Remembering Terry Pratchett
I am sitting at the dinner table having a family meal, and my Mum is telling a story about three-year-old me, standing in a book shop and picking up a copy of Hogfather by Terry Pratchett. My parents have always delighted in my love of reading, and it started on that very day in that book shop, when I loudly declared that I was big enough to read whatever I wanted, and I wanted to read Terry Pratchett. I dug my heels in, and after a significant amount of pouting, wheedling, and whining, Mum gave in, and a love affair began.
Afterwards, my Dad became proudly fond of this moment. Even at the age of three, I had gravitated towards one of his favourite authors and felt so passionately about it that I had stroppily countered my mother’s concerns with “but you said I am clever and I can read whatever I want to”. And so began my lifelong love for not only Pratchett’s novels, but reading itself. So I have a lot to thank my fantasy grandfather for: Terry Pratchett represents mine and my father’s first mutual literary love, my first experience with fantasy reading, and countless childhood dreams of living in a world balanced on the shoulders of four elephants on top of a gigantic turtle, being followed around by tiny blue Scottish men. This is surely an experience shared by countless readers around the world, and is why the literary community went into collective mourning after Terry Pratchett’s passing 12 March.
Pratchett died due to causes related to his Alzheimer’s, in his home, and surrounded by his family, according to a statement released by his publicist. There was also a tweet sent out, written in the style of Death from the Discworld novels.
Terry Pratchett was a public, loving figure; one who spoke out in frank and moving terms about his Alzheimer’s diagnosis, and even afterwards continued writing fiction, responding to fan mail, and doing book signings. Throughout his illness, he not only did his best to reach out to people struggling with dementia, but continued to connect with his fans through the Discworld series.
These infamous tales have seemingly reached every corner of the world since the publication of its first novel, The Colour of Magic, in 1983. Consisting of 40 published books, and another which is due to be published posthumously later this year, the series has sold over 80 million books in 37 different languages, a clear testament to Pratchett’s ability to capture the hearts and imaginations of countless children and adults alike through his fantastical creations. Poignantly, the most touching and truthfully disturbing element of these books is Pratchett’s depiction of Death as a sympathetic, albeit eerie figure. His otherworldliness, throughout the series, appears to be at odds with his sympathy for humankind and love of human experiences; Death is not above a pint and a curry. It is perhaps this, along with his eventual frustration over the inevitability of dying, that makes Death seem like an old friend – at least to Pratchett. The announcement of Pratchett’s death over Twitter was undoubtedly narrated by his most ominous and dutiful character, written in all caps, without quotation marks. The tweet, which conjured up a sorrowful image of the two, walking together at last, was unequivocally Death’s work.
In Good Omens, a non-Discworld novel co-written with Neil Gaiman, Death posits a way of thinking about the end of life; “DON’T THINK OF IT AS DYING”, says Death, “JUST THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH”. While Pratchett may have been taken too soon for our liking (if ever there is a likable time), it is safe to assume that if this were not real, but an event in a Discworld novel, the subject of his death would not have been lingered on. It would have been touching, but ultimately fleeting, much like human life itself. While Pratchett’s death is an irretrievable loss, I like to think that it would not have been a wholly sad event in the novels. Taking every lesson I’ve ever learnt from the Discworld novels, and indeed, from Death himself, I cannot help but believe that Terry Pratchett would simply consider this inevitable; the nature of life. Pratchett may be gone, but will never be forgotten; I just hope that he did indeed avoid the rush, and that he’s kicking it up there with his old friend Death.