Discworld Democracy

Terry Pratchett’s fantasy is so British, that alone makes me smile, even aside from the multitude of funny ways that is so apparent. Now, I may not be the best judge–while I was raised on a lot of British literature, I still have yet to go England.

Still. It’s not exactly a hidden feature.

Lately I’ve fallen in love with listening to the audiobooks of the Discworld novels. Like with Harry Potter, the audiobook versions may be even more delightful than the mere text. There’s a great narrator, and the book gains something by being performed.

I’m a very fast reader, so with audiobooks I also can slow down and think about things that are happening even as I listen.

Something that has been striking me, stronger and stronger, is how democratic Terry Pratchett’s world is.

Which, if I was a monocultural American, might also strike me as funny. But it’s not.

An American couldn’t write the kind of democracy he writes, I think. One where there are kings and faerie queens and witches who know very well they rule by merit of their peoples’ tolerance.

Granny Weatherwax isn’t the Head Witch, because there is no such thing among witches, but everyone knows she’s the one who would be the head witch–and she’s treated as such.

And she even has the power to appoint who follows her into that role.

American democracy is a loud tenet of “it’s a free country, and I can do what I want”–rather than a development that follows generations of transition.

Granny wouldn’t hold with people electing their leaders, because they don’t know what’s best for them. (This is true. She wouldn’t hold with a Head Witch choosing one either, though.)

In a way, it’s comforting to read a fantasy that draws so strongly on the absurdities of a culture to build a fake world that reflects humanity so well–even if some of the specifics don’t match with my experience.

(As a small-town girl, street food jokes miss me, whether they’re raised in New York or London.)

It’s not the first time the world has changed, The Shepherd’s Crown whispers to me, as Tiffany fills a role that can’t be Granny Weatherwax shaped now she’s in it. And it won’t be the last.

There is a sense of optimism alongside the parody in Discworld, with the massively bureaucratic Wizards College that in it’s own way bumbles into egalitarianism. With the madness of crowds and poisonous thought conquered by hard work, and only as much magic to solve it as magic caused the problem in the first place.

In the quiet way it introduces a male witch, who may not go by that exact title (I haven’t finished the book yet, I don’t know) but who sees the problems of the local men with as much deftness as Tiffany and her witch network attend to the households from the side of the women.

It makes me feel like there may be something to the idea of democracy, even if I don’t know exactly how it’s supposed to work. And maybe someday American culture will have taken a few more knocks and have mellowed into being able to poke fun at itself, the way Terry Pratchett can poke fun at his own.

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