Fried is absolutely right. I can't tell you how many times I've made a friend or family member sit quietly while I read them a passage from one of Pratchett's young adult books. I normally don't even like young adult fiction. So much of the YA stuff has a kind of edited-for-television feel to it. But Pratchett is different. Even his children's books have a sophistication that you don't usually see in books aimed at us grown-up. He clearly feels that children and teens are not only more sophisticated than we give them credit for but are also fully capable of picking up on what is often complex and thoroughly thought provoking symbolism. His disdain for the way many adults treat children is captured perfectly in his first Tiffany Aching book, Wee Free Men. Take the time Tiffany, a nine year old country girl, goes to visit the traveling teachers to get some information (Yes, I'm going to start quoting now, but I don't work for the NY Times so I can do that):
"I would like a question answered today," said Tiffany...."It's about zoology."
"Zoology, eh? That's a big word, isn't it?"
"No, actually it isn't," said Tiffany. "Patronizing is a big word. Zoology is really quite short."
Even the references to male/female relationships is discussed in a way that will appeal to adults as evidenced in The Wintersmith during a scene where Anoia, the Goddess of Things That Get Stuck In Drawers starts to list off her resume:
"I used to be a volcano goddess...It was good work, apart from the screaming," said Anoia, and then added in a bitter tone of voice: "Ha! And the god of storms was always raining on my lava. That's men for you, dear. They rain on your lava."
That's become one of my favorite catch phrases. And then there's the little bit of philosophy that he throws in that is so brilliantly simple and oddly alluring. In The Amazing Maurice And His Educated Rodents, a book featuring rats who have eaten a magical chemical that makes them intelligent, the most philosophical of the rats notes that:
"Being afraid of shadows is all part of us becoming more intelligent, I think. Your mind is working out that there's a you, and there's also everything outside you. So now you're not just frightened of things that you can see and hear and smell, but also of things that you can...sort of...see inside your head. Learning to face the shadows outside helps us to fight the shadows inside. And you can control all the darkness."
If anyone would have told me that I was going to fall in love with a book about talking rats or any children's fantasy book I would have told them they were insane. I'm not even a big fan of Harry Potter! And yet I've read The Amazing Maurice twice, once to my son and then another time just for me. I have no doubt that there will be a third and fourth time as well.
But a discussion about Pratchett wouldn't be complete without mentioning his wonderful and poetic observations of our world. My favorite passage from Wyrd Sisters (one of Pratchett's adult novels) is when Death goes to the theater. He observes:
Humans had built a world inside the world...and yet...Inside this little world they had taken pains to put all the things you might think they would want to escape from--hatred, fear, tyranny, and so forth. Death was intrigued. They thought they wanted to be taken out of themselves, and every art humans dreamt up took them further in.
Each year I eagerly await the newest books of this prolific author who honestly seems to be getting better with age. I have yet to be disappointed.
And so you can imagine how distraught I was when I found out that this brilliant man, who has made an entire career out of writing fantasy books that make us think, was recently diagnosed with a rare form of early onset Alzheimer. It's so bitterly unfair and just...well wrong! It's like an opera singer losing his voice or an astronomer going blind. It made me want to cry. It also made me want to tell the world what they had in Terry Pratchett. I want to let everyone know how spectacular his books are. I want as many people as possible to appreciate his gifts now because time is so very precious and the future is unpredictable. I want to raise his profile and sing his praises.
However the Queen of England beat me to the punch. On December 31st Queen Elizabeth II granted Terry Pratchett a knighthood for his services to literature. I have never been big on the knights in the classic fairytales but this is one knight that I can believe in.
So here's to you Sir Pratchett. Thank you for building a world inside our world...one that has drawn millions of us...not out of ourselves, but further in.
Bestselling Author of:
SEX, MURDER AND A DOUBLE LATTE,
PASSION, BETRAYAL AND KILLER HIGHLIGHTS,
OBSESSION, DECEIT AND REALLY DARK CHOCOLATE
SO MUCH FOR MY HAPPY ENDING