This past week was the anniversary of Terry Pratchett’s death. He’s been a tremendous influence on me both as a writer and a person even if I never actually met him. So I’ve been listening to his books again and lamenting the fact that he’s gone and there will be no more new books. But it also got me thinking about the living, breathing worlds some authors manage to build. And because of the nature of the beast, the rest contains spoilers for the Ankh-Morpork City Watch series.
At the beginning of Night Watch Samuel Vimes comes to work to find that one of his sergeants, Abba Stronginthearm has been killed on his way home from work. It turns into a slow moment where Vimes tries to deal with the fact that one of his people is dead. For a short time reader, it’s just that; a superior trying to deal with a loss of someone who’s not close to them but who they still feel responsible for. On the other hand, for me at least the effect is somehow larger.
Stronginthearm was never a large presence in the books. He was introduced as just another hothead who got conscripted into the Watch in Men at Arms. He gets a few exchanges with various characters in Feet of Clay, Jingo, and The Fifth Elephant, never anything that actually affects the plot. He is, in other words, a bit player in the books. But somehow he manages to have a character arc somewhere in there. In fictional time, he’s with the Watch for years before he’s killed on duty (“or close enough”). He goes from being a swiftly radicalizing young dwarf into someone who takes pride in who he is and the work he does by the events of The Fifth Elephant.
This is where I start to geek out; Stronginthearm’s character arc feels familiar because Vimes goes through the same arc. I don’t know if Pratchett did it intentionally or if it was just a happy accident, but for me at least it has caused a subconscious unease about Vimes’s fate. I only became aware of it on this last re-read when I’ve been reading all the City Watch books in a relatively short period, one after the other. It’s a wonderful effect regardless. If a reader should stop to think about Stronginthearm, they’d probably wind up with an interesting story on a small scale.
It’s the details as much what happens that keep me coming back Terry Pratchett’s books. I’m drawn to Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid novels for similar reasons but that’s a post for another time.
What worlds do you, dear reader, keep coming back to again and again?