Whenever I begin something new from (Bollinger Wodehouse prize-winner) Terry Pratchett these days, I prepare myself for the possibility that it might not sparkle quite so much as old favourites, like Carpe Jugulum. I remind myself that Pratchett has given us so much already, and that he’s entitled to ‘slip’ a little since being diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2007. But Pratchett isn’t slipping. Each new book is as fresh, engaging, and bloody marvellous as the last, and I consider recent works such as Dodger (2012) and I Shall Wear Midnight[ (2010) among his best.
I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude to Terry Pratchett, not just for the pleasure his writing has given me, but for demonstrating what can happen when intelligence, humour and IDEAS work together.
How people think they can achieve anything seriously worthwhile without humour is beyond me. But it’s worse than that. Our world is run – and our ‘important thinking’ done, predominantly, by people who feel humour is out of place in the world of ideas. It is relegated to the status of ‘light’ entertainment. But humour can offer another kind of light.
‘I Shall Wear Midnight‘ is an excellent example of what I’m talking about. It can be enjoyed from start to end with great pleasure. There is comic relief in spades from the Nac Mac Feegle (err… perhaps spades is not the best word…). But ‘I Shall Wear Midnight’ is also a serious book, with a serious foe in The Cunning Man. He is the pungent, lingering hate of a long-dead witch-smeller, who generates hate whereever he goes because ‘poison goes where poison’s welcome’. Fortunately on the Discworld, a witch-hunt will lead to a witch – in this case Tiffany Aching – who will put a stop to things.
There are plenty of extraordinary people in our world who would stand up to a Cunning Man, if only it were that simple. The causes of hate and fear are more complex, but we have our cunning men and women too. They don’t dress in black or give off pungent aromas of evil, but often masquerade as ‘respectable’, sometimes unassailable, pilars of the community. The job of unmasking our villians in high places so often falls to our courageous comedians. With humour perhaps our only weapon, it’s unsurprising to find our institutions and establishments so devoid of it.
Long live Terry Pratchett!