“Fantasy isn’t just about wizards and silly wands. It’s about seeing the world from new directions.”
I came across the above quote as I looked over Sir Terry Pratchett’s Wikipedia entry, shortly after learning that he had died*. It’s been awhile since I read any of Pratchett’s Discworld novels, but I did read a dozen or so of them as a teenager and enjoyed them thoroughly. They were fun and funny without being brainless. There was a physicality to Discworld despite its ridiculous premise. I could feel the solid bulk of those four massive elephants and the cosmic turtle beneath me as I read.
AND THERE WAS DEATH.
You always knew something exciting was about to happen when DEATH showed up on the page. DEATH was funny. DEATH was meta. DEATH scared the crap out of the other characters on the page, and for good reason. Despite all the wonders and magic of Discworld, DEATH was permanent.
DEATH is exactly the sort of big, serious topic that I want in any fantasy novel (whether I read it or write it). I also like to explore racism, sexism, classism, and other sundry forms of bigotry, as well as self-acceptance — as do many other fantasy writers. Pratchett wasn’t the only one using magic, wizards, and gods to wrestle with difficult concepts. Drizzt Do’Urden’s biggest struggle is the color of his own skin. Ben Holiday buys the Kingdom of Landover because his career, status, and wealth are meaningless and empty to him. The House Elves of the Wizarding World are happy to work, just please don’t beat them.
And yet, I had a high school English teacher who flat-out refused to allow book reports on Harry Potter. That same teacher first encouraged me to write — and then discouraged me by refusing to read anything I had written.
It does seem like the wall is starting to crumble, that sometime in the last fifteen years the excuses for excluding all fantasy from serious Literature started running out. The Return of the King won an Academy Award, fer chrissakes! But I still have people tell me, “I don’t read fantasy.” And I don’t get it.
How else can you cope with DEATH, but with fantasy? With fantasy, you can turn DEATH into a character, talk to him, get comfy with him. With fantasy, DEATH might give you a peek at the other side. With fantasy, DEATH becomes just one more adventure.
I don’t know where else you can get that but with religion — and hey, a lot of that is fantasy too!
Rest in peace, Sir Terry Pratchett. And thank you for crafting such a fun place to visit when adolescence and depression had me down.
*Sir Terry Pratchett passed away on March 12th, 2015, after struggling for many years with a rare form of Alzheimers. I only mention this because it wouldn’t be a proper Pratchett tribute without a footnote, now would it?