The Best Lessons I Learned from Terry Pratchett

As I mentioned a little bit ago, I’m a huge Terry Pratchett fan. The Discworld novels have gotten me through some rough spots in my life. They’re hilarious and fantastic (in the traditional sense, i.e. full of fantasy, as well as the modern sense) and just…just the best. 

One thing I didn’t mention though? They’re also full of some great lessons, and in re-reading some of his books lately, I was struck with how much of my personal philosophy has been informed by Discworld. 

Here’s some of my favorites and why I love them.

“If you trust in yourself. . .and believe in your dreams. . .and follow your star. . . you’ll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy.” 

-The Wee Free Men

This quote was a bit of a slap in the face. I read it for the first time when I was recovering from surgery and was pondering my post-cancer life, since I’d just been declared “cured” and thus knew I would actually have a post-cancer life. It was one of the many factors that motivated me to start writing again. My entire life I dreamed of being an author, but never actually did anything about it. So it motivated me to get off my ass and start working hard, learning things, and not be so damn lazy.

“Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.” 

– Hogfather

Going to the other end of my personal chronological spectrum, Hogfather was the first Discworld book I read, and this quote stuck in my mind and wouldn’t let go. It ties into the reason I write and read genre fiction. Fantasy is one thing that humans have that, as far as we know, no other life has. It’s something I find inherently elevating and beautiful, even when it’s grimdark and brutal, because it transcends reality.

“The enemy isn’t men, or women, it’s bloody stupid people and no one has the right to be stupid.” 

– Monstrous Regiment

Getting away from writing and into “general life lessons,” I’ve always loved this one. Now, to be clear from context, ‘stupid’ is referring to people who are willfully ignorant or deliberately do stupid, petty, small minded things. I don’t think I need to explain further – the quote speaks for itself.

“A lie can run around the world before the truth has got its boots on.”

– The Truth

The Truth was first published in 2000, before the dawn of omnipresent social media, yet it so accurately predicted one of the effects it would have on our lives. Rumor and lies have always spread like wildfire, but now that we have ways to instantly transmit them to large groups of people stripped of all context, a lie can run around the world, get home, take a shower, have a cup of tea, and turn on the evening television to see what impact it had…all before the truth has got its boots on. It’s a good reminder to check your sources before sharing anything, especially when it seems either too good to be true or so frightening it demands to be shared.

“You know what the greatest tragedy is in the whole world?… It’s all the people who never find out what it is they really want to do or what it is they’re really good at. It’s all the sons who become blacksmiths because their fathers were blacksmiths. It’s all the people who could be really fantastic flute players who grow old and die without ever seeing a musical instrument, so they become bad plowmen instead. It’s all the people with talents who never even find out. Maybe they are never even born in a time when it’s even possible to find out. It’s all the people who never get to know what it is that they can really be. It’s all the wasted chances.” 

– Moving Pictures

Man, this one hits home, especially that last part. If you’re reading this, there’s a very good chance you live in a society that is in the first world, and therefore you have more chances to discover what you could be or what you really want to be than anyone did at any other point in human history. But so many of us – and believe me, I don’t exclude myself from this – go with the flow and do what we’re expected to do. Try things. Try the big things, try the small things. Take the chances, because you never know what you’ll be really good at. Find out what you can be.

“And sin, young man, is when you treat people like things.” 

– Carpe Jugulum

This right here distills so many centuries of moral and ethical philosophy and religious teachings into a single line that perfectly sums up how I view morality. Don’t treat people like things, and you’re most of the way to doing it right. (It, in this case, meaning ‘being a decent person.’) Treat people like people, no matter who they are, and you’ve pretty much got it down.

“Most books on witchcraft will tell you that witches work naked. This is because most books on witchcraft are written by men.” 

– Good Omens (With Neil Gaiman)

Besides just being hilarious, as a man who writes books that have women in primary roles, this is a very good reminder how easy it is to fall into the traps associated with men writing women. Seriously, go to the menwritingwomen subreddit or search that hashtag on twitter, and you’ll see some godaweful examples of how bad this can get. I might do a full post on it at some point, but for now, keep this quote as a reminder that if your women are doing things that would only appeal to men, you’re probably doing it wrong.

“Never promise to do the possible. Anyone could do the possible. You should promise to do the impossible, because sometimes the impossible was possible, if you could find the right way, and at least you could often extend the limits of the possible. And if you failed, well, it had been impossible.” 

– Going Postal

“Run before you walk! Fly before you crawl! Keep moving forward!…Because if we fail, I’d rather fail really hugely. All or nothing, Mr. Groat!”

– Going Postal

I pair these two because they both get at the same sentiment. It’s motivational as hell – a reminder to push yourself to your limits and see what you accomplish. Unlike most motivational quotes, however, they acknowledge the possibility of failing – and a reminder that the failure is worth the risk. 


2 thoughts on “The Best Lessons I Learned from Terry Pratchett

  1. I’m not sure I could ever pick my favorites among the lessons I learned from Terry Pratchett, but you did a good job in this post!
    I think especially the Tiffany Aching and the City Watch books have an impact on me, because through the eyes of Tiffany and Vimes, Pratchett manages to show so many sides of human nature, both good and bad. And both of those characters’ stubborn refusal to give up, despite knowing they can’t expect anyone to thank them, is inspiring.


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