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Notorious RRZ Meets His Hero

2003-10-14 - 8:02 a.m.

Somewhere in the vast reaches of the multiverse is a planet, flat and coreless as a pancake. In the center is a mountain rising high into the atmosphere, where dwell the gods of this world. They would play chess with the fates of men and nations, but they got tired of being beaten by demi-gods who still didn't have all their permanent teeth, and so pretended they lost the rule book. Circling this world is a moon and a sun, and underneath the world, occassionally having to lift a leg or two to let those orbs of planetary lumination pass, are four gigantic elephants, supporting the world on their backs and occassionally entertaining themselves by swatting meteors with their trunks. Even they, and the world itself, are dwarfed by the sea turtle--sorry, star turtle, or astrachelonius giganticus--upon with they sail through space. Flippers that could part the rings of Saturn scull gently through the void, and an reptilian brain more ancient than reptiles themselves (don't ask how this is possible, just be in awe, thanks) dreams thoughts too big for any mere mortal to comprehend.

The turtle's name is Great A'Tuin, and the world he carries on his back (or, according to people who tend to be better informed, she carries on her back) is called The Discworld, though not by its own inhabitants, who look upon rumors of worlds as round as oranges as the quaint folktales of people that need to be conquered for their own sake.

I visit this world at least once a month, every time I pick up a novel by Terry Pratchett (he comes out with a new one about once a year, but I reread his novels all the time). On these visits, I meet cowardly wizards, witches who aren't opposed to a good drink or four, vegetarian werewolves (well, except for a few nights every month), members of Vampires Anonymous, dwarfs in drag, troll strippers (who wind up at the end of the act wearing several heavy coats, as trolls are more used to loincloths or nothing), clairvoyant opera divas, psychotic unicorns, zombie social activists, predatory luggage, pet-dragon breeders, Death himself, and an orangutan who moves as he pleases through the space-time continuum.

Well, the orangutan's a librarian. It's part of his job.

If all this doesn't have you hooked, let me say this: Terry Pratchett's Discworld has more intelligent parody than every episode of The Simpsons and South Park put together, and that's saying a lot. If you've ever wanted to laugh at classic fantasy, horror, and even science fiction stories, the works of Shakespeare, the movie industry (and movies ranging from His Girl Friday to Pulp Fiction to The Matrix), rock music, Christmas, the media, religion, or war (a crime so big and horrifying that no one ever seems to get arrested for it), you need only open a book.

Still not convinced? Okay, let me try one more time. Last night, I got to meet Terry Pratchett at a book signing at BookPeople here in Austin. He came onstage, a medium-sized, fifty or sixty something British man with a potbelly and a gray beard. His voice was higher than I had expected, but his sense of humor was everything I wanted it to be. The following is a selection of quotes I managed to remember from his "Five Cent Tour" of his life:

On growing up: "I was that most dangerous of things: an adolescent who could type fast."

On what happens after people are conquered: "Folklore is the mythology of the people who have been beaten."

On military cross-dressing (as in women dressing up as men to join the ranks), the subject of his latest book, Monstrous Regiment: "For most of the past few hundred years, if you had short hair and wore pants, you were a man. If you had a squeaky voice, you were a man with a squeaky voice. If you had big tits, you were a man with an unfortunate glandular condition."

On why he'll never have a biograpy written about him: "After you've worked in PR for a nuclear powerplant, 'interesting' is not a word that you wan't to hear in your life ever again. Radioactive cats . . . let's not go there."

The signing afterwards was not terribly personal, as there were more than two hundred people waiting to have books signed. When I finally got to him, he looked me over and gave me a big smile full of awful British teeth. I had asked him to sign my big "To RRZ, who hopes to be Nanny Ogg," Nanny Ogg being a witch who has come to the end of her life having had a great many men (some of whom she even married), a great many alcoholic beverages, and a great many grandchildren, and who fully intends to go on living many years having more of the same. Terry Pratchett barely missed a beat before saying, "I don't see any reason why you shouldn't. I think she's the only character in all the books who manages to have a good time."

I told him that his books had changed my life many times. That was the best I could come up with on the spot, considering I was fighting every impulse to drop to my knees and say "I'M NOT WORTHY!!! I'M SCUM!!! I'M SOOOOO NOT WORTHY!!!"

What I meant to say was this:

Hey there Terry. I wanted you to know that your books, more than any others I've ever read--and that list includes many of the great works in English literature--have taught me what it means to be human. Characters like Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Sam Vimes, Lord Vetinari, Captain Carrot, the Librarian, and Death have taught me lessons that I can barely put into words. With these people in my head, I'm able to laugh at my selfishness, my pettiness, my greediness, and my cowardice. I learned that everything evil in this world begins when people begin to think of other people as things, rather than as people. I developed a reasonable answer to the question "Why are we here?" At least, I developed one that helps me make it through the day. I found the tools with which to fight for myself and what I believe in, and became able to accept that, at the end of the day, no one is going to reward you for the good you did or the right choices you made, so you have to reward yourself. If this involves a large glass of something that crinkles the paint in the ceiling above it, that's a bonus. If someone rather attractive is also drinking it with you, it's a double bonus. If he or she grows hair and fangs every full moon or fancies exploding reptiles, learn to live with it.

Terry Pratchett should be required reading for all mankind. I recommend that everyone reading this start with Wyrd Sisters, although Mort, Equal Rites, and Guards! Guards! are also good choices.

And if you're ever walking through a library or old bookshop (particularly those with the small doors and the staircases that seem to lead nowhere, because, as knowledge=power=energy=matter=mass, the information in the books is distorting the universe enough so that boundaries between worlds can be crossed and some of the books can read you) and encounter an orangutan rummaging through the shelves, don't call him a monkey. He takes that sort of thing personally, and feels the need to demonstrate that it is apes, rather than monkeys, who are capable of bouncing people on the ground by their heads.

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