I firmly believe that I would never have succeeded as a teacher and never gotten my resolve wrapped around the whole nonsense package of being a published author if I hadn’t picked up a copy of Mort, the first Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett that I ever encountered. I started reading the book as a veteran dungeon-master at D&D role-playing games and also as a novice teacher having a world of difficulty trying to swim up the waterfalls of Texas education fast enough to avoid the jagged rocks of failure at the bottom. I was drinking ice tea when I started reading it. More of that iced tea shot out my nose while reading and laughing than went down my gullet. I almost put myself in the hospital with goofy guffaws over Death’s apprentice and his comic adventures on a flat world riding through space and time on the backs of four gigantic elephants standing on the back of a gigantic-er turtle swimming through the stars. Now, I know you have no earthly idea what this paragraph even means, unless you read Terry Pratchett. And believe me, if you don’t, you have to start. If you don’t die laughing, you will have discovered what may well be the best humorist to ever put quill pen to scroll and write. And if you do die laughing, well, there are worse ways to go, believe me.
Discworld novels are fantasy-satire that make fun of Tolkien and Conan the Barbarian (written by Robert E. Howard, not the barbarian himself) and the whole world of elves and dwarves and heroes and dragons and such. You don’t even have to love fantasy to like this stuff. It skewers fantasy with spears of ridiculousness (a fourth level spell from the Dungeons of Comedic Magic for those fellow dungeon masters out there who obsessively keep track of such things). The humor bleeds over into the realms of high finance, education, theater, English and American politics, and the world as we know it (but failed to see from this angle before… a stand-on-your-head-and-balance-over-a-pit-of-man-eating-goldfish sort of angle).
Terry Pratchett’s many wonderful books helped me to love what is ugly, because ugly is funny, and if you love something funny for long enough, you understand that there is a place in the world even for goblins and trolls and ogres. Believe me, that was a critical lesson for a teacher of seventh graders to learn. I became quite fond of a number of twelve and thirteen year old goblins and trolls because I was able see through the funny parts of their inherent ugliness to the hidden beauty that lies within (yes, I know that sounds like I am still talking about yesterday’s post, but that’s because I am… I never stop blithering about that sort of blather when it comes to the value hidden inside kids).
I have made it a personal goal to read every book ever written by Terry Pratchett. And that goal is now within reach because even though he is an incredibly prolific writer, he has passed on within the last year. He now only has one novel left that hasn’t reached bookstores. Soon I will only need to read a dozen more of his books to finish his entire catalog of published works. And I am confident I will learn more lessons about life and love and laughter by reading what is left, and re-reading some of the books in my treasured Terry Pratchett paperback collection. Talk about your dog-eared tomes of magical mirth-making lore! I know I will never be the writer he was. But I can imitate and praise him and maybe extend the wonderful work that he did in life. This word-wizard is definitely worth any amount of work to acquire and internalize. Don’t take my convoluted word for it. Try it yourself.