One of my few actual heroes died today.
I say “hero”. It’s a funny word. I don’t mean a great warrior or protector. I mean someone I could, and did, look up to and learn from. One of the short list of People Who I Really, Really, Really Would Like To Meet And Get To Spend Some Time With. But I won’t.
I’m not sure what age I was when I read my first Terry Pratchett novel, but I was probably somewhere around 8 or 10. I don’t remember which book it was, but it was definitely of the Discworld. Maybe it was The Colour of Magic. (I do remember being delighted by that book’s hydrophobes.) I’ve been reading, and loving, his books ever since. I was an insatiable reader from younger than that, but into my teens and beyond, it was Pratchett I came back to again and again. And again.
I don’t know how many times I’ve read Guards! Guards!, but it’s definitely approaching the mid-double digits. I rate Night Watch and I Shall Wear Midnight as among the very best novels I have read. I remember the first time I read Lords and Ladies, but even more I remember reading it again a few years later when I’d discovered A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I remember it changing how I understood stories.
Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder. Elves are marvelous. They cause marvels. Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies. Elves are glamorous. They project glamour. Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment. Elves are terrific. They beget terror.
The thing about words is that meanings can twist just like a snake, and if you want to find snakes look for them behind words that have changed their meaning. No one ever said elves are nice.
Elves are bad.
(Lords and Ladies)
Terry Pratchett has been described again and again today in the media as a “fantasy author”. That runs the risk of glossing over how he cut to the heart of this life and displayed its beauty and its ridiculousness, without fear but with tremendous affection.
Reading Sir Terry was how I learned what books and words could say and do. It was how I learned just how much fun they could be. It was how I learned the joy and the necessity of looking at the world from not quite head-on. And these are things I value above any other learning I have.
So much I owe to him and his work, this dashingly be-hatted fellow I never got to meet. Thanks, Pterry.