I’m guessing that people will read Terry Pratchett for generations to come. Partly for the intrinsic value of the books – because they are so funny, so smart and so perceptive. And partly because, surprising as it may seem considering they are fantasy novels, there can be few better guides to contemporary thinking in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
“He is of course writing about us,” said AS Byatt – a quote I keep coming back to because it gets to the heart of Pratchett’s achievement. He used fantasy to demonstrate all kinds of truths about mankind, including things that might otherwise have been impossible to say. To return to Night Watch and my article last week, Pratchett remarks of the people of Ankh-Morpork that they “tended to be small-minded and conservative and not very clever and were even distrustful of cleverness”. It’s harder to be so blunt about real UK citizens. Would you feel entirely comfortable suggesting as much about – for example – a place where lots of people vote Ukip (or whichever political party you like least)?
The Discworld, in short, is a good place to discuss difficult subjects. It allows for clarity and directness and also – because it is fantasy, and because the whole thing is being carried on the back of a giant turtle – sharp contrast.
A fine example of just how well the Discworld works as an idea machine comes in the Science of Discworld series co-written by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen. These books explore scientific ideas and tell a Discworld story in alternate chapters. The opening premise is that the wizards of Unseen University have accidentally created a new universe – one, crazily, that seems to run on the laws of physics rather than the more usual dictates of magic and narrative. Naturally, the wizards start to poke around in this universe, thus setting off the Big Bang and initiating a voyage of discovery through our own cosmic laws as they examine Earth, or “the Roundworld”, from a fresh perspective. The four books in the series have delighted and enlightened hundreds of thousands of readers (myself included) since the first one appeared in 1999.
The Science of Discworld should have been a gift to publishing. But as Jack Cohen told me last week, it took a lot of persuasion before any publisher would take it on.
“I spent two-and-a-half years going around editors,” he said. “I must have had 80 lunches and dinners. And they all said ‘don’t be stupid’. At last Ebury took it. The editor there was made to understand that if it sold less than 10,000 copies, he’d lose his job. If it sold more than 25,000 it would be a miracle. It sold more than 200,000 copies in the first year.”
Even Terry Pratchett had said: “You can’t do the science of the Discworld, because there isn’t any science on the Discworld.” But he jumped on board once a concept was worked out.
Naturally, it helped that both Cohen and Stewart had extremely distinguished scientific careers. Jack Cohen is a zoologist and embryologist whose former pupils include Nobel prize winners and a president of the Royal Society. Ian Stewart is a mathematician famous for his contributions to (and what could be more Discworldlian?) catastrophe theory. Both men already had a track record of working with science fiction writers and had written many books separately and together (including the influential The Collapse of Chaos).
Another thing that helped was that Jack Cohen had accidentally spilled a pint of beer over Terry Pratchett’s lap at a science fiction convention. The friendship was then sealed at a later convention when Cohen told Sir Terry Pratchett to “shut up”:
“It was in the Hague,” said Cohen. “Three rich science fiction authors were addressing a crowd of fans. The first one said that he sold his first story at 14 and didn’t know how much he had in the bank now – something like $2 or $3m (£1.3m or £1.9m), but that money wasn’t important. The second said he had been given $20m on his 20th birthday and that it was difficult to edit a story with real care when you have $20m in the bank. But he also went on to agree that money wasn’t important.
“Now, there were 250 fans there, most of whom had come from England to Holland, spending money, and most of whom were feeling a bit poor. And somebody threw something. The second writer dodged it.
“Then Terry came on. He started off saying, ‘Look, we’re rich science fiction authors. We don’t have to come and talk to you. We’re doing it out of the goodness of our hearts.’
“Someone threw a tomato and it got him. Terry lost it. ‘What the fuck do you think you’re doing,’ he said, and really went over the top. I stood up and said ‘shut up’. I was at the back right of the audience and all eyes turned towards me. I said, extemporising wildly: ‘Money is like air and love. If you’ve got it, it doesn’t matter. If you haven’t got it, that’s desperate.’
“Everyone stood up and clapped and Terry said: ‘Is that Jack Cohen? Then I’ll buy you a drink.’”
They got on “very well”. Soon, Terry Pratchett said he wanted to meet Cohen’s friend Ian Stewart and they all met up in a restaurant. There they started discussing a book about the science of Star Trek, which they agreed was “bloody awful”, and could have been done much better. The rest is publishing history – aside, of course, from the small matter of writing the books.
The finished books have an alternate chapter structure. One set of chapters tells a story about events on Discworld, relating to the creation and exploration of “Roundworld”. The other chapters use elements of that story to explore, well, everything from the origins of the universe onwards. The basic process was that Stewart and Cohen would write 12-14 science essays with hooks into Pratchett’s story concept. Pratchett would then work up his alternate Discworld chapters and they’d eventually put all the elements together. Some of this process involved red ink and swearing, but Cohen also tells of long pub meetings and, wonderfully, the final stages where Pratchett would introduce the “fairy dust” of jokes and substructure. “Then we sent it off to the publishers, and brilliantly, I got a third of the money.”
Naturally, Cohen said, Pratchett would be working on three other books at the same time. Pratchett, he said, was the brightest person he ever worked with, “except maybe Ian, when it comes to physics and maths”. He added: “Terry knew everything about everything. Everything you said about a painter or a novelist, he would know more. He was totally remarkable. And you could tell that from reading the books. Most readers probably only get half the jokes and references in the books, there are so many.”
That this fine mind should have been subject to the embuggerance of Alzheimer’s disease is cruel indeed. Especially so, as Cohen told me sadly, because Pratchett “had to stay around six months too long”. But even after the diagnosis he kept going, dictating to a machine, producing more fine novels, as well as working on the fourth volume of the Science of Discworld, a book which Cohen says helped turn him into “a bit of a philosopher – it deals with the big questions”.
I asked Cohen if addressing such questions had changed his outlook.
“Naturally. I change my mind all the time. I’m not a politician. Politicians seem to think it’s clever to keep the same viewpoint whatever the evidence. I don’t.”
“Is that the difference between science and politicians?” I asked.
“One difference,” said Jack, deadpan.
You can see why he got along so well with Terry Pratchett. You can see, too, why these books work so well. I’m happy to say we’re going to investigate them further in this Terry Pratchett-themed Reading group, when we run a live webchat with Ian Stewart. Please watch out for that.
One more quick bit of admin. Not everyone who successfully posted two weeks ago has claimed their copy of Night Watch. Don’t forget to get in touch.
Read the full article over on the Guardian’s website.
The author died on 12 March following a public struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.
Up to 25 statues of medieval barons, decorated by local artists, will be placed around Salisbury from 12 June.
Illustrator Mr Kidby said the statue was a “tribute to Terry’s writing”.
The fantasy artist, who illustrated a number of Discworld publications, said his baron did not sport Sir Terry’s trademark hat and glasses
“It has a beard so I’m making mine look as much like Terry as I can,” he said.
“He’s got a shield with Terry’s Discworld on it, a helmet with a famous Discworld motto, and on his back he has a cloak made up of about 70 of his most famous characters.
“Its always nice to remind people of the books that Terry wrote and I’m hoping lots of people will come and see it and enjoy it.”
The statue will form part of an art trail of 5ft (1.5m)-tall sculptures in Salisbury to mark the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta.
The Barons’ Charter Trail, which includes work by local artist Louise Luton and children’s book illustrator Lee O’Brien, will run from 12 June until 6 September before the barons are auctioned off in October.
Read the full story over on BBC News’ website.
How’s this for a cynical analysis of last week’s general election?
People on the side of The People always ended up disappointed, in any case. They found that The People tended not to be grateful or appreciative or forward-thinking or obedient. The People tended to be small-minded and conservative and not very clever and were even distrustful of cleverness.
Or maybe you blame the people at the top?
… the bastards, the rich bullies, the wheelers and dealers in people’s fates, the leeches, the hangers-on, the brown-nosers and courtiers and smarmy plump devils in expensive clothes, all those people who didn’t know or care about the machine, but stole its grease…”
Whichever view you incline towards, this last week has been a good time to read Night Watch. “He is, of course, writing about us,” said AS Byatt of Terry Pratchett. In spite – or because of – the anger, it sometimes feels as though he’s writing to make us better. There is some wonderful, inspiring material in this novel about the rule of law and the benefits of simple decency. There’s fiery rage at the injustice of society – and yet also gentle delight in the way things keep on moving in spite of that injustice, and a determination that people can do the right thing. At a time when I’ve felt pretty bleak about human nature, it’s been a ray of light. Come the next election, one of the first things I’ll want to know from my candidate is how much Terry Pratchett he or she has read.
That’s not to say that politically I could co-opt Terry Pratchett to my side. He almost certainly wouldn’t want to be on any political podium. The impression you get of politics from Night Watch is that it’s a nasty, brutish business best left to nasty, brutish people. Which is to say, politicians – who are, of course, the very ones who deserve to suffer its cruel consequences.
But what I can say is that I’d want to be on Terry Pratchett’s side. Or at least, the side of Vimes, the leader of the titular Night Watch, who always manages to find not only the most practical solution to a problem, but the solution that does the least harm. As an approach to politics, that takes some beating. He is the hero of the book, in all senses of the word – a true star who lights up the page, as well as a man to admire and follow.
If I sound a little smitten with Vimes it’s just a mark of Pratchett’s magic. Because of course this book is more than sharp political commentary. It is, to quote AS Byatt again,the work of a “master storyteller” who can make you believe in a man who is accidentally transported back in time and has to coach his younger self to become a decent Night Watchman, while fomenting a rebellion in which people just go about their daily lives, and battling a serial killer who also travelled back in time with him. A story set in a crazy city, on a disc-shaped world, carried on the back of four elephants, standing on the back of a giant turtle, travelling through space, to a destination unknown which may involve mating with another turtle.
Set down like that, it seems absurd – but this is a very different book from The Colour of Magic, whose whole point is its absurdity. Here, Pratchett has fun with his daft world, but he also makes it matter intensely. It’s a far cry from Rincewind whizzing around all corners of the Discworld. Here the focus is hard, the plotting is tight, the action wound out carefully. The setting is given substance and texture and it all builds beautifully to a dramatic and urgent conclusion.
I understand why Pratchett fans might have been worried that reading The Colour of Magic here on the Reading group would give the wrong impression of the writer’s talents. But to have read that and then Night Watch has been fascinating, showing a writer with potential come into full mastery.
Meanwhile, although the flippancy and froth of the earlier book have given way to meat and weight, most of the virtues of The Colour of Magic have been retained. Night Watch is heavy – but it’s still gloriously funny.
Many of the jokes rely on context. There’s a hilarious riff on moving time around and keeping food fresh that I couldn’t possibly do justice to here. Some also depend on exquisite timing:
There was a rustle of hessian, and then:
‘Er… it’s half a brick,’ Ned reported.
‘A half brick sir.’
‘I’m saving up for a house,’ said Vimes.”
But others are more simply – and delightfully – quotable:
This garden didn’t get much proper light. Gardens like this never did. You get second-hand light once the richer folk in the taller buildings had finished with it.”
‘When I die,’ said Lawn, inspecting the patient, ‘I’m going to instruct them to put a bell on my tombstone, just so’s I can have the pleasure of not getting up when people ring.’”
I could go on like this for a while – but if you’ve read the book you’ll already know that. And if you haven’t, what are you waiting for? Dig in. It’s gold. It’s precious. It’s balm. I’ve needed Night Watch during election week. It’s possibly made me a little wiser, and it’s certainly made me feel better. I’m grateful to everyone who nominated it.
Read the full article over on the Guardian website.
Terry Pratchett’s family motto was Noli Timere Messorum – don’t fear the reaper – and the tributes that have flooded in since his death in March aged 66 have been joyous rather than sad.
Pratchett published 70 books for adults and children, including 40 books in his much-loved Discworld series. A 41st, The Shepherd’s Crown, will be published on September 10.
Here are some of the most enjoyable, and moving, ways that his fans and admirers have honoured a great writer.
Actually, it’s rather unfair to call this graffiti. These beautiful murals are about as far away as you can get from hastily scrawled tags on a railway siding.
In the East End of London, Dr Zadok and Jim Vision created a long, detailed painting that featured Pratchett front and centre of many of his Discworld creations. You can find it on Code Street, where Brick Lane meets Sclater Street.
Would you recommend The Colour of Magic as a first book to someone who has never read Terry Pratchett before? Is it a good place to start with this month’s Reading group?
Those aren’t questions that I’d have thought of asking two weeks ago. But now I realise that they are open to debate. Not least because there’s been a fair bit of back and forth about them here. The argument goes that since The Colour of Magic is not Pratchett’s finest work, to focus on it is to undersell him.
“I truly don’t understand why you think you are honouring a writer by picking a book you know is inferior to almost all the other books in the series,” said a contributor called Jantar.
I can see the point. I wouldn’t introduce someone to the Beatles with Please Please Me, I’d go straight for Revolver. But I’d still answer yes to both those questions. Even more so now that I’ve re-read The Colour of Magic, almost 30 years after it first introduced me to the delights of the Discworld.
I say yes partly because it’s going to be so interesting to compare this book to one of his later masterpieces and to see how Pratchett developed his writing as the years went on. Partly, because it’s already so fascinating to see the origins of the Discworld and the source of so many other stories. And partly, because this book is still good. It’s still more than worth reading in and of itself.
To take the last point first. The book contains, as the author himself once put it, some “boffo laughs”. The temptation, as always with Pratchett, is to start quoting at length. I’m going to give in to it, because those quotes are so much fun:
Some pirates achieved immortality by great deeds of cruelty or derring-do. Some achieved immortality by amassing great wealth. But the captain had long ago decided that he would, on the whole, prefer to achieve immortality by not dying.
My name is immaterial,” she said.
“That’s a pretty name,” said Rincewind.
Rincewind tried to force the memory out of his mind, but it was rather enjoying itself there, terrorising the other occupants and kicking over the furniture.
There are also plenty of jokes that are even funnier within the context of the book. Late on, the use of the word “circumfence” to describe the barrier around the edge of the Discworld’s outer seas had me snorting. There’s also a very good Big Bang joke – but I won’t say more for fear of spoiling it.
The Colour of Magic is also effective as a satire of pre-1990s fantasy conventions. Terry Pratchett explained on the BBC that it was “written in protest” about a genre that he loved, but contained “too many dark lords, too much lack of thought”. In a speech back in 1986, he also said: “It was an attempt to do for the classical fantasy universe what Blazing Saddles did for westerns.”
It was a successful attempt. As the failed wizard Rincewind and the proto-tourist Twoflower hurtle around the physically impossible, magically sustained geography of the Discworld, Pratchett makes sharp and telling points about the absurd skimpiness of female characters’ outfits, the daftness of riding on the backs of dragons, the ridiculousness of the average quest.
Yet while they may work, these digs also open up the biggest objection to reading The Colour of Magic. Whereas later Pratchett satirised the real world, here his target is both softer and more obscure. Jokes about characters with exclamation marks in their names and gags about specific fantasy books do require a certain amount of knowledge to work. It also doesn’t take a genius to point out that Fritz Leiber books are pretty silly.
But you don’t have to know anything about Fritz Leiber or any other fantasy specifics to enjoy this book. The really outstanding thing is how easily it overcomes the restrictions of genre and builds its own rules. And how fascinating those rules are.
One of the most notable things about coming back to The Colour of Magic after all these years is how it reads like a greatest hits collection. (And yes, there is a pleasingly Discworldlian paradox in the metaphor.) Dozens of what were to become favourite Pratchett inventions whizz by in the narrative. The city of Ankh-Morpork erupts from the map near fully formed. There are the assassins’ guilds, the thieves, the members of the Unseen University. And, of course, there is Death.
Death, Pratchett claimed, first appeared on the scene “solely for the purposes of a gag”. He wanted to riff on W Somerset Maugham’s 1933 story The Appointment in Samarra, in which a servant rides from Baghdad to Samarra to avoid Death. The servant saw Death make a gesture at him while in the market in Baghdad and so bolted, only to learn – the hard way – that Death had been expecting him in Samarra all along. The original gesture was Death indicating his surprise at seeing the servant in Baghdad. So, here, Death is surprised to find Rincewind in Ankh-Morpork when he’s expecting to see him later that evening 500 miles away. And I suppose that’s amusing if you know the Samarra story – but really, most readers won’t care because the really brilliant thing is the way Death talks in CAPITAL LETTERS and “in tones as deep and heavy as the banging of doors, far underground”. He’s immediately delightful and only gets better as the book progresses. By the time we learn that “if words had weight a single sentence from Death could anchor a ship” he already feels like a comedy classic.
You might say that Death becomes even more interesting in later books. His character is stronger, his attitudes harden even as his character becomes more lovably soft, the jokes are even better. There’s also the fact that Death doesn’t get much screentime in The Colour of Magic. Indeed, much of this novel reads like the Discworld on fast-forward. The plot – such as it is – is really just a series of accidents that speed the two leads through various strange parts of Pratchett’s universe. Events fly by. Ideas ping past. Characters hurtle on and off the stage and none of them is really developed.
Even Rincewind and Twoflower stay the same. Twoflower enables Pratchett to make some interesting points about the nature of tourism and power, and there are some fine jokes about his attempts to impose rational ideas (such as insurance) on a magical world. Rincewind is also always enjoyably bemused and grumpy. But essentially the two remain as flat as the Discworld itself. They’re there just to explore Pratchett’s fantastic geography and enable him to make jokes.
But you know what, all that’s fine by me. The jokes are already good. The world is already fascinating. And if things seem hurried, that’s OK because I know the pacing gets better later on. Indeed, The Colour of Magic is the perfect introduction because it leaves me hungry for more.
On which note, following the vote on which other Pratchett novel we should read this month, Night Watch has won by an overwhelming majority. (No fewer than 19 novels were nominated – which shows the breadth and depth of the appreciation Pratchett inspires.)
Finally, an enjoyable bit of admin. We have five copies of Night Watch to give away to the first five readers in the UK to post “I want a copy please” – along with a nice, constructive comment relevant to Pratchett – in the comments section below.
If you’re lucky enough to be one of the first to comment, don’t forget to email Laura Kemp with your address (email@example.com), as we can’t track you down ourselves. Be nice to her, too.
This month on the Reading group, we’re going to celebrate the life of Terry Pratchett the best way we can: by enjoying his novels. The only difficulty is deciding which of his books to look at. Pratchett wrote roughly two books a year for 30 years, and many of them are dearly beloved.
The obvious starting place is his first Discworld novel, The Colour of Magic. I’m going to read that over the next few days and I hope you’ll join me. It will be fascinating to discuss it here and see the foundations of what would become Terry Pratchett’s monument.
As plenty of people have already pointed out when I first mooted this idea, The Colour of Magic isn’t entirely representative of Pratchett’s writing. It’s rougher and more jagged than plenty of his subsequent books. It’s also largely about fantasy cliches, while many of the later books are about, well, everything. As a result, The Colour of Magic is fun, but it is not – to put it bluntly – as good. To properly understand Pratchett’s achievement, we’ll also have to look at another book. No hardship there; reading more than one Discworld novel is a pleasure rather than a burden. But the question still remains of which one to choose. Iraised the issue a few weeks ago, but was given so many suggestions that I was more confused than enlightened. Happily, there’s a simple solution: let’s vote. Name your favourite Terry Pratchett book in the comments below; I’ll tot up the scores at the end of the week, and we’ll read the one with the most nominations over the coming month.
In the meantime, we have five copies of The Colour of Magic to give away to the first five readers in the UK to post “I want a copy please” – along with a vote or a nice, constructive comment relevant to Pratchett – in the comments section below. (We’ll have a giveaway of the other Pratchett book later in May.)
If you’re lucky enough to be one of the first to comment, don’t forget to email Laura Kemp with your address (firstname.lastname@example.org), as we can’t track you down ourselves. Be nice to her, too.
Read the full article on the Guardian website.
THE SHEPHERD’S CROWN is the fifth Discworld novel featuring young witch Tiffany Aching. Previous titles in the Tiffany Aching series include THE WEE FREE MEN, A HAT FULL OF SKY, WINTERSMITH and I SHALL WEAR MIDNIGHT.
Terry completed THE SHEPHERD’S CROWN in the summer of 2014 and it’s scheduled for publication on September 15, 2015.
“We are honored to be publishing Sir Terry Pratchett’s final Discworld novel, THE SHEPHERD’S CROWN,” says Susan Katz, President and Publisher, HarperCollins Children’s Books. “Sir Terry’s books are beloved by readers everywhere and we are incredibly proud to bring this novel to his legions of fans in the United States.”
The Shepherd’s Crown is the fifth Discworld novel featuring young witch Tiffany Aching. Previous titles in the Tiffany Aching sequence include: The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith and I Shall Wear Midnight.
Terry completed THE SHEPHERD’S CROWN in the summer of 2014. It will be published in hardback, ebook and audio formats on September 10th 2015, and is now available for preorder. A collector’s edition will also be available.
Tom Weldon, CEO of Penguin Random House, comments: ‘It is a huge privilege to be publishing Sir Terry Pratchett’s final Discworld novel, The Shepherd’s Crown. Terry’s writing is loved and respected the world over and this publication will be an incredibly important and special event for us all at Penguin Random House, and for fans and readers everywhere.’
The Shepherd’s Crown is available for preorder now: http://bit.ly/TheShepherdsCrown
He could write evil if he needed to, but if he didn’t his characters surprised us and him. His prose was layered: there was a mischievous surface, and a layer of complicated running jokes, and something steely and uncompromising that turned the reader cold from time to time. He was my unlikely hero, and saved me from disaster more than once by making me laugh and making me think.
Thirty years and a month ago, a beginning author met a young journalist in a Chinese Restaurant, and the two men became friends, and they wrote a book, and they managed to stay friends despite everything. Last night, the author died.
There was nobody like him. I was fortunate to have written a book with him, when we were younger, which taught me so much.
I’ll miss you, Terry.
Terry was one of our greatest fantasists, and beyond a doubt the funniest. He was as witty as he was prolific, and that’s saying something…A bright, funny, insightful, warm, and kindly man, a man of infinite patience, a man who truly knew how to enjoy life…and books.
He is survived by Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Mort, Death, Death of Rats, Commander Vimes, the Librarian, Cohen the Barbarian, Rincewind the Wizard, the Luggage and hundreds of other unforgettable characters, whose adventures will continue to delight and surprise readers all over the world for many years to come.
George R. R. Martin
Very sad to hear of the death of Terry Pratchett. I vastly enjoy his playful, smart Discworld books.
I love the Discworld novels for so many reasons. They satirise our world and its institutions with an unsparing savagery – everything from the coming of the railways to the internet via religious intolerance and radicalisation – but they don’t make us despair because there are always glorious characters with their hearts in the right place who bring us comfort: Sam Vimes, Tiffany Aching, Death, Captain Carrot, Moist von Lipwig, Rincewind and of course, the Patriarch himself, Lord Vetinari…
His Alzheimer’s was the cruellest possible blow to a mind so inventive, so rich and so funny. With his passing, the world is a less fantastic place.
He will be much missed, but what a legacy of wit and good cheer he leaves us!
Ursula Le Guin
He wasn’t imagining an alternative universe; he was reimagining ours. His fantasies sit alongside – and are the equals of – those of Rabelais, Voltaire, Swift, Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas Adams. He’s surely our most quotable writer after Shakespeare and Wilde. Granny Weatherwax’s definition of sin – “When you treat people as things” – is all you need to know about ethics.
Whereas all my beloved P G Wodehouses and Philip Pullmans are neatly arranged on the bookshelves, my Pratchetts are strewn under the beds, in the bathrooms, the glove compartments. They have shopping lists, takeaway orders and Scrabble scores scribbled on the fly leaves. They were part of life.
Rincewind is always looking for something “better than magic”. Pratchett found something better than literature.
Frank Cottrell Boyce
I ripped off a good 80% of everything I know about writing from him…I can’t imagine a 13 year old alive who wouldn’t be changed a bit, for the better, by reading Terry Pratchett.
It’s a great loss to the surreal, zany and joyful world that the light that is Terry Pratchett has gone to shine elsewhere…Pratchett’s brilliant, quirky meditations on fantasy worlds and his intense humour developed a strain of fiction that was all his own, recognisably his. His courage in facing his deteriorating health shows the wisdom behind the smiling face. I met him briefly at a couple of events and found him completely authentic – without vanity or pretension.
A writer of monumental talent.
Terry Pratchett once gave me 2 pieces of advice.
1 Always tour to meet your readers face to face.
2 Buy a hat.
Of all the writers I’ve read, Pratchett felt the most human. There was more truth in a single one of his humble satires than in a hundred volumes of poignant drama. Unlike most comedians—who use their humor like a weapon, always out for blood—Terry didn’t cut or bludgeon. He was far too clever for that. Instead, he’d slide down onto the bar stool beside us, drape his arm around us, and say something ridiculous, brilliant, and hilarious. Suddenly, the world would be a brighter place.
It wasn’t that he held back, or wasn’t—at times—biting. It’s just that he seemed to elevate every topic he touched, even when attacking it. He’d knock the pride and selfishness right out from underneath us, then—remarkably—we’d find ourselves able to stand without such things.
And we stood all the taller for it.
Sir Terry, you have my sincere thanks. I don’t think that, despite your many accolades, the world knows what it had in you.
Gutted to hear of the death of Terry Pratchett. What a loss to British fantasy.
A legend and an inspiration.
Reading the news after his death was announced, you could almost have believed that Pratchett was primarily a commentator on the human heart or a revealer of societal insanity. He was those things, of course, but more: Pratchett was genuinely, reliably funny.
Pratchett was a master of the one-liner and the long gag. He could drop a laugh on you out of the blue to puncture a serious situation or just because it was there, but he could slow-burn a joke too, so that it was bound into the fabric of a story and when the punchline came, it not only made you howl with laughter but also solved some fearsome quandary in the story. That doesn’t mean he didn’t have anything to say.
The dark secret of literature is that it’s not hard to write about serious topics, but Pratchett did it so well that half the time you don’t spot it.
He was funny. Funny doesn’t benefit from analysis, and analysis doesn’t truly understand it or why we need it so much. Funny happens and it makes the world bright, and then it’s gone.
I hope the next world is as full of fun and adventure as the ones you created while you were here.
A true sorrow. I met him once, at an event. He was a charming curmudgeon.
A great life, a brave death, inspirational man.
Terry Pratchett brought more joy to my life than any other author.
Thanks Terry Pratchett, not just for books, but for eight years of eloquence about living with Alzheimer’s.
Discworld is one of the very most fabulous creations in all of literature. I am gutted by the death of Terry Pratchett. One of a kind.
Such a loss. I admired him very much.
The world has lost its bravest of knights.
WHEN he was knighted in 2009, Terry Pratchett made a sword. It was the natural accoutrement for a man who, without one, resembled an amiable wizard kitted out by a Houston department store.
With a little help from friends, he dug 80 kilos of iron ore from a convenient field and built a kiln in the back garden. Together the team forged a sword that might have bisected a snowflake, had one drifted past.
It also had a hidden ingredient. Mixed in with the smelt were bits of meteorite, the stuff of thunderbolts. By this Sir Terry put himself on a par with Blind Io, chief of his Discworld gods. Io held the monopoly of throwing bolts about, and thus effortlessly lorded it over Annoia, goddess of Things That Stick in Drawers; Bibulous, god of Wine and Things on Sticks; Errata, goddess of Misunderstandings; and Reg, god of Club Musicians.
The disc-shaped world in which these gods were worshipped—or, more often, blamed—had been created by Sir Terry in 1983, though it had possibly existed from all eternity, borne steadily through space on the backs of four giant elephants standing on an immense dim-sighted turtle. It had swum into his mind as he wrote press handouts for the Central Electricity Generating Board, and by 1987 had proved so phenomenally popular that he left the board to fend for itself. His 40 Discworld novels made him Britain’s bestselling author in the 1990s, and by this year he had sold 85m books in 37 languages: though not, to his disappointment, in Klatch or heathen Trob*.
The literati sniffed at his fantasies, but he gave as good as he got. He had no intention of writing literature, or adding to the piles already mouldering about. Instead he ornamented Discworld with Unseen University, which was never precisely Here or There, where faculty such as the Professor of Indefinite Studies had only to show up for meals, and where the Librarian was an orang-utan who, swinging through the shelves with his prehensile limbs, had reduced all existential inquiry to a craving for bananas.
Sir Terry had not been to university himself, Seen or Unseen. He had just about scraped through High Wycombe Technical High School. Astronomy was his passion, but his star-gazing was not backed up by being any good at maths. He learned instead—mostly from P.G. Wodehouse and H.G. Wells—that universes could be explored in other ways, and could be funny and dark and slyly topical, all at once.
So it was that he built the sprawling, unsewered metropolis of Ankh-Morpork and peopled its mazy alleyways with thieves, beggars, trolls, vampires, vegetarian werewolves and bemused tourists, as well as overworked wizards. People wondered how he was not overworked himself, producing two books a year. He simply loved doing it. Feature-film-makers and their bags of gold were regularly rebuffed; he was the only controller of this universe. (Just to prove it, he gave it eight colours of the spectrum, the eighth being fluorescent greenish-yellow-purple octarine, and let some characters move so fast that light stood red-faced in embarrassment.) His enormous cast of characters, once set in motion, would generally do what he wanted, give or take the odd axe malfunction.
Brandy with Tallis
Among those characters was Death. He had appeared in Sir Terry’s childhood playing chess in “The Seventh Seal” on TV, and had not changed much since. When noticed, as humans tried not to, he had sparkling blue eyes, a glowing scythe and a white horse called Binky. His gathering of souls was untidy—the good fingered, the bad spared—and his life oddly endearing, with cups of tea and curries, and a rubber duck in his bath. He spoke IN CAPITALS, like a coffin lid slamming. In 1991 a New Death appeared with no nice features, but he soon tangled with that scythe.
Knowing Death as he did, Sir Terry was taken aback when in 2007 Binky came nuzzling at his door. He was diagnosed then with a form of early-onset Alzheimer’s. As an optimist by nature, he determined to beat it; when, within a year, it had removed his power to write and type, he realised that might be too tall an order. But his anger was undiminished; and since he had always told Death what to do and where to go, he began to campaign loudly and publicly for the right to die when and how he liked. This was preferably not in a clinic in Switzerland, but in his garden, with his cat on his lap, an excellent brandy in his hand, and Thomas Tallis in the background. In the event he managed, unassisted, some of that; and also put the right-to-die debate in a useful forward gear.
Soon after his diagnosis it was rumoured, mostly in the Daily Mail, that he had found God. He thought this unlikely, since he could not even find his keys, for the existence of which he had empirical evidence. All the same, he admitted to hearing a voice that told him all was well; and to a feeling one February day, when the sunset reddened a ploughed field, that there was “an order greater than heaven”. He knew then, he thought, “where the gods come from”. But why not, like the gods and the universe he had created, from his own black-fedoraed head, and his own thunder-wielding hand?