I read the sad news today that Sir Terry Pratchett, author of the Discworld books (and a good bit of good bits more), passed away yesterday. His works were funny and serious — he often and avidly rejected the idea that those two were irreconcilable opposites — and inspiring, to me at least.
Here, for a sample — a taste of a Hogswatch treat, perhaps — are two longish quotes from Hogfather, a book which loosely revolves around the jolly fat fellow in red and white who delivers toys around the Disc from a sleigh pulled by four hogs (Gouger, Rooter, Tusker, and Snouter, if you must know).
The first quote is Death’s adoptive granddaughter Susan being concerned about her grandfather’s odd behavior.
She thought: thousands, millions of years in the same job. Not a nice one. It isn’t always cheerful old men passing away at a great age. Sooner or later, it was bound to get anyone down.
Someone had to do something. It was like that time when Twyla’s grandmother had started telling everyone that she was the Empress of Krull and had stopped wearing clothes.
And Susan was bright enough to know that the phrase “Someone ought to do something” was not, by itself, a helpful one. People who used it never added the rider “and that someone is me.” But someone ought to do something, and right now the whole pool of someones consisted of her, and no one else.
Twyla’s grandmother had ended up in a nursing home overlooking the sea at Quirm. That sort of option probably didn’t apply here. Besides, he’d be unpopular with the other residents.
And the second is a later conversation between Susan and Death (who talks in ALL CAPITALS) observed only by the author and Death’s pale horse — Binky.
“All right,” said Susan. “I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need . . . fantasies to make life bearable.”
REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.
“Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little –”
YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.
“So we can believe the big ones?”
YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.
“They’re not the same at all!”
YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET — Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME . . . SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.
“Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point –”
MY POINT EXACTLY.
She tried to assemble her thoughts.
THERE IS A PLACE WHERE TWO GALAXIES HAVE BEEN COLLIDING FOR A MILLION YEARS, said Death, apropos of nothing. DON’T TRY TO TELL ME THAT’S RIGHT.
“Yes, but people don’t think about that,” said Susan. Somewhere there was a bed . . .
CORRECT. STARS EXPLODE, WORLDS COLLIDE, THERE’s HARDLY ANYWHERE IN THE UNIVERSE WHERE HUMANS CAN LIVE WITHOUT BEING FROZEN OR FRIED, AND YET YOU BELIEVE THAT A . . . A BED IS A NORMAL THING. IT IS THE MOST AMAZING TALENT.
OH, YES. A VERY SPECIAL KIND OF STUPIDITY. YOU THINK THE WHOLE UNIVERSE IS INSIDE YOUR HEADS.
“You make us sound mad,” said Susan. A nice warm bed . . .
NO. YOU NEED TO BELIEVE IN THINGS THAT AREN’T TRUE. HOW ELSE CAN THEY BECOME? said Death, helping her up on to Binky.
I hope this much inspires you at least to try a Pratchett or two yourself. (And maybe to think about how the serious bits line up with some Green values. . . .)