The internet will runneth over today with everyone telling their own Terry Pratchett story, as well it should. This is mine.
I couldn’t read my first year of school. The letters stubbornly refused to become sounds. Teachers carried on unperturbed. I would get it eventually, they said. A lot of children have learning difficulties. I was just one of many who was none too bright.
That wasn’t good enough for my mother. She began teaching me phonetics and decided that maybe the problem was the stories in the books I was reading weren’t as interesting as the stories I made up in my head. So, when I was still quite small, she hired Truckers from the library. And I became a reader.
It’s hard to overstate the influence Terry Pratchett had in my life. I can’t give him full credit for teaching me to read – that honour is bestowed on my parents – but I can credit him with making me love books, with becoming one of those children who read standing up in the hallway between classes, and, maybe, becoming a journalist. I’d not have ditched physics for English lit if I didn’t read the way I read Pratchett. Were it not for the Scientific Encyclopaedia for the Enquiring Young Gnome I’d have stuck to the plan of becoming a veterinarian.
I convinced dad to buy me Mort, my first Discworld book, when I was 11 in exchange for a promise of helping out in the vineyard. The ratty IOU hung in dad’s shed for months. One $15 book: three hours of pruning.
There’s a quote somewhere about how people using a second language, no matter how proficient they are in their adopted tongue, are missing the final five per cent of perversity. That’s what it’s like reading a Discworld novel as a child. You know it’s funny, but you don’t understand most of the jokes. I was 17 before I figured out what a Droit de Seigneur was. Magrat’s continued ignorance didn’t make me feel much better.
Reading Pratchett turned me on to the absurdities of the world, and I started paying close attention so I wouldn’t miss any. Pratchett could explain things better than anybody else, so I let him; I don’t think there’s an essay I wrote between the ages of 15 and 21 that doesn’t have a Terry Pratchett reference slipped in somewhere. I should have lost marks from the teachers who spotted me appropriating all his jokes. Instead, I got gold stars and an enthusiastic note in the margin. “How RAD is Terry Pratchett!!”
And old boyfriend borrowed Going Postal once to see what all the fuss was about. Fifty pages in, he came back, looking annoyed. “You’re not actually funny, are you? You’re just quoting Terry Pratchett.”
No, I’m not actually funny, or smart, or politically astute, or any of the things that people tell me they think I am. I’ve just read a lot of Terry Pratchett.
It’s very nearly the same thing.