Monday, January 31, 2011

An Essay from English Class

Terry Pratchett changed my life. This assumption may or may not be an exaggeration, but it is true. For those who don’t know, Terry Pratchett is the extremely successful British author of the Discworld series and other assorted books, over 30 in all. If you were to go into a bookstore, Pratchett novels would be shelved under “Sci/Fi- Fantasy”. However, his books are so much more than fantasy, or even science fiction. They are reflections on life as we know it: satirical, humorous, but ultimately about the human condition and how humans live and die.            I do not think there is a single book in the Discworld series in which the character Death does not appear. He’s a fairy obvious sort of person: tall, skeletal, black robe, scythe, white horse (called Binky, in case you’re wondering). He typically appears doing what Death does: escorting the dead over to the “other side”, but he also has his own trials and errors. When I first started reading Discworld books, Death as a character intrigued me. He was so… human. When characters (dead or alive) encountered him, they seemed unfazed by his presence. This portrayal of death as a personification rather than a blind force really changed my outlook on life and death.One of the themes that run through most Pratchett novels is the fact that death comes to us all, or life is terminal. Before I started reading Terry Pratchett, death was a sort of abstract idea for me. I have never experienced the death of a close friend or family member, eventually death will come to someone I love. I know that when that time comes, it will seem horribly unfair and sad, but at the same time I know I won’t be able to do anything about it because of one simple fact I’ve learned: death doesn’t chose who lives and who dies. That idea is where Terry Pratchett comes in. In his books, there is death (lower case) and Death (upper case). Lower case death is the actually dying part. Upper case Death is there to sever the soul from this world and sent it on its way.  The blind force of death just happens, while the personification of Death is there to make sure that the action of dying actually occurs. The underlying moral is that death happens to everyone, and there’s no use fighting it because in the end, Death always wins.The idea of Death and death may seem very strange and cynical, but to me it makes a lot of sense. Of course, it may make sense because I’ve never encountered death personally. Personal experience in this department is somewhat lacking for most people, and once they’ve encountered it, they are not exactly in a position to relate their experiences. Eventually Death will visit everyone, because everyone starts to die as soon as they begin to live. However, this eventuality does not mean we should be afraid. As Seneca said, “The man, though, whom you should admire and imitate, is the one who finds it a joy to live and in spite of that is not reluctant to die. . .” Terry Pratchett, though he was born centuries after Seneca died, conveys the same basic idea. His characters walk with Death every day: policemen, kings, wizards, swindlers, witches, musicians, orangutans, trolls, dwarves and everything in between. Each one lives with the idea of Death (some even see or talk to him on occasion), but also without the fear of dying.As a character, Death does not begrudge the living. As an idea, death cannot change how you live your life. It can only end it. The best we can all do as humans is to accept the fact that death happens to every single living soul. If death didn’t happen, there would be no such thing as life, because without life there would be no death. They are polar opposites, but clearly so intertwined and fundamental that one cannot happen without the other. Terry Pratchett offered that idea to me, the same idea that has filtered down through the centuries, since the beginning of time. And since the beginning of time, humans have pulled through and continued living joyously. Despite death, happiness and life still, and will, exist until the end of time. All we can do, here and now, is keep the trend going and live life to the fullest. 

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