Thursday, March 12, 2015

On the Death of Sir Terry Pratchett

Sir Terry Pratchett, an English fantasy writer of humorous and gently sarcastic works,  has died at the age of sixty-six.  He is the creator of Discworld, an imaginary planet which is a flat disc standing on the shoulders of four giant elephants which in their turn stand on the shell of an even more giant turtle.

The turtle is swimming through space towards an unknown destination, and with the turtle swim all creatures Pratchett has peopled his world with: gnomes, trolls, dwarfs, vampires, werewolves,  humans of various types, from powerful witches to funny wizards, melancholy policemen and even a benevolent dictator whose degree is in assassination studies.

While those creatures are carried on to nobody-knows-where, they live their lives, love, hate, steal, help, perform magic, fight wars, pollute their environment, educate their children and practice politics.

In short, they are very much like us here on earth, except for not being like us at all.  Even their politics has a familiar tone:  their gods bicker with each other and play dice games with the creatures, cultures clash, prejudices flare up and are sometimes resolved, wars begin for no good reason at all and are waged ineffectively and stupidly, and at the end of every life there is Death, an anthropomorphized figure with the dark cowl, the skull head and the scythe.

Pratchett's Death wishes to be human.  In one of the books he temporarily adopts a human son and ultimately ends up with a half-human granddaughter (one of my favorite figures in the books).  Death likes a good strong curry (does it just go through his ribcage?) and has strong opinions about the most humane way of harvesting his people.

Death is ultimately just.  That aspect of his personality can be seen in the battles against the auditors of the universe, an odd (infinite?) group of identical creatures without hearts but with an extremely strong urge for tidiness,  order and proper hierarchies.

The creatures of the Discworld are anything but orderly, and so sometimes face the wrath of the auditors who would prefer a silent and quiet planet.  Death refuses to be cowed by the auditors.  He takes the part of his people, his harvest, helped by various individuals of the planet and also the secret weapon which is chocolate.

You may see why I love Pratchett's books.  They have everything:  Political jokes, parables to our world's history and myths, and chocolate.  They even have empathy, compassion and realistic female characters, drawn with skill and often equipped with power.

But mostly I love the books because they are based on a deep thirst for justice and fairness.  Neil Gaiman has written about the anger of Terry Pratchett, the kind of cold and glorious rage which can fuel writing about injustices. 

In one of Pratchett's books a character states: "There is no justice.  There is just us."  I read that as telling us what our role in the collective sense should be:  To create that missing justice and fairness, to make it, so to speak,  the unknown destination of the giant turtle carrying our Discworld.