A great artist doesn’t paint a face: they frame a space that we see the face within. A few deft lines delineate empty paper from empty paper and yet, somehow, the face exists. Terry Pratchett would write like that: creating spaces with a sparsity of words that allowed our imaginations to paint within. It’s with great sadness that i read about his death today. I write this with tears in my eyes.
I grew up with the Discworld novels. Every one of them. I did not enjoy them: i lived them. And they changed me. To experience creativity is to feel a permission to create. At first i approached each book with excitement and anticipation, wondering what new space would be opened up to me. As the environment became familiar, it was more a process of revisiting old friends, walking familiar landscapes, discovering new places in the best of company. Every year a new book on Christmas day. Every year the routine, the ritual, the habit: unwrapping the paper, settling onto the sofa with coffee and a Jaffa Cake. Every year, even this last.
Pratchett was a satirist, but one of exceptional talent. His characters were one dimensional, but that one dimension was ‘alive‘. They represented something: determination, naivety, cunning, companionship, bravery, hope, belief, loyalty, inquisitiveness, greed, tolerance, rebellion, love.
The magic of his universe was not without consequence, nor indeed without relevance for our own. He often described the way that the power lay not in using magic, but understanding why it could not be used. Why it must not be used to change things. His was a magic of action and reaction: a rubber band that snapped back hard.
There was a constant theme of travel and discovery: places were geolocated not just on the giant disc, on the back of the four elephants, but also by what they represented. The great cities, representing progress, the tiny mountain kingdoms representing traditional value. The castles and villages, witches cottages and mines, each representing not just people, but ideas. The idea of the witches holding a mirror up to the world. The idea of the Wizards blustering through power to a place where they rarely exercised it. Dictators and Kings, adventurers and blacksmiths. Gods and men.
Wisdom prevailed on the Discworld, although interestingly not always as a function of age: indeed, it was usually the very old or the very young who had it, hard won and paid for with pain. I’d never really thought about it like that before, but it was a common theme.
There was never a major Holywood film, something that i will always be grateful about, because the characters are so vivid in my mind. Because, you see, the thing that Terry Pratchett gave me was the greatest gift of all: imagination.
A permission to think, to realise that the world does not have to be how it is presented to you, does not have to be on other people’s terms, does not have to follow the rules. A permission to explore, the dream, to travel, to think, to celebrate diversity and reward bravery. Whilst a world full of cynicism, Discworld rewarded the brave. The outcome of David versus Goliath was invariably on David’s side.
‘The Colour of Magic‘ was the first Discworld book. My copy is old, original, yellowed and heavily creased. Indeed, it’s a wonder it’s still got all it’s pages. I must have read it thirty times. That’s surely the sign of a great book: that it’s weathered, beaten and battered, carrying the scars of reading upon it’s spine. Part of your life over time: not necessarily because it’s great, but because it’s part of your story.
Maybe you’ll wonder who i am talking about. Maybe you’ll mock the thought of reading books meant for children. Maybe you’ll wonder why i’m so grateful for creativity. But you see, your imagination is your greatest gift, the greatest treasure: the ability to see the world with your eyes but to understand it in your head and to realise that the two things don’t have to match. A willingness to see beyond, to find the beauty in everything and to question it all. A willingness to subvert authority when authority fails to be fair.
I have a whole bookshelf full of his books: not just lined up neatly, but stacked fully two deep and layered on top. A life in one shelf: a legacy to be proud of. A beautiful thing. Thank you Terry.