Last week, as I was caring for my daughter after she had all four of her wisdom teeth extracted, a notification from the BBC popped up on my phone. It said something along the lines of: “Fantasy author Sir Terry Pratchett dead at the age of 66.” Since he had been suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease it wasn’t an unexpected death. Still, given my daughters anesthesia-induced blurry state I decided to not tell her right away.
After Sir Terry’s death I read tributes about his writing, which was amazing, his intelligence, which was towering, his humanity, and the myriad a ways he affected the world. While I mourned I also was awash with gratitude – his books are helping me raise my daughter.
She is the sort of person who runs on humor. It’s easier to talk to her about anything if humor is involved. Once, as a small child, she was having a terrible day until late in the afternoon she was nearly incoherent with frustration and rage. In desperation I grabbed Terry Pratchett’s WHERES MY COW? – a joke spin-off children’s book that was first mentioned in THUD. I had to modify some of the language (she was only six) but the humor of one thing looking like another lured her out of her funk enough that we were able, finally, to talk about what was really bothering her.
When my daughter was in second grade we listened to THE WEE FREE MEN, a book about Tiffany Aching (who, like my daughter, was eight, brown-haired and brown eyed, brave and with a fierce sense of justice). My daughter loved the book from a ‘clang well clanged’ to the Nac Mac Feegles to standing up to the queen of the fairies. The next book, A HAT FULL OF SKY, followed and later, just as my daughter was entering her teens, WINTERSMITH. She loves all of these books and they led to discussions about fitting in, being true to ones self, cheese and heaven knows what else. They’ve also given us a conversational short hand. If she says “Well clanged!” I know she’s talking about standing up to a dread fear with bravery, common sense and a good dose of deviousness.
When my daughter was in second grade we visited Disneyworld. Standing in line for a ride we were chatting and she made a reference to the book THUD. The father of another child in our group also knew the book and was startled. He questioned me and really didn’t believe that my daughter could comprehend the subtle meaning of the plot.(1) After a twenty minute conversation with her he admitted that she did understand how the book examines hatred and bigotry. It may be between dwarves and trolls but it’s still hatred of the ‘other’.
I could go on for pages about how these wonderful books enriched our lives. I remember her laughing until she could barely breath over the coffee-swilling vampire in MONSTROUS REGIMENT, I saw the tears she tried to hide after reading NIGHT WATCH and it’s a lot easier to talk about death when you can joke about Death speaking in all caps and with the Death Of Rats as a side kick.
So thank you to Sir Terry Pratchett for all the books and all the conversations they inspired. As he says in UNSEEN ACADEMICALS “…after death, some fools shine like stars…” and as my daughter wrote on Instagram “may [all] your sandwiches have pickles.”
1) Our Disneyland acquaintance also didn’t think THUD an appropriate book for someone so young. He’s probably right, but I didn’t realize that she was in the next room when I started listening to the book on tape. She was so interested in the concepts that instead of turning it off I just made sure we talked.