The value of rage: RIP Sir Terry Pratchett.


Publicity shot from ‘The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents”.

Morbid? Yes, it is. Bandwagon-jumping? Absolutely. The sort of thing PTerry himself would probably despise? I doubt it not. However there are people looking at this blog apparently in the expectation that I’ll have said something about such a momentous event in fantasy as the passing of Sir Terry Pratchett, and far be it from me to disappoint my future readers.

I’ve got a when-I-met-Pterry anecdote I’ll come to later, but the best article I’ve ever read about the man is this one, written by Neil Gaiman: “Do not underestimate this anger. This anger was the engine that powered Good Omens.”  It talks about Terry having a deep sense of justice, and anyone who’s read Pratchett can appreciate the near-perfect balance he struck between acute social awareness, blackest irony, and an infallible sense of petty, stupid humanity and all its attendant farce.

I can relate to that. In everyday life, bathos is my eternally faithful hellhound; I long ago accepted that I was doomed to be not Esme Weatherwax but Gytha Ogg. From Lords and Ladies, this is how Terry Pratchett made me feel understood:

“Fancy you turning up here,” said Nanny, weakly. The thing about Casanunda, she recalled, was that the harder you slapped him down the faster he bounced back, often in an unexpected direction.

“Our stars are entwined,” said Casanunda. “We’re fated for one another. I wants your body, Mrs. Ogg.”

“I’m still using it.”

And while she suspected, quite accurately, that this was an approach the world’s second greatest lover used on anything that appeared to be even vaguely female, Nanny Ogg had to admit that she was flattered. She’d had many admirers in her younger days, but time had left her with a body that could only be called comfortable and a face like Mr. Grape the Happy Raisin. Long-banked fires gave off a little smoke.

Besides, she’d rather liked Casanunda. Most men were oblique in their approach, whereas his direct attack was refreshing.

“It’d never work,” she said. “We’re basically incompatible. When I’m 5′ 4″ you’ll still only be 3′ 9″. Anyway, I’m old enough to be your mother.”

“You can’t be. My mother’s nearly 300, and she’s got a better beard than you.”

And of course that was another point. By dwarf standards, Nanny Ogg was hardly more than a teenager.

“La, sir,” she said, giving him a playful tap that made his ears ring, “you do know how to turn a simple country girl’s head and no mistake!”

Casanunda picked himself up and adjusted his wig happily.

“I like a girl with spirit,” he said.

That’s Nanny Ogg with a generous sprinkling of Magrat Garlick, I hasten to add; I may be fated to flash my stripey britches as I ride my broom, but you bet there’ll be a wonky pentagram on my bum. And far too many cheaply made silver rings.

The other reason I deeply appreciate the knowledge that there was something cold and hard driving Sir Terry, underneath the woolly beard and the twinkling eyes, is the way I’ve come to understand my own sense of humour. A shrink I saw for a while during my gender reassignment told me that I often sounded like a standup comedian; I’d dismiss vast, overwhelming emotional oceans with a wry quip and a roll of the eyes. It’s a very British way of coping (the shrink was American). I forget how it came up in the conversation, but during one session he remarked that I was beginning to seem less angry. He seemed to think of that as a good thing.

“I dunno,” I said, in a rare moment of unbridled honesty. “Rage is what gets me out of bed in the morning.”


DWCon 2010

I saw an expression of startlement cross his face, and I think in that moment he understood me better than he had. But Terry Pratchett was a role model to me in that: he took the same kind of deeply-felt anger I feel and turned it into something that reached millions.

I’ll admit that at a certain point in his career it stopped reaching me; there was a series of Pratchett books I didn’t read, because he was sending up things I didn’t know anything about. I could see the references flying thick and fast but couldn’t grasp a single one of them. Holy Wood and Music With Rocks In were exceptions – Soul Music in particular had my black-clad teenage self howling with laughter – but those are the more accessible end of his oeuvre. A friend recently had to explain to me that the fanatical dwarves in one of the more recent books are a metaphor for Islamists. I never was that good at politics. I’ve got *no* idea what the Nac Mac Feegles are about at all – but Tiffany Aching? The hard lessons that make real wisdom, the acceptance that loving someone isn’t the same as them being family? Yep. Been there. Learnt that one.


Tiffany herself

I also remember learning the hard way that being angry gets nobody’s attention (especially when you’re seventeen and wearing black). Being razor sharp and bitingly hilarious very much does. Anger is far, far more productive channelled and that’s another thing Pterry knew. One of these days, when I’ve sorted my gender and a day job and a decent flipping relationship, I’ll get to a place where I can channel my own literary fury into producing something people will enjoy. I look forward to it, though at the moment I largely seem to be learning to sew.

The only time I met Sir Terry he picked me out of the queue at a book signing and asked me if we’d ever met before. I went white, then pink, and stammered something about no, and my friend Tristan spent the rest of the day sulking because he was a far bigger Pratchett fan than me. I would later sell the Russian translation he signed for me on Ebay. It’s almost a shame I never got to meet him again post-transition, just to see whether I still set off his familiar-face nerve; but then I wouldn’t have wanted to upset someone with Alzheimer’s, especially not somebody whose talent I respect.

So I regret, Sir Pterry, that you’ve passed from this world; you made it less full of pretension and wankery, and more down to earth and aware of its own shortcomings. I hope I too can be the kind of author who supports first-timers in hating literary parties and never feels the need to be important in himself, and if I manage it, I’ll thank you for pointing the way.

Oh, and one other thing? His foster home tells me that my former pet rat Adso died last night too. If you see a little brown chap with silly tulip ears, let him ride on your shoulder for a while, and tell him to tell the bony guy SQUEAK from me.



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