The wisdom of Terry Pratchett (and of re-reading Terry Pratchett)

Like many people before me, I discovered the psychedelically colourful shelf of Terry Pratchett books in my public library when I was a teenager. I had heard of intelligent people who liked them, so when I found them, I took one out (the one about the two witches appealed to me) and I was pretty transfixed for many years after that.

Death is a favourite of mine. His SPEECH is endless amusing to me, and the combination of his deeply human and deeply inhuman aspects (like his inability to understand space when he built the house for his adopted daughter) makes him someone you would want to come and fetch you at the end of your life.

I loved the Unseen University and the orangutan librarian who spoke only in “ook”s, and the four elephants that stood on the back of the giant turtle.

But Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg are probably my greatest heroes. Their witchy wisdom, humour, practicality and no-nonsense attitudes gave me little alter-egos I could call on for some spine in my deeply insecure teenage years, and there is something deliciously subversive about reading about such intelligent, talented women whose brains and abilities awe and cow everyone around them.

I stopped reading them for a few years, though, as I felt they were a bit repetitive. Perhaps I thought I had outgrown them, or maybe all the obsessives who used to come in and look for the books in the shop where I worked put me off it.

But now I have been back at school and back at the library more often. And I decided I wanted to pick one up again to relax and switch off with some humour.

What I found, though, was astute political commentary that had gone right over my head as a teenager. Right now, for example, I am reading Making Money (about a character I had not met before: the Dickensian-named Moist von Lipwig) from the school library. I came across a comment that explains colonialism in a nutshell:

a brigand for a father was something you kept quiet about, but a slave-taking pirate for a great-grandfather was something to boast of over the port. Time turned the evil bastards into rogues, and rogue was a word with a twinkle in its eye and nothing to be ashamed of. (90)

Growing up (in KwaZulu-Natal), Cecil John Rhodes always seemed a bit like a genius-rogue: someone who had torn about the continent with his madcap schemes for the greatness of the British Empire, and wanted to create one of those railways (a railway! How quaint!) between Cape Town and Cairo. He had helped make the British Colony (as misguided as it turned out to be) what it was.

Now, of course, I realize he is an “evil bastard” whose policies and ideas still tear South African families apart because they continue to fall prey to the “slave-taking pirates” he enabled to function in his wake.

I love that someone can write about brilliant, complicated plotlines using humour, love, the ridiculous, the fantastical, and incisive socio-political commentary.

And once again, I realize why going back to an author’s writing is so valuable.

PS: If you would like to read something that explains why Terry Pratchett is brilliant in the most beautiful and complete way I have ever seen, (BUT BEWARE THE SPOILERS) have a look here at Amanda Craig’s review of his final book, Shepherd’s Crown at The Guardian.


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