With his passing, one could finally write a definitive retrospective on Sir Terry Pratchett. This isn’t it. I’ve read many of his books–I can’t say most–and in my opinion, the Tiffany Aching books were the pinnacle of his career, the finest combination of the humor, insight, and storytelling that you saw in all of his work. I still stand by that. However, Nation may be his best single book.
It lacks the sweet humor of the Tiffany Aching books (and the presence of Granny Weatherwax, who will always be my favorite of Sir Terry’s characters). But it makes up for both in raw grappling with ideas. Pratchett goes head-to-head with notions of faith, reason, God, gods, science, life, death, and civilization and refuses to give easy or facile answers. If anything, this book is one long acknowledgement that there are no easy answers but that asking the questions important. Or to put it another way:
He called himself the little blue hermit crab, scuttling across the sand in search of a new shell, but now he looks at the sky and knows that no shell will ever be big enough, ever.
One response to such a revelation, all to common in our world, is fear:
Even our fears make us feel important, because we fear that we might not be.
Finding something in life to fear–whether it is fear of financial ruin, fear of injury, or fear that someone else’s happiness or success will diminish our own–gives us a way to avoid the real fear: Fear of that big blue sky above and of the time it finally goes dark.
Or we can face the world, acknowledge its imperfections and mysteries, and do our part to make it a better place. As one character says when he’s told the world is far from perfect:
“It’s a little more perfect today. And there will be more days.”
And he’s told in response:
“Those others I mentioned … They all said the same thing as you did . They saw that the perfect world is a journey, not a place.”
The best books teach us something or remind us of important truths that we already know. Nation does both and does it with a blend of adventure, humor, and insight that is peculiarly Sir Terry’s and that remains behind as his gift to our wide open and broken world.
At one point, a character sings “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and includes one of the less commonly sung later verses:
When the blazing sun is gone,
When he nothing shines upon,
Then you show your little light,
Twinkle, twinkle, all the night.
Then the traveler in the dark
Thanks you for your tiny spark…
Thank you, Sir Terry, for your tiny spark.