Terry Pratchett is wicked smart and his comic novels come with a sting. He found out a few years ago that he is suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s, and to read his most recent novel, I Shall Wear Midnight, with that knowledge is enough to make you cry. His young protagonist, Tiffany Aching, and her sidekicks, the (somewhat insane) Wee Free Men, must pass a test requiring resolve, courage, and the ability to withstand fire. I won’t be giving anything away to say it is not hard to imagine why Pratchett chose the villain he did or told the story in the way he did.
You know Pratchett is a realist by the way he so honestly reveals the foibles and weaknesses of his characters. Yet he is tender of their humanity even as he pokes fun at it. His Discworld stories always serve some higher truth while offering a delightful romp through a world much like ours, except his has magic and is carried on the back of a very large turtle.
I picked up I Shall Wear Midnight with a little trepidation. Would it show some kind of painful evidence of Pratchett’s waning powers? Or would it be a rush job to get the book into print before his world dissolves into mist? But mostly, I was worried that he would forget to include the happy ending.
He could be forgiven that, I think: to reach the height of your considerable literary powers and learn that fate is going to destroy not your body but your gift must be bitter indeed. An ugly trick the gods like to play.
In the end I was relieved and gladdened to learn that he did not forget. Indeed, he made an ending not just happy but satisfying, which is a lot harder than it sounds.
Which goes to show that the happy endings aren’t in the things that happen to us, but in what we make out of them. And I hope that I will always be as brave as Terry Pratchett, making happy endings where others can’t see where they could possibly exist.