I was in Matlock Bath, because people from the Midlands are a bit odd when it comes to holidays, and my brother gave me a book.
“Read this for me,” he said. “and let me know if it’s any good.” OK, well, since you asked.
I read the first page and never looked back. I don’t think my brother ever read another Pratchett book after handing me that library copy of Wyrd Sisters. His loss, I guess. I told him it was brilliant, but he’d moved on, probably wanted to kiss girls or something equally bloody pointless.
I went back through his small collection, then. Mort next, properly introducing me to the best character in all the books – Death himself. One of the most human, most humane creations in fantasy literature, Death was also beyond funny. His grand, sinister entrance at midnight is undercut by a slip on a frozen puddle and a lead-heavy OH BUGGER.
Incidentally, anyone who writes an anthropomorphic Death now owes a huge debt to Pratchett whether they know it or not*.
Then the one-two of The Colour of Magic and the Light Fantastic, the latter containing one of Pratchett’s finest footnote jokes, about the slow, heavy Discworld sunlight.
I won’t itemise my subsequent reading order, but I read each one at publication from there on in. I watched the Discworld evolve from a sketched out parody of a fantasy world to a fleshed out reality one could disappear into for the duration of the too-short books. I grew to know the characters, their quirks, their morality, their humanity.
There’s that word again, “human”. Because while many write Pratchett off as a comedian, a punslinger, a niche parodist, it takes only a cursory acquaintance with the work to see how much more he is. Was. Fuck.
His books exude warmth, but don’t think that means people get an easy ride. Bad things happen, and they happen because people are thoughtless, careless, callous, inhumane. Good triumphs, because he was an optimist, but never completely. Happy endings were precarious things, just ask Mort and Ysabell. Ask the alternate universe Watch members ticked off by the Disorganiser near the end of Jingo – one of Pratchett’s bleakest, starkest moments – were it not for the sudden change in the heart of one man.
For me, the best moments were those that said “Yes, you’re probably not that great a person. But you can be. You can make the difference. You just need to try. Be brave. Be caring. Be human, just as hard as you can.”
*They know it, the big liars