I Shall Wear Midnight


Terry Pratchett

Cover of Terry Pratchett

Over a quarter of a century ago I started to read a story.

The story was set in a magical land, where there lived a particular wizard, who subsequently became one of fantastic literature’s favourite wizards, alongside Merlyn, Gandalf and young Mr Potter. It also had an unfortunate tourist, whose Luggage had legs and, apparently a mind of its own.

With four-dimensional distance, not to mention elasticated string, memory seems plays tricks on one.

I was convinced this story first appeared, prior to book publication, in the form of a novella in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. But now, with the benefit of search engines I determined to check my facts before writing that it. And you, know, I can’t verify it.

I can find no trace of any such magazine publication of the first reports of Rincewind and Twoflower when using Google. Does any one know?

Perhaps I bought it in paperback on spec. I  know I didn’t buy hardbacks in those days. (Having, to my surprise just been able to find it without looking, I discover that my slightly foxed copy appears to be a paperback first edition. Wonder if it has any value ….)

All that is of little consequence, of course, because the story was The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett as he then was. And it started a lifelong affection for Discworld and its motley cast.

I read the 38th book in the series yesterday.

Featuring the old-beyond-her-fifteen-summers Tiffany Aching this one has a different quality to it than all the others.

Oh, the characterisation is as delightfully ironic as ever. The (s)wordplay just as sharp. But there is an undercurrent of tristesse. Not sorrow, or even sadness, but a gentle, smiling tolerance of humanity in all its glorious weaknesses and strength. It has an elegiac and hauntingly austere quality about it.

Knowing the practical difficulties that Sir Terry faced in writing his most recent books, this book is even more remarkable for that.

It’s not the last book in the Discworld series. (I suspect that one has already been written and locked away in a safe). And I know that there’s at least one other (Snuff) due to come out this year. And hopefully more to come after that.

But if it had have been the last, it would have been a rare and fitting finish.

This one was very much than the usual clever puns and word-game for the amusement of the alert (you know the sort of thing . . . Medic-i => Vetinar-i).

You never think that at some point there will be no more Rumpole stories to read. The Victorians rose up  when they thought there’d be no more Holmes, so much so that Conan Doyle had to resurrect him until he ended his days growing roses.
(The exception here is Harry Potter. We’ve been Potter-ed into submission, and Rowling ended that tale so definitively that the only new Hogwarts stories could be set in the a generation prior or subsquent.)

But one day there shall be no more new Discworld stories.

I Shall Wear Midnight is one of those rare books which makes you sit back, and wonder at the wisdom and compassion of the mind that created it; which mind is, in real life, suffering from one of the cruellest things that could possibly happen to it, and even more, is so courageous that he proclaims it to the world.

This book is even the more remarkable for that.

Read it.

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