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Friday, March 13, 2015

Here's To Terry Pratchett! A Toast In Bananana Dakry!

Yesterday morning I woke up to the news that Terry Pratchett had died. It was around 6.15 and I was in the kitchen making breakfast before heading for work. I had to go into work and be cheery for the kids while feeling sad. It will become one of those "Do you remember where you were when..." events. That's where I was.

We actually have quite a good collection of Pratchett books on our shelves. I bought most of the newer editions from the now defunct Of Science And Swords bookshop in the city, because one of our students, Jake, was a fan. Nobody has picked them up since, alas. Ironically, the day before I had shown them to two of our current students, James and Lordon. James listened politely and said he still had a Brotherband book to finish(and, admittedly, two after that, because I've donated both Aurealis entries), while Lordon, a new student, says he really prefers his fantasy dark. 

So, no current Pratchett fans in my library. Nobody to mourn with among the students, though one fellow fan among the staff, my friend Jasna, went with me to the pub after school to drink a toast to the man who had given us such reading joy over the years. We couldn't get a daiquiri, "bananana" or otherwise, of course, I can't recall the last time I saw them in a pub - and the young bartender didn't even know what a Cointreau was, with a bottle right behind his shoulder - but we drank the toast with a Cointreau and ice(me) and a half vodka and orange(her). And banana bread(her) and raisin toast(me). Jasna and I did a joint download of Raising Steam, his last Discworld novel, on the day it came out. 

I remember my discovery of Terry Pratchett's work. I'd tried getting into The Colour Of Magic, failed the first time and not looked at it again for some years(I did read it, eventually, though I still think it's his weakest book - and I once heard him speak and he himself advised his listeners not to begin with that one). Then I found a copy of Mort, in which Death takes an apprentice, who stuffs up his first job disastrously, while Death is taking a holiday as a short-order cook and discovering the delights of having cats in his un-life. I snorted. I chortled. I laughed out loud, in public. I soon followed it up with Pyramids, a stand-alone tale which starts in Ankh-Morpork, where a young prince is studying at the Assassin's Guild before heading back to his family's ancient kingdom of Djelibeybi(pronounced jelly baby) giggle! - and some bizarre adventures. I remember laughing out loud again, in a bus, during the scene where he is remembering his first night at the Assassin's Guild school, and the delicious send-up of a scene from Tom Brown's Schooldays. A send-up richly deserved, IMO. 


He did send-up to perfection. He commented about this world as much as the one on the backs of four elephants and a giant turtle. Anne Rice-style vampire novels, New Age, philosophy, movie stardom, rock stardom, opera, religion, folk songs, war, racism, newspapers, banks, post offices, society in general - nothing was safe. It's interesting to see how his characters and his world developed over the years, though you could read most of the books stand-alone. 

And this is where you get the fact that it was not only fantasy, not only funny, but more. Much more. There is a whole discussion going on another blog, right now, about how people think they're doing fantasy and children's books a favour by saying that they're not really fantasy or too good for children. What I say is that those adults too scared to be seen reading a children's book or who sneer at speculative fiction because "it's trying to escape from reality" are missing out big time. Their loss. In the case of this writer, a huge loss. He is, in my opinion, one of the greatest writers of the last century, not greatest fantasy writer, but greatest writer. And he said what he wanted to say by making you laugh and touching you at the same time. That's something you'll never get from mainstream writers whose only claim to fame is "beautiful writing". You know the kind. You ask someone what this or that book is about and they can't tell you, but say,"But it was beautifully written!"

He had some characters who spoke for him. There's Sam Vimes, the policeman who remains a policeman even when he's been promoted, kicking and screaming, to Duke of Ankh, and Rincewind, the totally incompetent wizard, who has stitched the word "wizzard" on his hat. Rincewind is described as a coward, but he's not, really. When it counted, he was shown as willing to face huge scary monsters with nothing but a sock full of sand to enable a young boy to escape. He's just realistic. Why hang around when someone is trying to kill you? And during his various adventures/misadventures, he sees a bizarre world as the author sees it. Read the Rincewind books and tell me I'm wrong. His witches Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, between them, also say and think things the author wants us to hear. And his young heroine Tiffany Aching, apprentice witch.

I got to meet Mr Pratchett a couple of times. He kindly agreed to speak to the children when I was organising the children's program at Aussiecon 3 in 1999, so I do have a couple of emails from him, or did, since my Hotmail account has lapsed. I had to leave the writing workshop to set it up, he missed out on lunch. He had the kids enthralled with his tales of a teacher he'd had who impressed the class by hanging a badly behaved boy out of the window by his ankles. 

I went to the first two Discworld conventions in Melbourne. He was at the first one, but was already sick by the second. The first time he had brought a lot of plastic teeth from the Hogfather movie, which he handed out. I still have two lying in one of my jewellery cases, waiting to be turned into earrings. He was working on Making Money at the time and kept reading to us from it until his laptop battery ran out, a good hour and a half of his time. When a group of Melbourne University students performed a play of Mort(the plays are written for amateur groups) he made sure he was there to chat with the cast and crew afterwards. I never hung out with him, but he was a nice man, from what I could see, and if that sounds a weak description, it's what counts to me. Too many people aren't, or are only nice until they become famous or get a position of power. 

I could say a lot more, but the Net is overflowing with tributes, so I'll finish this one with raising my glass of Bananana Dakry in a toast, in which I hope you'll join me, with a comment below! 

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