About the time of Terry Pratchett’s death earlier this year I came across a blog written by one of his fans. The author of the blog set out on a mission to read and critique every one of Pratchett books, with the target of one book every week. Here’s the blog:
The latest post in the blog was just two days ago, and was about Pratchett’s 34th Discworld novel called Thud!, released about 2005.
The post transported me back eight years to the time I read the book when my son was close to death in intensive care. He was suffering extreme side effects from chemotherapy following treatment for leukaemia. He survived, and then had a successful bone marrow transplant.
It was during this period I first understood and accepted that life is random. Good things happen and bad things happen. Much of it is outside our control. Bad people win the lottery just as good people do, and good people die in plane crashes just as bad people do. There’s no point in asking why or blaming anyone – it just is. Often all we control is how we individually and collectively respond.
But going back to the book, just before going to ICU my son began reading Thud! and somehow the book travelled with him to the ICU. While he was in a coma I knew there was nothing I could do to help, but I wanted to be with him. At the same time I felt awkward being there, so a nurse suggested talking to him, even though he probably wouldn’t hear me. Being your average inarticulate bloke I didn’t know what to talk about. Then, noticing the Pratchett book, I started reading Thud! to him. I don’t know if it helped my son, but it certainly helped me get through those weeks.
That was the beginning of my attachment to Terry’s books. I began reading them chronologically, not exclusively, but always coming back to them. I’ve developed a great fondness for the Discworld series, their humour and not-so-subtle questioning of our prejudices, faults and failings. Now I think of them as cleansing my palate after reading a disturbing or disappointing book.
But Thud! will always have a special place, reminding me just how lucky my family is to live in a country with top-class universal health care. At the same time I think of all the other families born into poverty or living in countries where only the wealthy could afford a bone marrow transplant.
Where you are born is possibly life’s most random and influential event.