Last Thursday, we said goodbye to a great author and a special man.
Sir Terry Pratchett passed away at the age of 66, surrounded by his family, the cat on his bed. AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER, Death said, and they crossed the starlit desert.
Tributes have poured in the last six days. The Guardian likened him to Swift, and his work has become embedded in the very fabric of the internet. He’ll be missed, and while the world is sad to see him go, there’s a certain satisfaction to knowing he took on his Embuggerance with great dignity. In the end, it didn’t beat him. He beat it; while not choosing assisted death, it certainly feels like he exited on his own terms.
I’ve been a fan for around ten years. A friend persuaded me to pick up one of his books, and I haven’t looked back since.
The funny thing about being a Terry Pratchett fan is that- up until this week anyway- it felt like there aren’t that many of us. Sure there are conventions, video games, internet groups, and all the usual trappings of fandom. But it never felt like Discworld broke through the mainstream the way that other fantasy series have.
Perhaps that’s due to the lack of a film adaptation; while Sky produced entertaining adaptations of Hogfather and Going Postal, and there were animations of Wyrd Sisters and Soul Music, the man himself was (justifiably, perhaps) wary of Hollywood producers. It’s hard to depict Pratchett’s novels on screen anyway; part of the joy of his work was the wordplay, the footnotes, the narrative winks.
Another reason was the fact that his work was largely comic; popular perception would have Discworld as “lesser” or more immature than Middle Earth or Westeros or wherever else. Pratchett was aware of this himself, stating in an interview that his fans weren’t just “fourteen-year-old boys called Kevin”. The notion was out there though; being a Pratchett fan wasn’t always cool.
If there is any good to come out of his death, it’s certainly a complete rejection of the stereotype; his fans are everywhere, all genders, ages, occupations. The internet has been at its best over the last week, with people sharing stories of how Pratchett’s books got them through tough times, how his great lines became words to live by, sharing stories of his wit and friendliness. There may be more new fans now too; picking up his books to see what all the fuss is about.
He took a hugely maligned and marginalised genre, fantasy (and comic fantasy at that!) and breathed new life into it. He did what many serious male fantasy writers could not, and wrote incredible female characters. Little Tiffany Aching, the utterly sensible nine-year-old trainee witch, the formidable Granny Weatherwax, Death’s granddaughter Susan, the bluff Lady Sybil, and my own favourite witch; Nanny Ogg. Nanny is a bawdy, merry widow-type, whose kindly demeanour masks a sharp and insightful mind.
He used the Disc to satirise the lunacy of our own world, especially in regards to new technology. Small Gods skewers religion mercilessly, and in a time where men are still smashing ancient cities and beheading anyone that doesn’t agree with them, it’s more important than ever.
No discussion of Discworld could be complete without the spectre of Death. Death is the only character who appears in all the Discworld books. He’s a seven-foot walking skeleton with a fondness for cats and curry, and a white horse called Binky. Pratchett humanised the chilling concept of oblivion, and it’s apt that his final tweet was in Death’s CAPITALISED VOICE.
It wasn’t all Discworld of course. Pratchett collaborated with other authors; with Stephen Baxter on the Long Earth series, and with Neil Gaiman, the marvellous Good Omens. There were also his non-Discworld works, such as the Bromeliad trilogy, the Johnny Maxwell books, and the truly gorgeous Nation.
Here are some of my favourite Terry Pratchett quotes to remember him by:
“Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” (A Hatful of Sky)
“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 THELITTLE 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.” (Hogfather)
“And what would humans be without love?”
RARE, said Death.” (Sourcery)
“Five exclamation marks, the sure sign of an insane mind.” (Reaper Man)
“Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.” (Reaper Man)
“I meant,” said Ipslore bitterly, “what is there in this world that truly makes living worthwhile?”
Death thought about it.
CATS, he said eventually. CATS ARE NICE.” (Sourcery)
“In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this.”
“Stories of imagination tend to upset those without one.”
“It is said that your life flashes before your eyes just before you die. That is true, it’s called Life.”(The Last Continent)
“Some humans would do anything to see if it was possible to do it. If you put a large switch in some cave somewhere, with a sign on it saying ‘End-of-the-World Switch. PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH’, the paint wouldn’t even have time to dry.” (Thief of Time)
“If you trust in yourself. . .and believe in your dreams. . .and follow your star. . . you’ll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy.” (The Wee Free Men)
“Evil begins when you begin to treat people as things.” (I Shall Wear Midnight)
“No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away…” (Reaper Man)