That title’s a bit dramatic. I would be alive. but I definitely wouldn’t be the same person I am today.
I was going to start this by saying that I started reading Pterry’s books at a pivotal time in my life. But I think that Pterry would point out that all points in every life are pivotal, if only at least to the individual to whom that life belonged.
So. This particular pivotal moment in my particular life was when I was eleven. I grew up on a diet of Disney and the stereotyping usual to British society (my family buys the Daily Fail. I’m so sorry.)
I remember, when I was young, my favourite colour was red. But, from everywhere, I was told that pink was for girls. The females that were held up to me as role models were good girls, they were pretty, and delicate, and graceful, and they liked pink. Oh, how I wanted to be like those role models.
So I started to claim that my favourite colour was pink. Because that’s what girls were supposed to like, right? Right. This went on for long enough that my dad agreed to repaint my room pink, even though pink isn’t a colour I truly like.
Another time, I was arguing with my sister. I don’t remember what about. But I remember telling her: “One day when I grow up I’ll marry a prince, and then you’ll be sorry!”
I know. Bear with me.
Somehow, growing up, I couldn’t think of anything better than marrying a prince. That was the ultimate goal for young me. Not that there’s anything wrong with having marriage as a life goal, of course. But it shouldn’t be one’s only life goal. Besides, there aren’t enough princes to go around.
It came as a disappointment to me (I promise I’ll start talking about Pterry soon) to realise, as I grew, that I wasn’t a Disney Princess. I wasn’t graceful, or delicate, or pretty. I couldn’t sing or convince woodland animals to do household chores. I worried about this a fair amount. If I wasn’t how a girl should be, what could I do when I was older? Would anyone accept me? Was there something wrong with me?
It was then that CBBC aired their adaptation of Johnny and the Bomb. I saw it advertised and was desperate to watch it, but, being the sort of child that I was (i.e. an insufferable little knowitall), I had to read the book first.
That December, my Christmas list read: Anything by Terry Pratchett.
I was given The Wee Free Men and that is how I met Tiffany Aching. She was the girl who, when told “It had eyes the size of dinner plates,” went and measured a dinner plate to find out how big exactly that meant. Fact checking; it’s important!
Tiffany was the girl who was plain, unremarkable, unadmired, and in the background. But she is still a complicated, valid heroine.
Not only is Tiffany physically dissimilar to the heroines that I’d been exposed to before, but her character was different too. Tiffany is resentful. She is selfish. She is proud. Tiffany gets angry. She never once sings with animated creatures. But she is still shown in a positive light, an approving light. She literally hits the embodiment of the idea of putting on a facade to hide one’s true self and impress others (otherwise known as The Queen of the Fairies) in the face with a frying pan.
I had never witnessed angry heroines before. The ladies I had seen were allowed to be despairing in the face of adversity, or hopeful, or even faint. But they didn’t get angry. Tiffany gave adolescent me licence to feel my natural emotions without shame or fear.
Tiffany led me to other wonderful female characters in Pterry’s books, Discworld and otherwise. Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Adora Belle Dearheart, Sacharissa Cripslock, Corporal Littlebottom, Susan Sto Helit, Agnes Nitt, Glinda Sugarbean, Polly, Captain Angua, Sergeant Jackrum, Daphne, Sybil Ramkin to name a few.
These women are a symphony of positive female characters. They all have different personality types, all have different methodologies, all have different body types. They all do the job that needs doing, whether it’s nice or not and whether or not they look good while doing it. It proves that you can be amazing no matter your personality or shape. Even if that shape is occasionally a wolf.
Even better, they all support each other. So much media pits women against each other, but not in Pterry’s universes. Angua and Cheery, Esme and Gytha, Polly and Maladicta, Glinda and Juliet… they all hold each other up instead of clawing each other downwards. It’s so refreshing and uplifting and wrapped up in the intricately-plotted, ingeniously-written bow that is Pratchett prose.
I know that Pterry wasn’t predominantly a feminist author. He said himself that people were just people; weirdly, that includes females as well. He didn’t set out to write feminist prose (though arguably that is what he did), but he did set out to write believable female characters. In doing so, he helped me accept and understand who I was, and that who I was was okay.
This is the gift that Pterry gives. He would look at something so commonplace that no one ever noticed it, turn it around to a new angle, and present it to you in such a way that you said “Oh, shit.” And then made enough puns and references that you laughed until you cried.
Terry also looked at horrors and got angry. So angry. But then he used that anger to make something beautiful, a masterpiece like Monstrous Regiment or Nightwatch so that other people could get angry too, and maybe – just maybe – change the way they think and act, and make the world a little bit better.
The small change enacted on people who read Pterry’s work cause ripples which spread through the world, improving it one open mind at a time. And, as the man himself told us: “No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away…”
So, if you haven’t read them, I implore you to do yourself the favour of reading his books, for all of the above reasons. Also, they’re damn good books in their own right.