Today is the Glorious 25th of May. Today, we remember Terry Pratchett. And we remember the brief existence of the People’s Republic of Treacle Mine Road, and those who fought and died at the barricades.
Barricades always appeal, but there’s something deeply special about Night Watch. It’s hard and it’s dark and it shows you life is cruel, but there’s passion and there’s romance (not love, I mean actual romance) and there’s men and women who do the job in front of them.
It’s strange, when you really think about it, to remember the dead of stories. We do it in Real Life and know that there were people who fought and died, and We Will Remember Them, but by the time they get to us, they are, largely, stories. We know their names, and snippets of their lives. We know their deaths. Sometimes they are our relatives. But memory is short and fickle, and give it a generation or three, and names, mostly, are all we have.
Last year, there were shrines on the street to Jon Snow. This year, people are collapsing into puddles of tears at the phrase “Hold the door”. We mourn dead characters. We honour their sacrifices. But it’s odd… because if you start the book over from the beginning, they’re alive again. They’re always alive, and they’re always dead.
There’s a Pratchett quote, “no one is truly dead while their name is still spoken”. We remember people from 2000 years ago and more, because we have their names written down. And we have fictional characters – Beowulf, Hamlet – whose names reach back centuries and will reach forward for centuries more. These characters live in our minds, like a cultural undercurrent, influencing our lives without us knowing it. Will Vimes live on for centuries this way? Will the Starks? What about Commander Shepard? These are characters that have their own gravity. They shape the world around them.
There’s a saying, quoted and re-quoted in various ways, that “writers tell the truth”. Truth through fiction. I’ve written before – far more eloquently, I have to say – about the truth in stories. It doesn’t matter that there was never a man named Sam Vimes. (Man, that was tough to type.) He exists. People suffer and strive and live and die, and tell each other stories, tell themselves stories, every second of every day. All stories are true, for a given value of “true”.
So, it is the Glorious 25th of May. We reflect on the values of Truth, Justice, Freedom, Reasonably Priced Love, and Hard Boiled Eggs. We reflect on the lives and deaths of, let’s be honest, minor characters. But they Did The Job In Front Of Them. We respect that. We respect the truth of it. Perhaps, in this way, we honour the steadfastness of real humans that we will never know, who do the jobs in front of them, who die with honour. Because this is the only way we can. Art, stories, are how we see the world.
How do they rise up?