The Reality of Fantasy

I’m 18 and scared and sick and sitting in a hospital room. I’m not allowed to keep much with me. Some socks, a t-shirt, a pair of pajama pants so long I keep tripping over the bottoms, and a hoodie with holes in the cuffs make up everything I can call my own. Everything that is, besides a small paper bag full of paperback books.
I’m in the hospital for a week. It’s cold and frightening, and I’m trying my hardest to get better.  I spend most of my days curled up in corners, avoiding other patients, avoiding doctors, avoiding nurses, avoiding everything I can. I read.  A lot. The paperback books. One at a time. Not slowly—I always was an obnoxiously speedy reader—I project everything I’m feeling on to those thin pages.
It started with Good Omens, a Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett co-written wonder I had borrowed from a friend’s locker when I was maybe 15 and needed something to read on the bus. I’d devoured it, really. Read the entire thing, cover to cover, in a single sitting. No breaks for water. No bathroom trips. Just the comfort – and power -- of words placed on a page in exactly the way you want them to be.
After I’d read Good Omens a half a dozen times, I decided that maybe it was time to look up the two men who had written the book I’d fallen in love with. Maybe they’d written some other stuff. Maybe I’d love that stuff to.
They had. And I did.
My copy of Good Omens, battered, bruised, worn,
but most of all loved.
I didn’t really start reading the Pratchett’s Discworld books just then. I read one or two during my senior year of High School but I didn’t really think much about them. They were good. They were funny. There were other things to do.
Sometimes things come in to your life exactly when you need them. Sometimes those things may have been with you already, dormant, waiting for just the right moment to make their return.
There was a used bookstore near my apartment in Chicago.  I liked to wander up and down the aisles for hours, running my hands up and down piles of books stacked preciously high. I was afraid of the man who owned the store and who worked the front desk, but it was there that I bought a copy of “Witches Abroad” which I took home and sat on my floor and read in one afternoon. I bought and read about a dozen more of Pratchett’s books in exactly the same fashion in very rapid succession. I loved them. They were just what I needed.
Things got rough for me. I got sick. I got sicker. I moved home, from Chicago to Maryland.
When I was in the hospital my parents would bring me books. The Discworld books were the perfect hospital reading material -- smart, funny, engaging, and good. The paperbacks were light and small enough that I could carry them around all day. The covers were brightly colored, and helped to light up a world that was feeling very bleak and gray. They were exactly what I needed them to be.
The thing about fantasy – in literature as in life -- is that it’s grounded in reality. There are dragons, maybe. Or wizards, or gnomes or goblins or vampires, or maybe an entire planet located on a disc which is carried on the back of 4 humongous elephants who are all on the back of a giant turtle which is making its way slowly through space. But these crazy worlds are just stages erected to tell human stories. Stories about real issues and lives and the things that real people think about.
Reading the Discworld books allowed me to take a step back from the world without really leaving it. I was a mess, and in this terrifying time in my life, those books were an anchor I desperately needed.
Today Sir Terry Pratchett passed away. He was 66. I’m grateful for his life and for his work, and for what his life and his work meant to me and to so many other people.
Tonight I’m going to reread Witches Abroad. Laugh a little. Cry, maybe. But mostly I’m just going to be thankful for Terry, for his books, and how they helped me get me through what I needed go through.

“‘I meant,’ said Ipslore bitterly, ‘What is there in this world that truly makes living worthwhile?” Death thought about it. Cats, he said eventually. Cats are nice.” – Sourcery

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