I remember being an awkward high school student with no ability to engage with the world around myself on a meaningful level. It was problematic to say the least- I had more issues than the New York Times on one hand, and a flying barrel of depression on the other. Anyone whose ever been there knows, breaking that particular cycle (and dodging a flying barrel) requires a bit more than a night out on the town. It was going to require magic to fix it, possibly an Unseen University of crazy wizards with no common sense and a sizable dinner. Or maybe I just needed a book about such wizards? As much as I’d like serendipity to kick fate in the balls right about now, the wizards weren’t the ones I started with.
I found my first Terry Pratchett novel in a Borders Books in a shopping center about a mile away from my house. It was about a mile away, and I’d bike there on the weekends, sometimes spending my entire day sitting among the bookshelves. I’d peer through imported manga and comics, occasionally looking through the fantasy aisle for something to pique my interest. I’d found mention of Terry Pratchett’s work on WWWF Grudge Match, one of the old “cool thing versus cool thing” sites from the early days of the internet, during the classic match up: Death vs. Taxes. Death was a major character in his novels? That sounded like something I’d like to read.
I started with “Guards! Guards!” and marveled as a group of hopeless members of Ankh-Morpork’s Night Watch fought to defend their city against an actual dragon. (Not a wee swamp dragon mind you, I mean the big, magical variety.) I laughed, I cried, and I laughed again, and before long I was buying a book every weekend from that old Borders. I found solace from my teenage angst, and life began anew. A fantasy world of shenanigans, mystery, drama, and comedy was opened up to me, and I discovered something incredible: fantasy wasn’t all dry-as-the-desert Tolkien! Fantasy could be funny as hell! And in all of Terry Pratchett’s plots I saw real world parallels. More than any other critic of the modern world, I paid closest attention to the one who used a fantasy world that existed on a gigantic disc, that rested on four elephants, which were all balanced on a giant flying space turtle, and somehow perfectly paralleled our modern problems and philosophies. Sir Terry Pratchett, Knight of England, did battle with the enemies of common sense in his stories by wielding the one weapon mightier than any sword- his pen.
If you want an example of a feminist author in action, read “Wyrd Sisters“, “Witches Abroad“, (any of his Witches of Lancre novels, really), or “Monstrous Regiment.” If you want an example of a fierce advocacy for open and honest press and writing, read “The Truth.” If you want a conversation about economics, read “Making Money.” But whatever you do, don’t let this author pass you by. I don’t refer to writers as being legendary very often, but I tell you now: he was Sir Terry Pratchett, Slayer of Dragons, Friend to Most Living Beings (Including Nobby Nobbs), and Defender of Sanity.
Terry Pratchett was, in many ways, my invisible mentor as a writer. I read so many of his novels again and again, and I found myself wondering: could I be like him, this wonderfully witty, whimsical writer that fired off salvos of explosive comedy like a battleship of discourse? I never did answer that question. My bike was stolen half-way through high school, and I never got another one. The old Borders closed down years ago, and I never found another great book shop. After yesterday, there will never be another Terry Pratchett novel. A piece of my old world is now gone, and it can never return. A legendary writer who clashed pens with the strongest voices of an age has passed on.
But there are other worlds that we make for ourselves, and heroes rise in the strangest places. Terry Pratchett’s legacy remains in our hearts and on our bookshelves.
I look at the rusty battleship of discourse I’ve put together for myself over the years, and I ask myself: can I write something like he did, and make the world laugh? I know for a fact now: I have to try. Maybe you will too? And somewhere along the lines, we’ll fight the same battle for levity and common sense that Terry Pratchett did, one day at a time. I’ll see you there.
Full Disclosure: Kung Fu Dave is a sentimental slob and a loose cannon, but a good cop! Or, you know, writer/editor. Something like that.