Yesterday I wrote about the death of Sir Terry Pratchett. Today I want to pay tribute to him.
It’s possible that I only write because of him. Growing up I always told stories but I had no ambition to be a writer. I drew a lot and I wanted to be an artist but there was an underlying frustration. I think I knew that I wanted to tell stories but that visual art wasn’t working for me. I could always do a better job with words than with pictures but the words weren’t good enough either.
Whenever I tried to write everything came out lumpen. The stories were clunky and obvious. They were the worst kind of wish-fulfillment, self-insert, Mary-Sue fantasies. I stopped writing. I went to Art School and that did not work out well. It turns out that if you have serious un-treated depression then Art School is probably a bad choice. But while I was at Art School someone lent me a copy of Colour of Magic. I was instantly hooked.
A lot of people, many of them fans, will tell you that Colour of Magic isn’t great, that it doesn’t represent what the Discworld stories became and that it might not be the best place to start. All I can say is that it worked for me. It’s not as deep as the later books, it’s not as polished, and Terry himself said that it was written before he discovered the joy of plot. All that is true but it’s still hilarious. It’s a farce and a satire and there was something in it that called to me.
That something became stronger in the later books and I found it, or something like it, in the works of Ken Hite and Warren Ellis. It was, to me at least, a different way to tell a story. It was a way to take something of the real world and then twist it ,and tweak it, and change it, and then stick it in the story. It was a road map of how to steal like an artist. It was a way to make a fantasy a vicious satire of the real world and still have it be a fully formed story with rounded characters set in a world that worked.
I’m not sure if I’ve learned more from Sir Terry or from his characters but I know I am a better person for both. From Terry I learned that when building a fantasy city first you must ask how the water gets in and how the sewage gets out. I learned that you write one word at a time, and you keep going till it’s done, and sometimes you have to throw out the entire first draft and start again and that’s ok. I had already learned from Douglas Adams that funny and deep could exist together but Sir Terry’s work reinforced that.
From Hwel, the playwright in Lords and Ladies, I learned that what every artist really and truly wants is to get paid. From Granny Wetherwax and Nanny Ogg I learned how to deserve and expect respect and I learned that if someone calls me a witch or a bitch I can wear it as a badge of pride. From Magrat Garlick and Agnes Nitt I learned that I might not always feel like Granny or Nanny but that’s ok and people can’t always tell. From Moist Von Lipwig I learned that sometimes what people really need is for you to have faith in them, or at least say you do. From Rincewind I learned that fear can be a superpower. From Angua I learned that self-control can be one too. From Sam Vimes I learned that it’s always better to light a flamethrower than to curse the darkness.
I suppose the greatest lesson I’ve learned both from Sir Terry and his characters is that it’s ok to be angry as long as you don’t stop at angry. Anger can be a dynamo that drives you to be useful and creative but if you don’t use it for something then the anger will end up using you.