This is just a reminder that when Sir Terry Pratchett was knighted, he dug up his own iron ore, learned to smelt, smelted it, added meteorite iron, learned to forge, and forged himself a starmetal sword. As you do.
And then he put it away somewhere safe so he wouldn’t violate any UK knife laws.
I’ve been on a Discworld re-read for about a year now, and it just struck me how Pterry gets progressively angrier and less subtle about it throughout the series.
Like, we start out nice and easy with Rincewind who’s on some wacky adventures and ha ha ha oh golly that Twoflower sure is silly and the Luggage is epic, where can I get one. Meanwhile Rincewind just wants to live out his boring days as a boring Librarian but is dragged along against his will by an annoying little tourist guy and honestly? Fuck this.
We get the first view of Sam Vimes, and he’s just a drunken beaten down sod who wants to spend his last days as a copper in some dive but oh fuck now he has to fight a dragon and honestly? Fuck this.
The first time we see Granny Weatherwax, she’s just a cranky old woman who has never set foot outside her village but oh fuck now she has to guide this weird girl who should be a witch but is apparently a wizard all the way down to Ankh Morpork and honestly? Fuck this.
Like, these books deal with grumpy, cranky people. But mostly, the early books are a lot of fun. Sure, they have messages about good and evil and the weirdness of the world, and they’re good messages too, but mostly they are just wacky romps through a world that’s just different enough that we can have a good laugh about it without taking things too much to heart.
But then you get to Small Gods, in which organized religion is eviscerated so thorouhgly that if it was human, even the Quisition would say it’s gone a bit too far while at the same time not condemning people having faith which is kind of an important distinction.
You get to Men at Arms and I encourage everybody with an opinion on the Second Amendment to read that one.
You get to Jingo, Monstrous Regiment, Going Postal (featuring an evil CEO who is squeezing his own company dry to get to every last penny, not caring one lick about his product or his workers or his customers or anything else and who, coincidentally, works out of Tump Tower. I’m not making this up).
And just when you think, whew, this is getting a bit much but hey, look, he wrote YA as well! And it’s about this cute little girl who wants to be a witch and has help from a lot of rowdy blue little men, this will be fun! A bit of a break from all the anger!
The Tiffany Aching books are the angriest of all. But you know what the great thing is?
The great thing is that Pterry’s anger is the kind of fury that makes you want to get up and do something about it. It upsets you, sure. But it also says It’s up to you to change all of this. And you can change all of this, and even if you can’t. Do it anyway. Because magicians have calculated that million-to-one chances crop up nine times out of ten.
It’s the kind of anger that gives you purpose, and it gives you hope. And that concludes my essay about why the Discworld series is so gloriously cathartic to read when it seems like all the world is going to shit.
So go. Read them, get angry and then get up and fight. Fight for truth. Justice. Freedom. Reasonably priced love and, most importantly, a hard-boiled egg.
My miniature Terry Pratchett Discworld novel library!
Made from an Altoids tin, Popsicle sticks, cardstock, copy paper, and a whole lot of patience. All of the miniature books open and have real printed pages you can leaf through. And the insidevof the lid has a sort-of-3D scene of the UU Library.
Contains the novels from The Color of Magic, all the way through Raising Steam
‘Because she likes people,’ said the witch, striding ahead. 'She cares about 'em. Even the stupid, mean, drooling ones, the mothers with the runny babies and no sense, the feckless and the silly and the fools who treat her like some kind of a servant. Now THAT’S what I call magic–seein’ all that, dealin’ with all that, and still goin’ on. It’s sittin’ up all night with some poor old man who’s leavin’ the world, taking away such pain as you can, comfortin’ their terror, seein’ 'em safely on their way…and then cleanin’ 'em up, layin’ 'em out, making 'em neat for the funeral, and helpin’ the weeping widow strip the bed and wash the sheets–which is, let me tell you, no errand for the fainthearted–and stayin’ up the next night to watch over the coffin before the funeral, and then going home and sitting down for five minutes before some shouting angry man comes bangin’ on your door 'cuz his wife’s havin’ difficulty givin’ birth to their first child and the midwife’s at her wits’ end and then getting up and fetching your bag and going out again…. We all do that, in our own way, and she does it better'n me, if I was to put my hand on my heart. THAT is the root and heart and soul and center of witchcraft, that is. The soul and center!' Mistress Weatherwax smacked her fist into her hand hammering out her words. 'The…soul…and…CENTER!’
Echoes came back from the trees in the sudden silence. Even the grasshoppers by the side of the track had stopped sizzling.
'And Mrs Earwig,’ said Mistress Weatherwax, her voice sinking to a growl, 'Mrs. Earwig tells her girls it’s about cosmic balances and stars and circles and colors and wands and…and toys, nothing but TOYS!' She sniffed. 'Oh, I daresay they’re all very well as decoration, somethin’ nice to look at while you’re workin’, somethin’ for show, but the start and finish, THE START AND FINISH, is helpin’ people when life is on the edge. Even people you don’t like. Stars is easy, people is hard.’
She stopped talking. It was several seconds before birds began to sing again.
'Anyway, that’s what I think,’ she added in the tones of someone who suspects that she might have gone just a bit further than she meant to.
In The Wee Free Men, the village has a tradition of burying a shepherd with a piece of wool on his shroud, so that the recording angel will excuse him all those times during lambing when he failed to attend church — because a good shepherd should know that the sheep come first. I didn’t make that up. They used to do that in a village two miles from where I live. What I particularly liked about it was the implicit loyalist arrangement with God. Americans, I think, sometimes get puzzled by people in Ireland who call themselves loyalists yet would apparently up arms against the forces of the crown. But a loyalist arrangement is a dynamic accord. It doesn’t mean we will be blindly loyal to you. It means we will be loyal to you if you are loyal to us. If you act the way we think a king should act, you can be our king. And it seemed to me that these humble people of the village, putting their little piece of wool on the shroud, were saying, “If you are the God we think you are, you will understand. And if you are not the God we think you are, to Hell with you.” So much of Discworld has come from odd serendipitous discoveries like that.
Terry Pratchett, “Straight from the Heart, via the Groin” (collected in A Slip of the Keyboard)
There is a fury to Terry Pratchett’s writing: it’s the fury that was the engine that powered Discworld. It’s also the anger at the headmaster who would decide that six-year-old Terry Pratchett would never be smart enough for the 11-plus; anger at pompous critics, and at those who think serious is the opposite of funny; anger at his early American publishers who could not bring his books out successfully.
The anger is always there, an engine that drives. By the time Terry learned he had a rare, early onset form of Alzheimer’s, the targets of his fury changed: he was angry with his brain and his genetics and, more than these, furious at a country that would not permit him (or others in a similarly intolerable situation) to choose the manner and the time of their passing.
And that anger, it seems to me, is about Terry’s underlying sense of what is fair and what is not. It is that sense of fairness that underlies Terry’s work and his writing, and it’s what drove him from school to journalism to the press office of the SouthWestern Electricity Board to the position of being one of the best-loved and bestselling writers in the world.
I’m having a re-read of Pratchett books, because it’s been too long. About a decade and a half too long, actually.
And so, Men At Arms…
If you recall, the issue is that ‘dwarves don’t really have genders’. Except it’s more like ‘you can be any gender you like as long as it’s male’ and ‘you can do everything the men do as long as you only do what the men do’.
Which, you know, is quite a way to put the Problem with Gender.
So Cheery the dwarf goes to the city, with her male pronouns because all dwarves are men, and is encouraged to embrace her femininity by a coworker who isn’t fooled by the beard. By the way, she helps Cheery be as feminine as she likes without insisting she must shave. Or take off the helmet. They’re important, because she’s a dwarf, yes. Intersectionality explained via fictional humanoid species, hello.
The support is gentle and matter-of-factly. Paraphrasing: ‘when one finally decides to shout out to the world about who they really are, it’s comforting to know they can do it in a whisper’
Because yes thank fuck for allies who just say ‘Okay. How do I help?’ and don’t demand that you prove yourself dramatically.
So I am reading Cheery’s ‘coming out’ as something rather more relevant right now, and very much appreciative of Pterry’s ability to write it that way.
Thing is, I wouldn’t put it past him, but I can’t actually say if he had any trans or similar real life thing in mind when he wrote this. It seems like you could write it TODAY and have it considered a revelation of progressive metaphor.
But it’s even better this way? Because it doesn’t matter, he’s just writing from the idea that Cheery is due respect and acceptance and that’s it. That’s literally all it is.
He’s writing, as always, that a person deserves respect. And people who can’t understand that may, to paraphrase again, ‘have a problem with their heads. they may have them stuck up their bums.’
anyone shocked that Terry Pratchett would have his will explicitly state that his unfinished works and computer were to be run over by a steamroller, have not been paying attention.
this is a man, who when he found a meteorite on his property, forged a sword from that meteorite so he could have a star sword. because let’s face it, that’s the coolest shit ever.
also, see quote:
“I save about twenty drafts — that’s ten meg of disc space — and the last one contains all the final alterations. Once it has been printed out and received by the publishers, there’s a cry here of ‘Tough shit, literary researchers of the future, try getting a proper job!’ and the rest are wiped.“
Neil Gaiman and Rob Wilkins in conversation about Good Omens
“Douglas is convinced that he can do it without killing anyone.” “I wouldn’t say that he’s convinced, but he’s hopeful.” “Well, that’s admirable in any director.” “And if we lose David Tennant driving a burning Bentley, I think, what a way to go.”
‘The thing about witchcraft,’ said Mistress Weatherwax, 'is that it’s not like school at all. First you get the test, and then afterwards you spend years findin’ out how you passed it. It’s a bit like life in that respect.’