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Johnny See's Dead People!

As a psychopomp it can be difficult to explain to people what I do in an easy and digestible way. Death is a difficult, sensitive and almost taboo subject. Recently I came across the Johnny Maxwell trilogy by Terry Pratchett. The second book, Johnny and the Dead, gives a fairly accurate depiction of what it is like to have psychopomp abilities. This book is a great way to introduce teens and young adults to the idea of a psychopomp without being too graphic or out there - and it's enjoyable for adults too! It's a bit of a fun read for the festive season. Here's a little book review and background to the book (spoiler-free!).

Somewhere in Deepest Middle England

The two bookstore assistants glance over at the boy then quickly back again, just in case he saw them.

“This is ridiculous, Marion, one of us should just go over there and ask him to leave.”

“John, you’re over-reacting, he could just be buying a book.”

“He’s got a skinhead for goodness sake. This is how Terry goes wondering out the door you know.”

“Ok, John, you go over and ask him if he needs any help with a book.”

There was a pause as poor John desperately tried to think of a reason to not go over and speak to the 15 year old menace in their sanctum of a bookshop. Finally, in a flash of brilliance he had it, “No, not me, no I’m a man and that could be seen as aggressive .”

“Hum,” said Marion.

“Hum, indeed,” said John, knowing fine well that Marion knew his real motive: fear.

Marion slammed down the book she was reading and walked over to the youth.

“Can I help you”?

“Umm, no, I’m OK thanks.”

“What’s that in your hand there... Oh a copy of Lonesome Planet Sri Lanka.”

The skinhead boy was loosely holding the book by his waist. On the front cover was a picture of a temple with 3 monks walking towards it. They had skinheads, too. Marion smiled and turned her back on the boy and walked over to where John was hiding behind the specials bookcase.

“So, what did he say Marion?”

“Actually, I think we got it wrong I think he’s a wannabe monk or something, seemed quite nice really”.

They both looked up but the boy was gone, long gone.

One of the world's most celebrated fantasy authors, Terry Pratchett, OBE (yes he was knighted), sold more than 85 million books, translated into 37 languages. Interestingly, his works were the most shoplifted books in the United Kingdom during the 1990s, when they were first published. (I hasten to add that I didn’t come across my copy that way). I picked up my first copy quite by accident whilst looking after a friend's house, when they were on holiday. There, in my friend's front room was a very large bookcase, hundreds of books beamed back at me with catchy titles and bold but tiny images on the spine. Yet, for some reason, one stood out: the first book in the Johnny Maxwell series, entitled Only You Can Save Mankind. My friend did not have the second book nor the third, but if he did I probably would have read them in the wrong order as the title of the second book, Johnny and the Dead, would almost certainly have caught my eye!

The Johnny Maxwell trilogy follows the extraordinary life of Johnny, a teenage boy growing up in Blackberry a very ordinary town in England. Not much happens there or ever did, but unusual things do happen to Johnny. The first book in the series introduces the reader to the idea of shamanic journey time and the experience forces Johnny to rethink the position of mankind in the universe and his personal role within everything. It's clear to me that Pratchett was very well informed indeed!

“I just see things other people don't see.”

Quote from Johnny of the Dead.

As a psychopomp I was particularly intrigued to read the second book in the trilogy, Johnny and The Dead. It did not disappoint. An easy read, but well crafted. A great book for a lazy afternoon read. It follows Johnny as he discovers he’s a psychopomp after a dare in the cemetery - the cemetery that's due to be demolished unless someone can do something about it. Enter Johnny and his reluctant misfit mates to save the day. This book is funny and engaging with some real crossover into the world of the psychopomp - a toned down version of the film Sixth Sense. Interestingly, the term psychopomp is never used but I suppose it’s an abstract term. Nevertheless, it's fantastic to see the work of the psychopomp portrayed in a digestible way. My advice is get the series and enjoy…..but perhaps best to pay for it!

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