Influences, Part 1 of Many: Terry Pratchett

As a writer, I sorta have to acknowledge my influences.  There are many, and I wouldn’t be who I am today as a writer if it weren’t for them.  So, to assign credit/blame where it’s due, this will be the first of several posts outlining my influences and what they’ve done for me.  Today, it’s the work of Terry Pratchett!

Sir Terry Pratchett is, of course, the beloved author of the Discworld series, 40-odd books set in a world where magic is real and the world is a flat disc sitting on the back of four elephants that in turn stand on the back of a giant space turtle, the Great A’Tuin.

It’s still hard for me to talk about Sir Terry, who passed away last year from complications related to a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer’s.  He

The Discworld, Art by Paul Kidby
Art by Paul Kidby, the definitive Discworld artist.

wrote right up until the end, crafting books with speech-to-text software when his brain betrayed him and forgot how to read and write.  But his sense of humor, his love for the absurdity in the world, was still as strong as ever.  So was his sense of anger.  Neil Gaiman, his friend and writing partner for the novel Good Omens (one of my absolute favorite books of all time, and the novel that introduced me to both Pratchett and Gaiman), described Sir Terry as a man driven by a deep sense of anger with the injustice of the world.  Whatever else Pratchett wanted, he wanted justice to be done and for good to win in the end.  It may not be a clean win – in many of the Discworld books, the “good guys” win, but with compromises and conditions.  Pratchett was, behind the jokes and the satire and the fantasy tropes that he constantly subverted, a bit of a realist about human nature.  Folks aren’t usually good or evil, right or wrong.  There are gray areas, and you have to acknowledge them if you want your writing to have any real depth to it.

I guess the biggest thing I learned from reading Terry Pratchett’s novels was that you can tell a ridiculous story, one with fantasy elements or bizarre sci-fi elements, and it can be funny and affecting and emotional and real in a way that non-genre fiction often can’t be.

Favorite Terry Pratchett Novels:

1. Small Gods.  Sir Terry’s beautiful examination of the value of faith and belief, not just in some higher power, but in yourself.

2. Thief of Time.  The Monks of History are tasked with making sure effect follows cause, that past comes before present, but the building of a mysterious clock in Ankh Morpork (where everything big always happens) and the weird powers of a thief-turned-novice-monk might not mean the end of the world, just the end of Time itself.

3. Witches Abroad.  The Witches novels are my favorites, but that’s because I’m partial to Granny Weatherwax and her pragmatic approach to magic (or what she calls “headology”).  This isn’t the first Witches novel, but it’s probably the best, and it carries the idea of the power of stories and narrative causality to a perfect conclusion.  Someone is using stories to get their way, and it’s up to the Witches to stop them.  Assuming some jerk doesn’t drop a house on their heads first.

4. Reaper Man.  Death takes a holiday as Bill Door, works on a farm, and sorta ends up saving the universe from the Auditors.

5. Guards!  Guards!  The first of the Commander Vimes novels.  Ankh Morpork’s Night Watch is where the worst of the worst end up, the folks too lazy, dumb, or not-self-aware who can’t hack it in the daylight.  But when a dragon mysteriously starts appearing around the city and causing random havoc, it’s up to Vimes and his small team of nearly-useless fellows to solve the case and save the day.

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