Writing a post on laughter and comedy reminds me of The Name of the Rose. I feel like Aristotle writing the second part of his Poetics. Let’s say I’m aiming a bit lower than that, so I don’t think anyone will be so outraged by this post to set a whole monastery on fire.
This introduction was clearly just a pretext to show off my boundless erudition. Now let’s begin in earnest.
In another page I wrote about the other emotion that most fascinates me, i.e. fear. Here I’ll write about laughter instead. In my opinion, a day without a hearty laugh, or a stroke-inducing fright, is a day wasted.
Humour for me is like the diving cylinder for a scuba diver. I am a pessimist and lugubrious human being, capable of spreading depression and despair with my mere presence. Without strong doses of humour to counteract this innate “gift” of mine, my life, and the life of those close to me, would be unbearable.
I chose Japanese horror as an example when writing about fear. When it comes to laughter I’ll turn to British humour instead, perfectly represented by the great Terry Pratchett.
Terry Pratchett was a comic fantasy author, and is chiefly known for his long Discworld saga. The Discworld, as the name suggests, is a flat and disc-shaped world. It rests on the backs of four enormous elephants, in turn standing on a planet-sized turtle.
This world is the setting for the adventures of typical fantasy characters, like wizards, witches and adventurers, together with many other characters you wouldn’t expect in a fantasy book. Even the themes of the novels are not typical fantasy fare, and include among others (believe it or not) motion pictures and shopping centres. But even the most unusual themes somehow fit perfectly into the Discworld, without straining the reader’s suspension of disbelief.
Every page is peppered with an irony I find simply irresistible. It would be pointless to try to explain it to you. I can only recommend that you read at least one novel from the Discworld saga. And you have a lot to choose from, since no fewer than forty-one have been published! I have read just a dozen, which means I still have years of laughter to look forward to.
Reading the novels in the order they were published is one possible approach, but by no means the only one. Someone has even created a guide showing all the narrative arcs and their mutual relationships. In any case, each novel is perfectly enjoyable on its own. The first one to be published was The Colour of Magic, back in 1983. It introduced some of the most well-known characters, like the hapless wizard Rincewind and the naïve “tourist” Twoflower.
Rincewind is a failed wizard whose only wish is to stay out of trouble, but somehow he always manages to land right in the middle of it. Twoflower is pathologically optimistic and mostly oblivious to the dangers around him. Their interactions never fail to be hilarious.
The following novels would then introduce new characters and story arcs. My favourite storyline so far is the one involving the witches, introduced in the third novel of the series, Equal Rites. The character of Esmerelda “Esme” Weatherwax is simply superb. You really have to drop whatever you were doing and go buy the book. You won’t regret it.
Unfortunately I now have to add a sad note to a post dedicated to humour. Terry Pratchett was diagnosed in 2007 with a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Since then he started a campaign to raise more funds to research a cure for this disease. He also advocated the right to a dignified death for those affected by a terminal illness. His reaction to the misfortune that befell him did nothing but increase my admiration for him.
He left us on 12 March 2015. One of my biggest regrets is that I never got to meet him in person.
I warmly recommend this author, who has given me countless hours of entertainment. You should become a tourist of the Discworld, like Twoflower. Each journey will cost you the price of a book, and you’ll return happier and more relaxed than from the best holiday resort.
Image credits: Terry Pratchett photo © Luigi Novi / Wikimedia Commons. Images from the Sky One TV adaptation of The Colour of Magic: copyright owned by the series producer or publisher. Image of The Colour of Magic ebook cover: copyright owned by the book publisher. With the exception of the Terry Pratchett photo, shared under a Creative Commons licence, low resolution images were reproduced for commentary and criticism purposes, believed to qualify as fair use/fair dealing.