Saturday, January 25, 2014

Sick in Discworld

Today's post is brought to you by NyQuil®, which is why it's late and probably less than coherent.

Is there anything worse than being sick on the weekend? Being sick during the week, now that's another story. When you're having a particularly hectic work week, it's kind of nice to take a day off to just kick back and be sick. Of course, I'm not talking about "running to the bathroom every five minutes" sick. I'm talking about "common cold or flu" sick, where your worst symptoms are a headache and a head full of snot.

That's why yesterday I decided to stay home in my recliner with my fleece blanket, a couple of boxes of Kleenex, a cup of peppermint tea, and a cat in my lap. I napped, watched a couple of DVDs, and did some reading. I love reading a good book when I'm sick—unless my nose is dripping on the book, which with a Kindle is not even a problem, because the snot wipes right off.

When I was a kid, there were no DVDs or videotapes, and—difficult as this is to imagine—daytime TV was even worse than it is today. When I was sick, my mother would go to the library and bring me a stack of books. My favorites were the stories of Ray Bradbury and the collections of scary stories for kids edited by Alfred Hitchcock. One of my favorites from one of those collections (I wish I could remember which collection or the name of the story or its author) was about a feverish child who overhears his parents gossiping about the people in town and somehow transforms their figures of speech ("her tongue wags at both ends," "he has eyes in the back of his head," etc.) into reality. The whole town goes crazy for a day then, when the child's fever breaks, everything changes back to normal. You can imagine the effect of reading such a story when I, myself, had a fever. I became convinced that I, too, might have the power to transform reality.

Speaking of transforming reality...

The book I have been currently reading is Men at Arms, by Terry Pratchett. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Pratchett, he is a brilliant, prolific writer of humorous fantasy. Terry Pratchett doesn't need to worry about transforming reality. He has created his own reality: a place called Discworld. Discworld is a world that is round and flat (hence the name "Discworld") and is carried through space on the backs of four enormous elephants, which, in turn, stand on the back of an enormous turtle. As you might surmise about such a place, anything can happen there.

Over a decade before J.K. Rowling gave us Hogwarts, Terry Pratchett introduced us to Unseen University, Discworld's school for wizards (and, eventually, witches). However, unlike the wizards of Rowling's world, Discworld's wizards are hilariously inept, and their magic nearly always has disastrous results. There is an entire series of Discworld novels devoted to them—as well as a series about Discworld's less inept witches, a series of mysteries involving the City Watch (the police of Ankh-Morpork, capital city of Discworld), and a series of award-winning young adult novels about a young witch named Tiffany Aching.

My favorite Discworld character is Death, who has his own series of novels and also appears as a minor character in nearly every other Discworld book. He is, in his own words (which are always expressed without quotes and in caps), AN ANTHROPOMORPHIC PERSONIFICATION. Stereotypically, he is a skeleton who wears a black robe and carries a scythe. Unstereotypically, he rides a horse named "Binky," is fond of cats, and has an adopted family. (Downton Abbey fans may be interested to know that, several years before playing Lady Mary Crawley, actress Michelle Dockery played Death's granddaughter Susan in a superb TV adaptation of Hogfather, the fourth Discworld novel about Death.)

Death also has a sense of humor. In the following scene from Men at Arms, he has come to collect the soul of a dwarf named Bjorn:
'I believe in reincarnation,' he said.
'I tried to live a good life. Does that help?'

All told, there are forty Discworld novels, of which I have only read seven.

It's a good thing I'm sick. I have a lot of reading to do.

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