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October 2019
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Pratchett in retrospect - a personal story

It was 1989. I was going to university for the first time, deeply depressed (although I didn't know it then) and on the constant look-out for something to distract me from being who I was. A friend recommended the works of Terry Pratchett to me.

I don't know whether Fiona ever realised what she started. It was a love-affair that still endures even today. I got a copy of "The Light Fantastic" out of the library, and started reading it.

Now, one of the things you have to realise, for context, is that as a lifelong depressive, I don't laugh too much. I smile a lot, because I'm female and I've been socialised to do so, but laughter was fairly rare. I'm also not one of those people who can pull all-nighters with any degree of success - I start conking out around 10pm, and I'm usually dead to the world by midnight.

"The Light Fantastic" had me giggling hysterically at 3am on a weeknight. Out loud, even. I was hooked.

I've read all of the Discworld novels, most of the subsiduary products (diaries, maps, spin-off books) as well as the "Johnny Maxwell" books, and the first of the Bromeliad (it was hard to find here in Perth). I was a regular on for a while there, until the decline of newsgroups and the rise of the web splintered everyone off in their different directions. I still miss afp at times. I've lost touch with most of the people it put me in contact with - the first group of folks I ever really "clicked" with in my life.

I met my partner through a shared interest in Pratchett's work (or, to be precise, he used a paraphrase of a Pratchett quote - from "Reaper Man", if you must know - and I leapt on it as proof positive of a kindred spirit. I was right, as it turned out). I'm not the only person out there who can say this - if you go on the assumption a shared sense of humour is a more useful indicator of long-term compatibility than anything else, there's probably more than a few couples who can say they met through Pterry's work.

At least part of the rather complicated bundle of grief I'm sitting with at the moment is due to having lost, in a way, the person who was responsible for the two of us getting together.

I loved his books. I enjoyed the references, the puns, the really groan-worthy puns, the jokes culled straight from the British Heritage Joke Foundation's joke-book, the character names (especially some of the more obscure ones, such as Yodel Lightly), but above all I loved the way his books made me think about things. Even something as simple as a joke about wizards getting groin strains from using seven-league boots could turn around the way I looked at the tropes of fiction. The question of "what happens if the anonymous alien hordes in a video game turn out to be just as human as the player?" was a beautiful one in "Only You Can Save Mankind" (and the subtitle of that book: "if not you, who else?" was another thing which turned things around in my head, too).

In the end, the ultimate message of a lot of Pterry's work was that we are all as human as each other - even if we're a dwarf, or a troll, or an orc, or a goblin, we're still human. We have our dreams, our goals, our hopes and our fears, and we're all capable of being petty and small-minded, or of being so open-hearted it hurts. No matter how strange someone else may seem to you, they're still a human being, and at the base of it all, they're a lot like you - they just want to survive from day to day, and they'd prefer it if tomorrow was as much like today as possible. The differences are just labels.

He reached so many people. That's what I'm learning again today - he reached so many people, and so profoundly. I hope he had even the smallest glimpse of how much he changed so many people, how many lives he made brighter.

[I'm going to be seeing about digging out the Discworld books from storage, and re-reading them. Again. I feel it's the least I could do in tribute]

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