Terry Pratchett and romance
I didn’t want to post just about depression, which is in itself depressing, so I thought I would follow it up with something more cheerful.
Terry Pratchett is an amazing author. If you haven’t read his books yet, go get them, read them, and then come back. It might take a while, but I’ll wait. Particularly the discworld series (including Tiffany Aching) and the gnome series, since those are the ones I will be discussing (this is your spoiler alert).
When we started listening to the discworld series (we started listening to them on audible on a lark), it was his humor, his stories, and his bizarre metaphors that caught our attention. Starting around book 3, the characters start to grow and have significantly more depth and the story arcs become even more compelling. Surprisingly deep ideas are often contained within them. Since a lot of the characters repeat throughout the books, they grow and change. Some of them get married and have kids, because that is what people do, but romance is never a central theme in any of the books. There is very little intimacy shown on the pages, even for the characters that are together. So, when he occasionally throws romance in, it catches me somewhat off-guard (or at least it did at first).
“What is the sound of love?”
By itself, those two sentences don’t seem that impressive. However, every time I think about them, it makes me cry (a good cry). I think it might be the most romantic thing I’ve ever read. It doesn’t make any sense of course, unless you’ve read the book (“I Shall Wear Midnight”, the last Tiffany Aching book). Pratchett does such a phenomenal job of building things up and showing you little details that you don’t even know are important at the time, that when he gets to the end, to that crucial last little bit, that his few simple words are able to convey everything else. He doesn’t have to talk about how the characters feel about one another, have them kissing (or more), or tell us that they live ‘happily ever after.’ He manages to convey everything by focusing on one or two little details about the characters, which tell us all we need to know. In this particular example, both of the characters enjoy words/knowledge and have previously had discussions regarding what sound should be associated with particular words. Also, Tiffany had tried to ask her future-self if she/they would ever fall in love (although she didn’t actually say ‘love’, even that was alluded to); her future-self smiled, faded away, and said ‘Listen’. At the time, we thought that meant something like ‘listen to your heart’, or simply puzzled over it. Only at the end do we realize what it meant. There are a lot of other things that build up to that moment, to make it significant and make you care, but those are the details that directly relate to the sentences spoken.
In another book (“Thief of Time”), we learn two things: 1) Susan likes gourmet chocolates, but not the nougat ones. 2) Susan doesn’t believe in ‘perfect moments’. So at the end, when the boy shows up right after she’s eaten a chocolate, which turns out to be nougat, and she learns “even with nougat, you can have a perfect moment”, we know what that means. There are no romantic speeches or declarations of love; they aren’t needed.
In “Diggers” (from the Bromeliard/gnome trilogy) the romantic moment is conveyed with the delivery of a particular flower. In “The Fifth Elephant” Captain Carrot shows his love when he, without fanfare, resigns his job to follow Angua, who has disappeared. Simple things, yet, in context, they mean so much.
One of the other interesting things about romance in his books, is that it is never a given. Female protagonists can exist quite contently without constantly worrying about who they will hook up. Granny Weatherwax, one of the main witches, never even has sex (you only know this because of a unicorn she rescues). Nanny Ogg has had several husbands, but we never see any of them. Susan starred in several books before she found her love, as did Tiffany; in fact, neither of them had even MET their future soulmate until the book in which they get together at the end, and had rarely thought about or discussed their single status prior to that.
Physical attractiveness is never what brings the characters together either. It is always something else; pieces that are important to both of them, ways in which their personalities click together like a well-made jigsaw puzzle, which makes it more real, and compelling. There are no lengthy descriptions of his or her physical attributes, which is pretty rare for a book written by a man.
I find Terry Pratchett’s ability to use words fascinating. I can only hope that one day I’ll have a tenth of that ability to use in my own stories.