By Antony Poveda
“Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.”– Terry Pratchett
It was a torrential summer’s day in Bristol last year. James and I were taking three hours, two coffees, three pubs and five pints to trawl our minds/phones for the name of the place where you’re reading this now.
It was tough. We felt we had a strong idea and a clear aim: to make supposedly lofty, out of reach thinking and research a topic for every day conversation. But we didn’t have a name. And the name was important; it had to sum up our goals for this venture, to be catchy, humble, aspirational. Many potentials were brought up from the depths of our misremembering minds and the literary internet: ‘Cortex Vortex’, ‘Mind Smash’, ‘TEDISDEAD’, but nothing was sticking, nothing fitted properly.
Then, around about the fourth pint, the marvellous Terry Pratchett spoke to us. Sadly, not in person, but rather in the form of a wikiquotes page, somewhere just beyond Nietszche, and we listened.
*reads above quote* ‘…so why not just ‘Rising Ape?’
‘Hmmm. That could work.’
‘Rising Ape’ wasn’t immediately hailed as our saviour, and a few more dodgy titles were to be offered up for debate before the final decison was made. Even the unlikely ‘Cortex Vortex’ had a late surge of support (James still calls us this in his head). But we kept coming back to it: ‘Rising Ape’. Terry had spoken, and we had listened.
My personal connection to Terry goes back much further than the screen of my old smartphone. For me, and many others, he and his writing were there at the turning of my adolescence when I needed them most. The stories of Discworld, and other worlds, helped immeasurably with being a slightly bullied kid finding their way out of the comfort of my little primary and into the bizarre realities of high school. There too, there were collections of strange races, countless arcane rituals and baffling social bureaucracies to navigate.
Crucially, his stories were not solely escapes (from what was, objectively, not that rough of a time), but much more like incredibly inventive lessons in what was possible in this life. You could be kind, funny, and courageous through struggles and hardships, not because you were a special snowflake and everyone else was stupid and horrid, but because that was what being human should be about. Terry spoke to me, and I couldn’t stop listening.
Terry also said:
“Fantasy is an exercise bicycle for the mind. It might not take you anywhere, but it tones up the muscles that can. Of course, I could be wrong.”
The last part there deftly illustrates how he could never avoid mixing his questioning-thinking with his story-thinking. Indeed, he actively pursued this aim. His writing dazzles you with curiosity, character, wit, tension, humanity, wisdom, beauty, tragedy, everything everythingeverything… and puns! In our small way, that generous spirit is something we have tried to take to heart at Rising Ape, and we believe that stories and imagination can be a powerful way to deal with communicating in “a language originally designed to tell other monkeys where the ripe fruit is.” Yes, Tezza again. Cheers!
Please forgive the over-quoting. It seems that for every concept there is a Pratchettism. As for that first quote at the top, well there is, of course, nothing new under the big ball of plasma in the sky. Variations on the ‘rising ape/falling angel’ theme go back at least as far back as Robert Ardrey and it is certainly something that Terry must have picked up from elsewhere. I like Terry’s version best, though. As he has it, being a rising ape is knowing the importance of story, of reflection, and of hope. It’s the knowing of what we are and still wanting more.
I’ll leave you with the fuller extract around the quote that inspired us. It is, aptly, the middle of a conversation with Death. Please read it, it’s so good it gives me chills. And then go and read everything he ever wrote, even if you already have. The joy of writing, and of books, is that they remain. Once inked and read, their ideas cannot really be taken away. I am so grateful that others will always be able to learn from and enjoy what Terry Pratchett created in this world. Wherever he is now, I’m certain that Terry is still speaking, and we’ll always be listening.
“All right,” said Susan. “I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need… fantasies to make life bearable.”
REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.
“Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—”
YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.
“So we can believe the big ones?”
YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.
“They’re not the same at all!”
YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET—Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME…SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.
“Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point—”
MY POINT EXACTLY.”
― Terry Pratchett, Hogfather