Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Terry Pratchett

The trouble with heroes is that up close, they disappoint. It was simpler when we didn’t know them. Before the internet. Before message boards and reddit AMAs. There was an innocence to fandom that was too good to last, really. With every new quote, revelation and news report it eroded and heroes fell. Steve Jobs turned out to be a man who had refused to acknowledge his own daughter. Gandhi was a terrible father and a man with strange fetishes. Cliff Richard’s acting was the stuff nightmares were made of. Heroes failed. Heroes disappointed. Heroes crumbled until you stopped believing in heroes. Apparently, that was when you “grew up”.

When I picked out the colourful paperback so many years ago and bought it based on its admittedly strange and somewhat incomprehensible blurb, I wasn’t looking for heroes. Honest. I was looking for a good book, a diversion for a couple of days. What I got was not one, but two heroes, a whole universe to explore, and a cult to call my own. I forget how much the volume cost me, but it was cheap at any price.

My first hero lay within the pages of the book. "His Grace, His Excellency, The Duke of Ankh; Commander Sir Samuel Vimes”, as he hates to be known as, is the man I wish I was. An authority figure who is anti-authoritarian, a man of intelligence who is smart enough to know where his intelligence ends, and a self-proclaimed “bastard” who is anything but. He’s practically zen, if zen spoke softly (on occasion, most notably when the baby was in bed), and carried a big truncheon. That’s not an euphemism.

The other “hero”, I took slightly longer to discover. His name was Terry Pratchett. He had a beard as white as Santa, but a red sack could never hold the innumerable treasures Terry carried inside his black fedora. Magician? Pffft! Magicians pulled rabbits out of hats. Terry pulled out a cosmic, spacefaring turtle bearing four elephants and an entire world on its pockmarked shell.
I devoured Pratchett. I explored Discworld, and over the course of 40 books, got to know its nooks, crannies, mountains, rivers, cities and villages better than I knew the way to my own kitchen. And believe you me, I knew the way to my own kitchen. Even now, when i close my eyes, I see the sludgy waters of the River Ankh, more solid than liquid, the only body of flowing water that supports its own fauna. I see the Ramtop mountains as they disappear into the clouds, and I know of the gods who live there. Not pretend, make-believe gods like in another, more spherical planet far away, but real gods who play with lives of men and women  (and trolls, and dwarfs and warewolves, and vampires, and golems. Well, not really golems, because golems are fireproof and thus, immune to smiting). I see the kingdom bathed in the greenish-yellow-purple hue of octarine, the most magical colour of the spectrum. And of course, I see the gushing waters of the Rimworld oceans spilling into the vastness of space, where they are magically transported back, ensuring the cycle never ends.

Terry Pratchett passed away in March. It’s taken me this long to write about it, because honestly, it still feels unreal. Strange that I won’t be reading a new Discworld novel every year like clockwork. It’s hard to accept that, because as heroes go, Terry was untouchable. I’d read up on him, preparing myself for the inevitable crash. Some skeleton in the closet that was the counterpoint to his genius. Some comment that proved his bigotry. There were none. To the end, he was the admirable, outspoken, acerbic, slightly cranky and whip-smart man I knew him to be. He was my hero, the only one I had in an adulthood teeming with cynicism and fallen angels, and suddenly, he’s gone.

Death had been coming to Terry for some time now, ever since his Alzheimer's was discovered in 2007. But then again, Death was everywhere in Terry’s rip-roaringly funny world. He  was more than a motif - he was its most prolific player; the ONLY character, in fact, to feature in every single Discworld novel. As Terry put it, he wasn’t afraid of Death because, as the man who made Death famous, Death OWED him. So when Terry took his hand and disappeared across the black desert, far, far into the horizon under the starless sky, as devastating as it was for me, as heartbreaking as it was, I could not be angry. I cannot be angry. All I can do is sit at my keyboard, flex my strained fingers and tap tap tap type away, creating teeny tiny sparks of octarine magic, in the glow of Terry’s roaring bonfire.