All those years I was moaning about Terry Pratchett abandoning my favourite characters the witches Granny Weatherwax and the supremely everything incorrect, Nanny Ogg to concentrate on just about everything else. ‘Why can’t he go back to the witches?’ I moaned again and again.
But what’s this! He never left them. How could I have missed it. All the time he was writing about witches and let’s face it the plain mechanics of magic and cleverly disguising them as ‘children’s books’. As a pagan and practicing druid, (I”ll get it right eventually!) of twenty years standing I know a fair bit about magic and especially about those who practice it and in many cases make it their life. I’ve always felt that Granny, Nanny and the rest have a great deal of authenticity to them and that the very business of being a day to day hedge witch is incredibly well evoked.
But in the Tiffany Aching books magic doesn’t so much get in the back door as come crashing in with a big boot as the main event and heaven/hell/some none specific afterlife help who gets in the way. The books become progressively darker until there are times in the fourth “I Shall Wear Midnight” when it feels like one long howl for social justice, decency and equality. I can’t help thinking that this is the sort of thing that the newly elected government, (no I can’t believe it either!) would find and burn when they eventually appoint a minister of book burning, which must be soon. Meantime how heartening is it to know that there are books for ‘children’ which adults are allowed to read such as this, so that people can enjoy and learn an appreciation of magic which is neither a school for assorted child wizards or what the book burners fear it to be. Better still is that Terry’s last huzzah in September will be the fifth book in the series, The Shepherd’s Crown.
Like so many people my life as a writer has had the steady background influence of Terry Pratchett’s work. It was not something I truly recognised until his sad passing a week ago, far too young and with many literary footsteps still to tread.
I didn’t really like “Sourcery’, the first book of his that I read, To be honest I’ve never fully engaged with Rincewind and all that studied ineptitude. But there were enough concepts, ideas and let’s face it jokes in there to keep me happy. After that I read Equal Rites and enjoyed that a lot more, but it was ‘Lords and Ladies ‘which converted me once and for all to the Pratchett way.
I loved it so much that I based an A Level Theatre production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on it with my students at Bridgwater College. Along with Raymond Feist’s book “Faerie Tale’, ‘Lords and Ladies’ introduced me to the idea of fairies being far from light and airy Cottingham a’ fluttery. ‘No-one ever said a fairy was nice’ remains one of my all time favourite quotes. In my mind and work fairies have remained these creatures of unease where ‘glamour’ has a totally different meaning and since then I’ve been far more drawn towards the dark side of fairy. Nowadays it’s the likes of Graham Joyce’s ‘Some Kind of Fairy Tale’ and the Harry Dresden novels of Jim Butcher but the lure of the ‘un-seelie court’ remains and Terry started it.
My by now far too mature students may not remember but they bought me the Josh Kirby Discworld portfolio, a book so big it won’t fit comfortably anywhere. And that’s maybe as good a way as any of describing Terry Pratchett’s work. A world and a body of work, to all intents and purposes, too big to fit comfortably anywhere and why not. Surely nothing Terry Pratchett wrote could ever be described as comfortable. Years ago when the critic Tom Paulin accused him of being a complete amateur because he didn’t even write chapters, he responded to the complaint by using it as a quote on the back of his next book. Now that’s style!
Of course Lords and Ladies provided something even more important in my literary development because it introduced me to Granny Weatherwax and even more importantly to the irrepressible Nanny Ogg, a single toothed cackler who could find a double entrendre in Queen Victoria’s mourning dress.
The witches have always been my favourites, so it’s with a sadness tinged with delight that I hear that the final novel to be published will be one of the increasingly wonderful, witty and wise Tiffany Aching series. I can only hope both of the old girls are in it.
Thanks Terry and I do hope it’s not just bananas in the afterlife.