Sir Terry Pratchett and ‘isms’

In his Discworld books, Sir Terry Pratchett teaches us a lot about various ‘isms’, how to deal with them, overcome them and, hopefully, end up with a better life for all. True, the books are fiction, fantasy, but they also teach us lessons in a way that legislation doesn’t. They help us to think about the ‘isms’ in life and how they can be overcome. I believe that if children read such literature and become convinced by it there is a better chance of them not being sexist, racist, speciest, when they grow up. It would probably help some adults, too.

Legislation, for instance against racism, tells us that it is wrong and not to be tolerated. The fact that legislation makes racism illegal in Australia and elsewhere doesn’t stop it happening: In fact it is still quite common. I suggest that part of the problem is that legislation doesn’t completely solve the problem because it doesn’t require us to think about it. There’s nothing in the law to actually convince us that it is right and best: It’s just an order that should be obeyed without question. We need to be convinced, in our own minds, before we can properly deal with the situation. That’s where Pratchett makes a difference. While entertaining us, he makes us think. Through humour, satire, irony, he makes us see the right way to deal with the situation and convinces us of its rightness.

Take for instance Eskarina Smith. She wants to go to university and become a wizard. But the university doesn’t accept women students. Or Cheery Littlebottom, who wants to be allowed to be a women dwarf. But dwarfs can’t be women, they can only be dwarfs, who must all act and look like men. These women fight against sexism in their own ways and succeed in being what they want to be. In telling their stories Pratchett shows us that sexism can be overcome with humour and fortitude without anyone getting hurt. Reading that these two women achieve equality makes me/us think that perhaps it should apply in my/our world too. At least it starts me/us thinking along the lines that, hopefully, will lead me/us to treat women as equals to men.

Another example: If the people of Ankh-Morpork can be convinced to accept goblins as ‘real people’, even though they are rather strange, smelly, unruly and not properly civilised, then perhaps I should think about the way I think of those foreigners down the road who talk and dress funny and have strange ways and see them as ‘real people’ too. As usual, Pratchett makes his point through humour, and, more importantly, succeeds in making us think about how we might be in a similar situation as regards other people and what we should do about it.

Pratchett’s books are indeed entertainment. But they are also philosophy, anthropology and ethics all in together. He tackles some of the worst problems with isms and shows us that there isn’t really a problem that can’t be overcome if we just change the way we think about them. By showing us how to think in the right way Pratchett shows us that the problems of isms can be solved peacefully and properly.

I see Sir Terry Pratchett’s books as more than entertaining fantasy. They are lessons in how to think about, and deal with, the problems of sexism, racism, speciesism and any other isms. They are guides to decent human behaviour (although, it must be admitted, not all his characters are decent human beings – however, they usually get their come-uppance, so justice is seen to be served), and anyone reading them with an open mind, a brain that works, and a readiness to think about the problems of society, could gain some enlightenment from reading them.

I recommend Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books to everyone and, in particular, would like to see more children introduced to reading them. I believe that Pratchett can help everyone to become better, more tolerant, more understanding, adults. The reader will also be entertained and amused, and learning will become enjoyable rather than a chore. And in the process we just might earn ourselves a better world.

[This article was first published as ‘The works of Sir Terry Pratchett and his philosophical and practical lessons in how to deal with ‘isms’’. EducationHQ. October 2015.]

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