Voices of the Dead: Terry Pratchett

To me, it’s always a little strange to hear or see recordings of someone who I’ve loved, admired, or been a fan of after they’ve died. In some ways I’m grateful. Preserving the way they talk, and move, and interact with the world is a beautiful thing, a little piece of the way we keep them around. But it’s also just a bit…creepy. We are literally listening to the voices of the dead, speaking from beyond the grave. In certain times and places, it would probably be a burnable offense to do that. That person is no longer with us, and yet in a way more concrete than just a static image or their written words, they still are.

This doesn’t affect me much for people who died before I was born, whose lives have always been part of “the past” for me. I’m fascinated by video footage of Martin Luther King Jr. speaking. He is a man who I respect, and honor, and whose legacy is preserved for us in film and I’m grateful for that. It’s somehow completely different than my grandparents, or even the few celebrities who were hugely important to me, beloved figures of my childhood or teen-years, or whatever. The more personal the connection, the more strongly my feelings of “something not quite right”. (It’s actually not until this blog post that I realized, while I love all the many pictures of my grandparents, I’ve never once watched a video or listened to a recording of them since they’ve passed away, and I don’t think I want to.)

Anyway, this all brings me to Terry Pratchett and the book he cowrote with folklorist Jacqueline Simpson, The Folklore of Discworld. It’s a fascinating book, full of great stories from our own world, and showing how those played into the wonderful Discworld books. Some of it was things I knew about, and some I never would have guessed were inspired by earthly folklore. It’s a bit focused on British Isles and European folklore, but definitely fascinating. As I’ve been doing quite a bit lately, I listened to this as an audiobook during my daily commute. At the end, there was an “interview” with Terry and Jacqueline, recorded presumably sometime around its publication in 2008. The interview was really just a recording of two friends having a conversation about the book, folklore, bits of history, the way the world is changing, and that one weird story they heard this one time that someone swore was totally true.

Honestly, I loved this book, and the interview was just the icing on the cake. But I realized, with a bit of a jolt as it began, that was the first time I’d ever heard Terry Pratchett speaking. And his voice sent a little chill down my spine. A voice of the past, and yet unknown. What had been merely words on a page to me, much beloved though they might be, was now given sound. There are things about a person that, no matter how excellent the book/diary/biography may be, it simply cannot convey. I had no idea that Terry could sing, and beautifully too, yet he broke out in snatches of song repeatedly during the recording. Despite the very (very very) Britishness of the humor of Discworld, it had never quite penetrated how VERY British the author’s accent would be. And here I was discovering all these new things about one of my literary heroes, yet knowing there was now no possibility of ever encountering this person in the flesh.

Listening to this recording was a strange, precious, weirdly satisfying experience. And the book itself reminded me how very much I love folklore and myth and legend. I love it all so much, from all around the world. This is why I read fantasy more than science fiction, because it is so often a retelling or remixing or extension or just influenced by the folklore and legends of our world. And not only do I love that, but its fascinating the ways in which it evolves.

Which just makes me think, I need more books on world Folklore, Myth, and Legend.

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