Terry Pratchett: an accidental Pagan theologian

My collection of Pratchett books

My collection of Pratchett books

I have been meaning to write an article about Pagan theology in the work of Terry Pratchett for ages. And this will probably not be that article; my thoughts are still too befuddled to write anything analytical. I knew that he was suffering, and found his speech a few years ago about assisted dying very moving and convincing. But I had not expected his passing to be so soon. I first discovered his books at about the age of 19 or 20, and have been reading and re-reading them ever since, enjoying his wonderfully inventive ideas and witty turn of phrase.

He was one of the very few writers to speculate on how deities come into being, first as particles of energy, then accumulating more energy from the minds of worshippers (in the book Small Gods).  He was the inventor of the wonderful idea of the Dark Morris (the slow and silent dance that must be danced in the depths of the forest in order to make the wheel of the year turn again towards summer). Then there was Narrativium, the stuff of stories. He also had some really nifty ideas about ghosts (in Wyrd Sisters) and fairies (in Lords and Ladies), and what they are all about. I know he was an atheist, but he had a profoundly pagan world-view nonetheless. In any case, one can be both a Pagan and an atheist – and though he did not self-identify as a Pagan, I gather he was rather pleased that Pagans liked his work, and I think he did speak at a number of Pagan events. He was also a patron of the British Humanist Association.

Much of his work explores ideas of social justice. Earlier this year, I read his book Johnny and the Bomb, which had one of the best explanations of white privilege in it that I have seen. He also explored feminism in Monstrous Regiment, and gender identity in one of his other books.

He is one of the few authors to have personified Death as a kindly and merciful figure, indeed as a fully-fledged character. The only other one I can think of is Emily Dickinson.

Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.

~ Emily Dickinson, 1830 – 1886

And he really really liked cats. I am comforted that he died peacefully in bed with a cat sleeping next to him. It seems strange to be writing about him in the past tense. He was so full of life. I never met him in person, but his work has certainly informed a lot of my thinking. As a witch from the chalk, I will always be grateful for the character of Tiffany Aching. I love the chalk uplands of Hampshire, Wiltshire, and Sussex – my childhood stomping grounds – and the Chalk in the Discworld books is very evocative of that region.

If you haven’t read any of his books, you have a hefty treat in store. His characters – Granny Weatherwax, Tiffany Aching, Nanny Ogg, Greebo, the Oh God of Hangovers, the Tooth Fairy, Death, Susan, Polly Oliver, the wizards, are all brilliant.

If you wamt my advice, start with The Wyrd Sisters, then Witches Abroad, then Carpe Jugulum. Then there’s the Tiffany Aching series. And his other universes: the Long Earth, and the world of Johnny. And keep an eye out for Mrs Tachyon. Anything could happen when she is around.

It is obvious from reading his work that he was profoundly well read, and well versed in folklore and folk songs, very aware of landscape, and very interested in people. He leaves a tremendous legacy behind.


Tributes to Terry Pratchett

Edinburgh Eye: Terry Pratchett is not one to go gentle into any good night

Discworld Emporium: On the passing of our friend, Terry Pratchett

The Guardian: Terry Pratchett quotes, 15 of the best

The Guardian: Terry Pratchett, author of the Discword series, dies aged 66

Dark Morris, Steeleye Span

Huffington Post

Articles about Terry Pratchett

Historical and Unitarian Musings: The true meaning of Hogswatch

Sex, death, and nature: Laurie Penny interviews Terry Pratchett