was furious, and he was zealous in his love for humanity. He was a very funny man, with a wonderful sense of humor, but just like Robin Williams, his humor was not his greatest strength; his passion for life and his vehement search for wisdom were more vital to his persona than anything. They were simply overshadowed in the eyes of many by the mountain of his wit and charm.
The passion that Terry had for life filled his books and bled in to my mind through his words and the pages of Discworld. I’ve never learned so much from one person as I have from him. He inspired me to face life and to study it. He encouraged me to learn what I could of the pain in the world and to find a way to laugh at it. He taught me that it’s okay to let the darkness inside and to shake hands with humanity’s demons. He then taught me that my greatest weapons against those very same monsters are my love, and my humor, and that through those I could find the courage to continue to face that darkness.
Perhaps the most important lesson that Sir Terry taught me was that of the power of words. In the Discworld, words can have actual power (in the magical sense), but the most powerful words are those that come from the heart. He showed me that no words (even those used in a spell) have nearly the same level of power as the words spoken from the soul or those written with passion and love.
It was this lesson that had the greatest impact on me. The idea that a few words could change the world has been the driving force behind my desire to write. He inspired me to feel everything that I can in the world and to put it down in words so that I can make some sense of it all.
Some people have already written about him since his death, in posts and articles much like this one, calling him a hero for the lessons he taught us all. However, I think he would agree with me when I say that he was many things; an inspiration, a wise-man, a jester, a teacher, and an enthusiast of life, but he was no hero. He was a man, a human being. He had his flaws as we all do, and he knew it better than most of us.
To call someone a hero dehumanizes them, it puts them above the rest of us and accentuates their strengths while diminishing their blemishes. I don’t believe he would want that. He never saw himself like that, he was just a person, doing what he believed needed to be done, and doing it to the best of his ability. To take away his faults seems to be unfair to a man who so passionately believed in equality for all (except mimes).
Instead, I’ll end this tribute by reiterating that he was an inspiration to me. He taught me much about this world and about life, but most of all he ignited within me a burning passion for the written word. For that and for every other lesson he taught me, as well as for every laugh and every tear he moved me to, I will forever be grateful. I will do my best to honor his memory by allowing my passion to shine through the words that I write every day.
"No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away..." - Terry Pratchett, Reaper Man