Terry Pratchett 1948-2015
Apologies if this is a bit rough around the edges; this was written very quickly and in an emotional frame of mind, so there may well be some dodginess in the writing or grammar.
Terry Pratchett has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, I was a big fan of his lesser known ‘Johnny Maxwell’ series, which saw its titular protagonist thrown into mad events involving aliens, videogames, the undead and time travel. I still chuckle at the amazing description of the rotund child ‘Wobbler’ running and I last read it well over a decade ago.
As a teenager, I got seriously into Discworld. I’ve read them all and it hasn’t really sunk in that I’ll never read another one. There’s been another Discworld to look forward to for pretty much my entire reading life and now there isn’t.
What truly set Pratchett apart wasn’t his wit or imagination, although he had those in spades; it was his generosity of spirit. Yes, he could be acerbic and biting, with a particular disdain for small-minded bigotry emerging in his later Discworld novels, but fundamentally his writing was a celebration of the variety and range of the human spirit. Sure, they weren’t always called humans; they were called dwarves and trolls and vampires and golbins and orcs, but they were all united in the fundamental message that we can all co-exist, that we have more similarities than differences and that those who think differently can just bugger right off.
I’m worried that his legacy may end up being ‘funny fantasy man’, but he was so much more than that (he was also a very funny fantasy man). Let’s look at his most recent Discworld book, Raising Steam. It was a very funny book about trains, but it also contained a nuanced allegory for Islamic extremism and helped me to appreciate the agony of knowing that your entirely peaceful way of life can be twisted by others into something horrific by extremist forces. There’s nothing wrong with fantasy for fantasy’s sake (the early Discworld books were just that), but as the series went on the series became as much about our world as it was about a flat world supported by four elephants on the back of a giant turtle.
In the Discworld books, Death is a benevolent figure, sardonically chaperoning all to the afterlife with care and grace. I don’t often find myself yearning for the supernatural, but part of me truly wishes that there was a seven foot skeleton in a robe speaking in all-caps shepherding Sir Terry to an afterlife he richly deserves. This kind of immortality may be fantasy, but he has achieved the only kind of immortality truly available on this world; he has created art which has touched the lives of millions and will continue to do so for years to come.