Years ago I picked up a book. It was in a library, or a bookstore or handed to me by a friend. It doesn’t matter which. The point is that within a few pages I was hooked, line and sinker.
The jokes played a part, and the reality I could see behind the fantastical scenes and plots which whipped merrily along. As with anything I find and delight in I wanted to share it with others, but how to describe a series that melded witches, wizzards, coppers, dragons, zombies, trolls, Nobbses and Death, and which held more of a mirror to humanity than many books that didn’t feature magic?
Fortunately and completely unsurprisingly, I’m not the only person to love the series so there were many over the years who shared a laugh about a particular line or clever references, and who companionably slid off their chairs in glee at the mention of ‘the trousers were better then!’
What I didn’t always mention was that underneath the jokes and wit I could see a deep river of understanding for people, hidden beneath layers of cynicism. Amid the unionizing zombies and teetotal vampires were real people, the people you meet on the street who are brave and cowardly, concerned about their own backyards and willing to lend a hand, stupid and intelligent. These on many occasions also included the zombies and vampires, among others. They were all just people, even when they weren’t. He taught me, through his books, to see them better and to understand the mob as a mass of daftness and potentiality, or in his words,
The intelligence of that creature known as a crowd is the square root of the number of people in it.
I saw the city as a process, endlessly consuming material and spitting out civilization and revolutions as things that always go around, back to where they started. Evil, headology, fanaticism, war, fairies, technology. I could have learnt these in pubs listening to folk yarning or reading books about failed revolutions. His way, however, lay by way of laughter and characters that I’ll never forget, and in many cases back to the source which could be plumbed for yet more treasure.
The reason I am writing this, rather than just enjoying the books, is that I read the last one recently. The very last. No more.
It was a fitting end, completing in part the journey of one character and the beginning of others. There was a sense of unfinished business as well, as it hadn’t quite reached the polished stage of the other books. If he’d had his way we wouldn’t have it at all. Despite this, it still contained the sensible, cynical, determined heart of the other books, even including a surprise Monty Python reference. I enjoyed every minute of it, partly because it was the last and always because it was genuinely good. I liked the goat boy, the cat, the battle and the continuing emergence of goblins into the light.
A wheel was turning, as it has for many of the books in the last few years, away from the medieval fantasy world into an early industrial land where everyone, regardless of species and gender can have a turn. Even the lowest and most hated can rise up (or descend if preferred) into the sunlight (or shade). I wonder where it would have turned next. In my head the world is now stuck in that last moment, preserved in the Century of the Anchovy forever.
I’m not going to tell you to read his books. If you want to you will. For those who have read them and who wear a sprig of lavender on May 25th or wonder about the lyrics of the Hedgehog Song, lets remember him as he’d have liked it, by being a bit more courageous, kind and by using our heads.
How do they rise up!