Monday, August 16, 2010

My new Terry Pratchett tattoo, and why.

I recently got 2 new tattoos.  The first is one of my bike frame to represent the joy and happiness that cycling has brought me over the years as well as to partly commemorate the recent life transition I'm undergoing.

The second tattoo is a bit more complicated.  It's from the Terry Pratchett book "Thud!" which is a favorite of mine.  My copy is tattered and battered and dogeared and well-loved.  There's a lot in there that is clever, well-written, and speaks to me a lot.  Take, for example, this excerpt discussing the ways in which those who are different can sometimes choose to stand out in order to blend in:

Vimes stared at the man.  He'd never thought about that before.  But yes... Little fussy Otto, in his red-lined black opera cloak with pockets for all his gear, his shiny black shoes, his carefully cut widow's peak and, not least, his ridiculous accent that grew thicker or thinner depending on whom he was talking to, did not look like a threat.  He looked funny, a joke, a music-hall vampire.  It had never previously occurred to Vimes that, just possibly, the joke was on other people.  Make them laugh, and they're not afraid.

Anyway, the Summoning Dark.  It's one of the dwarfish "Darks," which have a variety of meanings and realities in dwarf culture.  Dwarfs live communally in mines or, just lately, in human cities, in crowded quarters underground (or as close as possible in the cities).  Dwarf mines, though, are a bit more complicated than human settlements.  Humans would never last in that kind of situation, but dwarfs have cultural coping mechanisms. 

Dwarfs didn't go mad.  They stayed thoughtful and somber and keen on their job.  But they scrawled mine sign.

It was like an unofficial ballot, voting by graffiti, showing your views on what was going on.  In the confines of a mine, any problem was everyone's problem, stress leapt from dwarf to dwarf like lightning.  The signs grounded it.  They were an outlet, a release, a way of showing what you felt without challenging anyone...

There are lots of dwarfish runes for darkness.  Some are simple, like the "long dark," the sign for a mine.  Some are ... mystical.  The Summoning Dark is the worst, scrawled by a dying dwarf, with his last breath, and it controls an

...invisible and very powerful quasidemonic thing of pure vengeance...

Which possesses Our Hero, the charmingly troubled and dark Commander Vimes, of the City Watch.  The Summoning Dark affects his mind, keeps him angry and vengeful, gets him to do things he may or may not want to do, and keeps him alive (though not nicely) when he makes some Bad Decisions, and eventually gets him to a confrontation with the Bad Guys in the story.

All of which brings me to why I felt this was a great concept for a tattoo.  When Vimes, no longer really in his right mind, confronts the Bad Guys, he also confronts the Summoning Dark.  In the end, Vimes overcomes the Dark and refuses its pressure to commit vengeful murder.  But not because he is pure, good, or otherwise above the darkness. 

What makes it special is that Vimes basically overcomes the Summoning Dark because his own Darkness, the Watching Dark, that he has created in his mind, is stronger and better at being Vimes than the Summoning Dark is powerful.  In the end, the Summoning Dark leaves Vimes, but leaves a mark on the inside of his arm.  As, is explained by one of the dwarf grags, "an exit wound, perhaps?"

I don't guess I need to explain in too much detail why this story speaks to me, after finally getting past two years of horrible job after horrible job, second-guessing myself and my intelligence, being bullied and letting depression and anxiety take over my life, and being kind of an asshole to everyone.  I don't guess I need to explain too explicitly why conquering the darkness by being more YOU than anyone else speaks to me.  I don't guess I need to explain too much why, in the end, "an exit wound, perhaps" is exactly the right tattoo to mark closing the door on the past couple years and moving on, with myself intact.

This is on the inside of my right bicep, not my inner forearm.  I just thought it'd look better.


Moonie said...

I stumbled on this blog while looking for the cover to Thud! and just wanted to say that what you've written about here is simple, but powerful and moving no less.
PS--love the tattoos.

Nyssa said...

I also came across this blog while looking for a picture of the Summoning Dark. I'm also thinking of getting a tattoo of it, haha. Do you have it facing so that a person in front of you could see it right-side up? I'm thinking of getting it on my forearm but I'm not sure which way to face it.

EthylBenzene said...

Hi Nyssa, thanks for stopping by!

I have it right-side-up, I think. The eye portion is closer to my armpit and the tail points to my elbow. It's on the inside of my right upper arm. I swear one of these days I'll get some better pictures taken of it! I was considering my forearm but I wanted an inside-of-my-upper-arm tattoo for a while, plus it's a little easier to hide from employers that way ;)

@Moonie -- thanks for the kind words :)

Anonymous said...

Another one stumbling across this whilst looking for a picture of the Summoning Dark. This is AWESOME.

Anonymous said...

As all the others above, stumbled on this while searching for a picture of the Summoning Dark. Could you let me know what description you based this on, as it has been a while since i read Thud?

The Raccoon said...

Hey. Found this while searching for Terry Pratchett tattoos (of which there are a surprising amount). I love Terry Pratchett (I must have read each book of his at least three times) and Sam Vimes is my favourite character. I'v been debating getting 'Who watches the watchman?' tattooed across my shoulderblade. I love your Summoning Dark tattoo and the reasons for which you got it. Well done, fellow Pratchett fan ^_^ Keep on keeping on.

elodieunderglass said...

I feel like we should be friends.

EthylBenzene said...

Thanks everyone for the kind comments. I don't blog much these days, but it's great that lots of people are finding my tattoo and my story and are enjoying it!

The image is from the US Hardcover version of Thud.