The dangerous pen

David Skinner’s ‘Terry Pratchett Tribute Graffiti’, installed at Code Street, near Brick Lane, London

I write, at least in part, as a way to explore ideas and feelings that are bothering me. Once, being bothered, unhappy, sick or grieved would send me into books written by other people. Today, in a world riven by strife and fear, at whom and abroad, I am just as likely to transmute those feelings into a world I create myself.

When I write, I see things more clearly. I can also rewrite reality to give me a better result, which can be easing to the soul. I do like happy endings.

Which is all by way of introducing a book I’ve been reading. I have been a fan of Sir Terry Pratchett’s since Strata, one of his first books. I have just been reading Raising Postal, his second to last Discworld novel.

On one level, it is the story of the coming of the railway to Discworld. On another, it continues Pratchett’s burning indictment of the stupidity of prejudice based on racism, sexism, or any other ism. And it eviscerates the mindset behind terrorism that results from such prejudice.

Here’s a typical footnote:

Scouting for trolls, dwarfs and humans was brought in shortly after the Koom Valley Accord had been signed, on the suggestion of Lord Vetinari, to allow the young of the three dominant species to meet and hopefully get along together. Naturally the young of all species, when thrown together, instead of turning against one another would join forces against the real enemy, that is to say their parents, teachers and miscellaneous authority which was so old-fashioned. And up to a point, and amazingly, it had worked and that was Ankh-Morpork, wasn’t it? Mostly, nobody cared what shape you were, although they might be very interested in how much money you had.

And here are the terrorists, recruiting:

‘Nobody has to be hurt,’ they said, and it may have been too that people would murmur, ‘After all, it’s in his own interests,’ and there were other little giveaways such as ‘It’s time for fresh blood,’ and such things as ‘We must preserve our most hallowed ordinances,’ and if you were susceptible to atmospheres, you could see that dwarfs, perfectly sensible dwarfs, dwarfs who would consider themselves dwarfs of repute and fair dealing, were nevertheless slowly betraying allegiances they had formerly undertaken with great solemnity, because the hive was buzzing and they didn’t want to be the ones that got stung. The watchwords were ‘restoring order’ and ‘going back to the basics of true dwarfishness’.

To kill innocents in the name of politics is very warped. To kill innocents in the name of God is, in my view, both warped and risky, as Pratchett points out in this brief passage:

… and in the gloom the locomotive spat live steam, instantly filling the air with a pink fog . . . The dwarf waited, unable to move, and a sombre voice said, PLEASE DO NOT PANIC. YOU ARE MERELY DEAD. The vandal stared at the skeletal figure, managed to get himself in order and said to Death, ‘Oh . . . I don’t regret it, you know. I was doing the work of Tak, who will now welcome me into paradise with open arms!’ For a person who didn’t have a larynx Death made a good try at clearing his throat. WELL, YOU CAN HOPE, BUT CONSIDERING WHAT YOU INTENDED, IF I WERE YOU I WOULD START HOPING HARDER RIGHT NOW AND, PERHAPS, VERY QUICKLY INDEED. Death continued, in tones as dry as granite, TAK MIGHT INDEED BE GENTLE. STRIVE AS YOU HAVE NEVER STRIVEN. YES, TAK MIGHT BE GENTLE, OR . . . The vandal listened to the sound of silence, the sound like a bell with, alas, no clapper, but finally the dreadful silence ended in . . . NOT. [Tak being the deity of the dwarves]

Pratchett’s great genius was in making us laugh while making us think. Rest in peace, Sir Terry.

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