susan-sto-helit

It’s amazing how differently I interpret Susan in “Soul Music” now as opposed to my first reading.

I first read “Soul Music” when I was 16, the same age as Susan, and thought she was confident, forthright, and cool. I wanted to be just like her.

Rereading at 26 (I’ve reread it multiple times, but I’m really focusing on characters this time around) I’m getting a very different interpretation. While I still love her, she comes off as insecure and often arrogant. But even more than that, she comes off as a lonely teenager trying to mask deep grief. How did I miss that when I was young?

There’s a part in the book where she creates an outfit to wear while being DEATH. She describes it as black with just enough lace and bodice to make it intriguing without being tacky. When Ridcully sees her a few pages later, he describes her as “one of those girls who likes to look consumptive.” As an adult I tend to see her from Ridcully’s point of view.

I think this is part of what makes Terry Pratchett such an amazing writer. He was able to write an awkward teen so that other teens could relate with her, while adults who have the insight of years and experiences behind them, can sympathize with her. It would be so easy for Susan to come off as petulant or pitiable. Instead, she’s a complex and fully realized individual struggling with her identity and place in the world.

And not only is she written so beautifully in “Soul Music” but her character development to the Susan we get in “Thief of Time” is beyond perfect. Her development from capable but awkward teen to mature adult is so believable and so consistent. Her rough edges are smoothed out. She learns to accept her flaws. She takes her natural talents and does miraculous things with them. She’s still very much the same person, but a matured and competent version of herself. It’s almost like the reader gets to grow up with her.

Nobody writes characters like Pterry.

One of my favourite things about Discworld women is the variety of approaches to sex/romance they represent and the general idea that all of them are okay.

There are of course your typical (only better) monogamous het romances like with Sybil, Adora, Magrat, Angua etc.

But there are also, let’s say, Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg. The former is definitely aro/ace (Susan Sto Helit is arguably too) while the latter just enjoys sex. And it’s okay, they both are. Flashback with young Esme and Ridcully is kinda very cute, but Esme decided against marriage and we are given to understand she is happy with her life (as far as Esme can be happy). There’s no reason to feel pity for her or some shit like that. And there are lots of jokes about Nanny Ogg’s sex life, but none of them comes across as slut-shaming, no one really judges her or thinks she is somehow worth less as a person because she had active and non-monogamous sex life.

And then there are these not quite romances like with Tiffany and Roland or Susan and Imp, which are far more realistic than the notion of finding your true love in the first person that happens to catch your attention, and it’s okay too: you may fancy someone, you can spend some time together, but sometimes that’s all.

In the world mostly dominated by the narrative of “they’ve met, fell in love and lived happily ever after” and women being reduced to their love lives all of this is so refreshing and important.

She’d become a governess. It was one of the few jobs a known lady could do.
And she’d taken to it well. She’d sworn that if she did indeed ever find
herself dancing on rooftops with chimney sweeps she’d beat herself to death with her own umbrella.
— 

Terry Pratchett,

Hogfather