12 March 2015

Between the falling angel and the rising ape: Thoughts on Terry Pratchett

First of all: Context.

I don't know that this is going to make any sense. I don't know that this is going to be anything but word salad. But there is so much welled up in me right now, boiling and melting and freezing and raging and crying, that I have to let it out. To keep it in would be insane. To try to write it out would be, perhaps, equally insane. But here I am nevertheless.

I am not the best person to tell you what Terry Pratchett was like. That would probably be Neil Gaiman, or Terry's daughter Rihanna, both of whom are writers better at the craft than my pale imaginings will ever make me. All I can tell you is what Terry Pratchett did for me.

Terry Pratchett made me better.

Terry's books found me in my early 30s, and what they found was an angry, cynical, bitter ball of a man. They took that man and made him laugh, and made him see that there is hope, that love is worthwhile, that faith can be a fiction and still be necessary, that there is someone out there for each and every one of us, and that even a dragon needs a good shag once in a while. And they did not do this by being syrupy affirmations of the goodness of humankind; no. That would be the easy way, and I would not have responded to that.

They did it the hard way. They did it the hard way by being hard. By acknowledging the cynicism, the bitterness, the anger, not denying them--and then using them to confound themselves, by showing their characters putting aside the bitterness, overcoming the anger, moving past the cynicism, and rising above to become the better people they always could have been. And that is the mark of genius.

Think about it. The man humanized Death, for God's sakes, and made him a relatable, understandable, beloved character. That takes a level of talent that is beyond my ken to describe.

It was Terry who showed me--or maybe just reminded me, which is just as good--that men and women could rise above their baser selves, be more like unto the angels we like to imagine ourselves as being--closer to that point where the falling angel meets the rising ape, to use Terry's beautiful, indelible phrase. It was Terry who showed me (or reminded me) that you could be angry all you wanted--it was what you did with that anger that counted. It was Terry who reminded me (or showed me) that as unpleasant as human beings can be, there are always particles of joy and hope and caring tucked away inside us all, and that it is our job to nudge those particles together and turn them into something more.

I never laughed harder than I did when reading Terry. I never cried for more reason than I did when reading Terry Pratchett. I never felt angrier than I did when Terry was angry in one of his books. And I never left one of his books feeling cheated or let down.

And Terry made me better. He made a lot of us, better I think. And that is why losing him now, as we have, hurts so much. Because we need him now, more than ever. To help us be better. To find the falling angel within us, to give wings to us poor little apes, trying so hard to rise above. To make us laugh. To help us cry. To give us joy.

And now he's gone, to whatever reward awaits a genius who touched millions. And those millions are left behind wondering what is next.

Well, I'll tell you.

We do what Terry would have wanted us to do.

We keep rising.

Goodbye Terry. We'll see you when we get there. We send our love and our smiles with you as a last, nourishing gift as you cross that long, black desert with your good friend the Reaper Man.

Thank you, Sir. Thank you.

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