This week, I've been struggling to write. Anything. Somehow, I've just felt blocked. Writing seemed purposeless. My willpower lagged, sagged, and waved the white flag. So I took the time to reorganize my comic book collection, no easy feat as it seems to be growing by leaps and bounds. As I did so, it struck me that comics are like chapters in a novel. Sometimes they stand alone. Others rely on your knowledge of what came before, and end on a cliffhanger, demanding you seek out the next installment. But all look to the past, belong to an overarching story and tradition, and pave the way for new comics, of any type, to be written.
Yesterday morning, as I sat down to organize, a bag of comics caught my eye. It was an adaptation of Terry Pratchett's novel The Color of Magic.
This was the novel with which he introduced us to Discworld, that amazing world that sits on four giant elephants, who ride through space on the back of an immense star-spanning turtle. I had not yet read these four comics, and so instead of moving comics from box to box, I picked up the first issue and met a young tourist who disembarks from a ship in the harbor of Ankh Morpork.
He doesn't speak the local language, but with the use of his guidebook, and by showing off his gold coins, he soon makes his intentions clear.
After being escorted to a tavern, he meets Rincewind, an apprentice wizard who was thrown out of Unseen University not because he learned a spell, but because a spell somehow learned him. It seeped inside him, and when he gets agitated or anxious, it tends to work its magic through him, beyond his conscious control.
You know, kind of like the Hulk.
Rincewind sets himself up as guide, and Twoflower naively gives him four days' pay in advance. When Rincewind uses the money to escape the city, the Patrician of Ankh Morpork has him escorted to the palace. He explains to Rincewind that Twoflower hails from the counterweight continent, the home of the Agatean Empire. It's a government so rich in mineral wealth that it wields tremendous power. Although its citizens rarely travel, Twoflower has taken it into his head to see the world.
The Patrician wants Rincewind to understand how grateful he will be to Rincewind for keeping a protective eye upon their foreign visitor.
He also explains the unfortunate consequences Rincewind would face, should any harm befall Twoflower.
Soon Rincewind and Twoflower are hitting the streets. Twoflower wants to see everything. He has a little box that makes little pictures of what he sees in extraordinary detail. Rincewind is amazed how friendly and accommodating even the most unfriendly and unaccomodating people can be, when the little box is pointed their way, and a little gold is pressed into their hands. He wonders what kind of magic the box channels to make these fantastic little pictures.
Then, at one point, the top of the box opens, a little imp crawls out, and announces that he's running low on pink paint. Ah, that's how.
Just as the Patrician feared, some people in Ankh Morpork aren't satisfied with the few gold coins that Twoflower would willingly give them. They also wonder how much they could gain by capturing his luggage, a chest made entirely from sapient pear wood. Pear wood is incredibly expensive in Ankh Morpork, and even the richest wizards can only afford the smallest pieces. So obviously, it must be worth an unimaginable sum.
These villains kidnap Twoflower, but Rincewind and the luggage escape. When Rincewind flees, the luggage stops him and insists that Rincewind rescue its master. So it's up to the anxious (failed) apprentice wizard to concoct a plan to free Twoflower, and in the luggage he finds a powerful ally.
When I put down the first issue, I felt more inclined to write than I had felt previously this week. So I headed off to my desk, and after reading the chapter of another novel, set my own pen to my own pad of paper. When my wife called me at lunch time, I had written several pages, and felt inspired to write more.
Then my wife told me of a news story she had just read online. Terry Pratchett, aged 66, had passed away in his home in England.
As some of you may remember, I had the honor of seeing Terry Pratchett at the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton England back in 2013. Despite the disease he suffered from, he was able to talk a little. Sitting across a cold crowded room from him, I was warmed by the presence of this master storyteller. He wrote over seventy books in his life, and I read a lot of them. More significantly, I derived a great deal of pleasure from nearly every one I read. No doubt others felt the same, as the room was more crowded for him than for anyone else who spoke at the convention.
All authors create characters and worlds. But some authors' creations dwarf their creator, and dwarf most other authors creations. Terry Pratchett's Discworld is one such creation. It builds on the great fantasy literature of the past, and moves forward, presenting a world with such richness and depth that readers hunger for the next installment. I imagine that Discworld will go on, that other authors will take up their pens and, as with other literary icons like Jane Austen and Arthur Conan Doyle, write future stories set in Terry Pratchett's Discworld. But even if they don't, even if Pratchett's heirs don't allow that, his books are like the comic books in my collection, building upon the rich tradition of comics, and inspiring others to write even better, richer, more diverse stories than they read while growing up.
I'm one of those authors who were caught up in Terry Pratchett's magic, who was inspired to take up my own pen as a result of Terry Pratchett writing. His stories will live on through others, and hopefully, through me as well. His magic inspired me to write yesterday morning, and all afternoon as well. And if I ever achieve my goal of publication, if ever I contribute a few chapters or issues to the great, overarching story that is Fantasy literature, some of the credit must go to Terry Pratchett. His magic infuses me, uplifts me, and lives inside me. And because of that, I write.