No one argues the fact that the loss of Terry Pratchett was a tragedy. The televised version of “Good Omens” brought a new wave of readers to his books, and there are millions like me who have never left the Discworld, coming back again and again to walk the streets of Ankh Morpork with Vimes and Carrot, or run across the Chalk with Tiffany Aching, or run away from everything with Rincewind the wizzard*.
Terry’s words have appeared on my social media timeline again and again in the past few years. People pick the Vimes “boots theory” of socio-economic unfairness, or Vimes’ musings on how the police should be the servants of the law, not the government. They pick Granny Weatherwax’s words on Headology, or her disections of psychology.
One of my favourite quotes is this exchange between Miss Tick, the Witch Finder, and Tiffany Aching:
Miss Tick sniffed. ‘You could say this advice is priceless,’ she said. ‘Are you listening?’
‘Yes,’ said Tiffany.
‘Good. Now … if you trust in yourself …’
‘… and believe in your dreams …’
‘… and follow your star …’ Miss Tick went on.
‘… you’ll still get beaten by people who spent THEIR time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy.
But to me, Terry’s works seem even more prescient now, or at least written by someone who really saw people as they are. We’ve all seen people saying they finally understand the trope in zombie movies where people who have been bitten conceal the bite, putting their friends and families at risk. We’ve watched the people marching for their “right” to become infected, to pass that infection along to the vulnerable.
Last night I started re-reading “The Bromeliad”, Terry’s trilogy about the Nomes. It has a lot to say about people as a group, and how good ideas can be hard to get into heads that are, apparently, completely empty. It also shows that the best leaders are the ones who don’t want to be leaders, but want to make life better for others. I feel that too many of the people at the top of our political trees are the ones who wanted to be important, wanted power, wanted influence, and don’t care what they have to do to get it.
Of course, the Nomes don’t have social media. They listen to the people in charge, and then they argue amongst themselves about it, but they don’t have these outlets constantly promoting voices that may or may not have good standing. Outlets that are, let’s not forget, built and run by individuals and companies that are aiming to make money, regardless of what they said when they set up the app,or site, or whatever. (Most of these social media sites we cling to start with a fanfare about connection, or sharing, or communicating, but they all come down to money in the end. If you’re not paying for it, you’re the product being sold. Because, yes, we gave them our email address, our phone number, our likes and preferences, and not one of us read the EULA before we clicked the “accept” button. We gave them permission, and we don’t know what for.)
So, as I did in my lonely year in Portsmouth, sharing a two-bedroom flat with a man whose entire diet consisted of Frosties, I have retreated to the comforting world of the Nomes. Where life is hard, and difficult, and getting anything done requires explanation, repetition and shouting. But they do it. They go from Outside to the safety of The Store, then almost immediately have to persuade everyone to leave The Store, even though most of them don’t believe there’s anywhere else to go. They have to figure out how to take enough with them to survive, and to do that they have to persuade the others that they are capable of doing it.
Terry saw the world very clearly, and he put so much of what he saw into his books so we could see it the same way. I’m sure he’d be horrified by the behavior on display today, and I would dearly love to see what he would say in response. We can’t claim things on his behalf, of course, but we can read what he wrote and allow that to influence how we behave, in this world that’s sometimes more unbelievable than one carried on the back of a giant turtle.
*Rincewind’s spelling is as good as his…er…spelling?
Sir Terry is the finest author I have ever read. Everything I know about humanity, I got from the later Discworld novels. I find it hard to convert people because as a completist I always want people to start with The Colour of Magic, but in honesty I found him a straight fantasy writer until about Guards! Guards!, at which point I saw him as more of a social commentator. I haven’t found another author that comes close.