I’ll forgive a writer many things, but if I don’t get along with their protagonist, it’s over. It’s kind of like embarking on a long road trip with a stranger. Say we start out on Santa Monica Beach and head east. If we’ve reached Las Vegas and they’ve got their feet on the dashboard, picking their toes while singing along with Toby Keith, I’m booting them out in front of Treasure Island.
I always hope I’ll love the protagonist. I hope the way they approach problems makes sense to me. Or surprises me, and not because I’m surprised at how stupid they are. They don’t have to be perfect people, but they have to have enough admirable qualities that I won’t want to impale them on a cactus by the time we hit the Grand Canyon.
I recently made the acquaintance of Mau, the only survivor of a devastating tidal wave in Terry Pratchett’s Nation. I came late to Pratchett. Not being a great fan of comic fantasy, I was pleasantly surprised to discover in him a writer who is not only funny, but also humane and wise. Through Mau, Pratchett tells the story of what it might be like if everything you knew and loved were literally swept away, and you had to reassemble your world one piece at a time. You had to learn to survive open seas. You had to figure out how to overcome the cruel indifference of nature and the unnecessary evil of other people. You had to rediscover not just what you believed, but what deserved your belief.
Watching Mau courageously face these challenges was a pleasure. I liked him, and I’m glad we met.