Rincewind is a coward, He admits it and does his absolute best to drive home the point that he is, in no uncertain terms, a coward. Running away from everything and everyone, wanting only to be left alone with a stack of boiled potatoes and a block of butter. Unfortunately for him, and the gods of Discworld, the Green Eyed Lady has taken special interest in him and keeps the other gods guessing at what shes has in store for him next. It’s been a while since I read the Rincewind series of books, so I’m not certain if she’s ever alluded to her reasoning of “why Rincewind?” (A question I’m sure has kept him awake many a night, if only while he was busy running for his life ) but Fate doesn’t need a reason. Rincewind is the pathetic slacker who flunked out of Unseen University. He got a massive magic spell stuck in his head, and nothing else would stick around for fear of it. But he wasn’t really an impressive student to begin with. He could easily have spent his existence in obscurity, working in the Library and going for a pint at the Mended Drum, and that would have suited him just fine. But that was not the case. In fact, the only reason the Rincewind sagas petered out was because Sir Terry Pratchett himself admitted that it was hard to write for a character who ran away from every conflict. He never grew as a character, he just kept trying to get back to his life of stagnant inertia. ((There’s some appeal to that kind of lifestyle, i won’t lie, especially in 2014 when I went on my first vacation in twelve years and part of my brain still hasn’t come back.))
Susan Sto Helit, granddaughter to Death, duchess of Sto Helit, demi-human, and governess who beats up nursery monsters, is another story cycle entirely. When her grandfather flew the coop (again) and certain Family Traits began showing themselves, she at first was reluctant and confused (as any 16 year-old girl who was raised without any sort of imaginative influence whatsoever would be), but she was also very practical and “good at keeping her head in a crisis” which she considers a character flaw. Although she was raised with the knowledge that ‘nothing imaginary is real’, Discworld’ reality proved otherwise. And because she knows damn well that supernatural things exist, and she’s so darn practical, the children in her care get to watch their governess beat the snot out of bogeymen, monsters, and bears who want to eat them. And she’s so bloody annoyed by these things intruding onto the quiet life she’s trying to cultivate that she takes them head-on! “Susan says, ‘Don’t get scared; get angry.'” The problems don’t completely go away (there will always be hapless bears who haven’t yet heard the word on the street about that lady with the poker) but the do go away much quicker and don’t tend to escalate by themselves. She does her best to diffuse a situation before it gets out of hand. She has courage. Not bravado; she doesn’t go out looking for imaginary creatures to pummel just because she knows she’ll win. She faces these challenges head-on and dispatches them in the most efficient way possible at the time. It has enabled her to grow and develop from an already-interesting person (the weird girl at school who could tell you the square root of 24.7 but not about the sentimental value of daffodils, orphan, Duchess, and natural lacrosse player) into a much-more interesting person (stand-in for Death, Governess, school teacher, savior of the Hogfather and Tooth Fairy). She embraces her heritage and figures out how to use her abilities within the lifestyle she has forged for herself.
It takes courage to fully, or even partially embrace one’s true self. To realize and accept oneself fully and completely, that is the height of human development.
And it is also the most frightening act a sentient human can engage in. Because it means taking off the mask and seeing all the dark and squirmy things underneath, acknowledging that they are REAL and they ARE A PART OF YOU, and then you need to figure out what to do about it.
Sure, you can go through your entire life without even realizing that you’re wearing a mask; most humans do it all the time. And you’ll live a semi-boring life, probably following some kind of set pattern of society based on where you fall in the class system. You’ll have some laughter, some tears, some dramas and challenges, but by and large, your life could belong to anyone. It’s when we’re faced with the squirmy things behind the mask that we are given the opportunity to change and grow on a profound level.
In my experience,these moments can go one of two ways; Courage or Cowardice.
And you never really know which option is which until the moment after you make the decision. Most of us will make the decision to do whatever feels safest. (In the physical world, that’s the best option for self preservation. I’m not referring to matters of actual life and death.) When you’re facing Ego Death, then that’s where the waters get really murky.
Ego Death is a phenomena I’ve heard over and over again, but never really had it described to the point where I could truly comprehend it. I’ve read accounts of dramatic, terrifying trance journeys where the psychonaut was literally ripped down to atoms and then reassembled in their new form. Often times these events are triggered or facilitated by ingestion of Fly Agaric, Mandrake, Ayahuasca, or some other sacred herb. They’re powerful, profound, and utterly soul-shifting. I’m sooo not ready for that.
It could be said that my own cowardice is keeping me from that kind of a paradigm shift, and that would certainly be a truthful statement. But I was the kid who had to ease themselves into a swimming pool inch by inch, getting used to the water and acclimating to the temperature. It took me a little longer to take the plunge and dunk my head under. After that, my parents needed a net to fish me out.
I had never heard of a slow Ego Death. The concept never crossed my mind until I started writing this. But I think that’s what is happening. There’s been an increasing amount of moments where I’ve have to make profound changes to the way I have always Done Things, or how I’ve had to think about things. And I’ve been presented with two options: Courage or Cowardice.
Cowardice is running away from Ego Death, from the squirmy wriggling things behind the mask and the skeletal face beneath. Cowardice is self-preservation that has turned into self-destruction. Cowardice is the willful avoidance of conflict, even if the rewards are great and easily attainable.
Courage is looking Ego Death right in the eye sockets, even for a moment. Courage is taking a chance on thinking extra thoughts and being aware of the world, even if you risk madness in doing so. Courage is taking your fear and turning it into something else; Anger, determination, or some other emotional fuel source for change.
I’m tired of being a Rincewind.
I’d rather be a Susan. It’s scary and hard and not always fun, but it’s decidedly more interesting.