Paraphrasing Pratchett

It’s either in Small Gods or in one the the Witches books in the Discworld series that Terry Pratchett says something I particularly agree with.
I am paraphrasing but basically one of the characters muses that it’s one thing saying ‘my god/gods are better than your god/gods’ but it is entirely another thing altogether to say ‘my god is the only real god’.

It might have been Granny Weatherwax or Nanny Ogg in Carpe Jugulum, but I’m not sure.

Whoever said it, I agree with the sentiment. The first statement is the sort of thing kids say if you replace ‘gods’ with, well, pretty much anything; it’s boasting and showing off, a prestige thing that humans, other primates and I suspect all other animals do one way or another. People don’t generally start wars because their neighbour thinks their thunder god’s lighting is a bit more impressive. Well they might do but if they did most records were destroyed/repressed by people who agree with the second sentiment. Even the Romans, who quite liked uniformity (all those straight roads and planned towns) because it made people easier to rule, had a syncretic approach to religion; instead of wiping out conquered tribes’ gods they incorporated them. They did deal savagely with anyone they thought was causing them trouble though, and sometimes it was priests, such as the druids of Anglesey. But that was political rather than religious murder.

The second statement is the sort of thing missionaries, bigots, and zeolots say. And starts wars, genocide and burning people because their beliefs differ by a tiny degree. Yes, I am looking at you, religions of the book. Several thousand years of not playing nicely with the neighbours will get you a bad reputation. How billions of people can still subscribe to such bloodstained, hypocritical belief systems that worship a genocidal egomaniac is beyond me.

My point is, erm, actually I’ve forgotten where I was going with this post after the paraphrasing. I got a bit distracted by the paragraphs that followed. Gimme a second and I’ll remember.

Oh, yes, that was it. Ignore everything after ‘my god is the only god’; that’s all just extemporising. My reason for writing this post, and where I was heading before I distracted myself, was in the general direction of the Discworld series as an example of fantasy as allegory.

In the thirty plus books of the series various characters and events parallel real world events or issues. The books can be read as straightforward comic fantasy, but they can also be read in the allegorical tradition of holding a mirror up to the real world and working through those events and situations in fictional form. That is what we have fantasy for, as well as entertainment and escapism, in my opinion.

Obviously the author may or my not be presenting his own ethical approach and beliefs in his books, but story is one way to present ethics. How many of us have been forced to reassess our view of some event or issue by a well-told tale?

I readily admit that I have. Even if I don’t agree with the writer’s opinion just by taking the time to read and understand that opinion my own may be modified, or at the very least I gain some understanding of a different opinion.

I think that ability of fantasy fiction, often derided, sometimes derivative, to build worlds and yet be mirrors of our world, is its greatest strength as a literary genre.

Also, I love the Discworld books.


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