If you have never read Night Watch by Sir Terry Pratchett, this is a reference to a song which plays a significant role in the story. Why use a seemingly innocent line from a rather bawdy tune? Night Watch is the first of the Discworld novels that I read. It introduced me to the character of Sam Vimes and the Ankh-Morpork City Watch. Vimes and his comrades are the centerpiece of most of my favorite novels, rivaled only by Moist von Lipwig, also from the Discworld series. These books have played a significant role in my life, not least of which is their assistance in forcing my brain to function.
The Discworld novels are a marvel of satire and subtlety, having grown from lambasting mediocre science fiction and fantasy novels to generally focusing on a topic or concept to roast. More than any other writer, Sir Terry’s work continues to appeal to me. Now, though, I am more likely to listen to audiobooks of his work. Surprisingly, Audible has not sent me a message asking after my health, as I continue to listen to the same books over and over. There is certainly no dearth of options in my listening library, but Stephen Briggs’ portrayal of these novels is fascinating. I heartily recommend his narration skills. I believe this would be digressing, though.
What is so significant to me about satire and this series, though, is where I was headed. On the surface, Sir Terry’s books can be read as the sci-fi/fantasy and comedic works that they are. Additionally, though, they are adept at teaching a reader subtle ways of examining a topic. Possibly the best example is the novel Jingo. The title itself is an introduction to the theme: war for little purpose than pride and vanity dressed up as patriotism. War for the sake of war, eschewing any determined effort to resolve a conflict with diplomacy and dialogue. Although the title is a giveaway, the content being less than subtle, a reader could conceivably ignore this lambasting of the subject and remain ignorant of the broader strokes in the narrative.
I find the Discworld novels to be excellent resources for introspection and self-awareness, a manual for developing questions of perspective. They entertain me as well as being inspiring for both writing and expanding how I approach a topic. Racism, war, and even the banking industry made for useful fodder in his examinations of subject matter. The books have also been significant to me by assisting my recovery from intense bouts of depression. I owe a great deal of emotional development to personal connections to these books. That is why the death of an icon of the literary world did such damage to me.
March 12, 2015 is when the world lost a great mind. Sir Terry was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease years before. He had seen the effects of someone wasting away slowly from disease. He wanted none of it. Sir Terry began to campaign for assisted death. Should a person be incurable, he felt that they, in a lucid state, should be able to determine the time and manner of their passing. I can see the logic in this, but also recoil from it as someone who has had frequent brushes with suicidal thoughts. These feelings are never far from my mind, even though I no longer feel susceptible to them. His arguments for this have long been a point of internal debate. I think the greatest point that underlies this personally is my own fear of loss. I am terrified of losing loved ones. Death in general is a cause of grief, whether I knew the person or not. This refusal to let go has long haunted me, and I was particularly loathe to let Sir Terry go. I wanted him to live forever, writing and teaching me about topics I may not have considered examining.
Ultimately, it was complications from the disease that took him. Knowing it would happen and being emotionally prepared for such a beloved figure are two separate things. I continue to enjoy his work, naturally, but occasionally the wistful thoughts intrude. As one friend noted to me, we will never see young Sam Vimes grow and learn how like and unlike his father he would become. This can be a good thing. Stories do not always need a tidy conclusion. Often, we do like them in fiction, but that is not how life works. It keeps going without a compass, and now it is the same with Discworld. A healthy imagination can give us some insight to how these characters develop in ways vital to ourselves. A legacy of Sir Terry is that his work will always be present to teach, inspire, and fill us with wonder and whimsy. As emotional as I am, I always choose to be reminded that what I have learned from such a tremendous man will always be with me, and, hopefully, one day lead me to publications of my own. The notion that I may be able to provide for others as he did for me.