On the 12th of March this year, we lost a genius. Sir Terry Pratchett OBE peacefully succumbed to the Alzheimer which has afflicted him since his diagnosis with Posterior Cortical Atrophy in 2007. I could go into detail about this, but it has been covered exhaustively elsewhere. I could talk about the lengthy and impressive list of awards he won, but I’m sure we’ve all read about that too. I could mention the 25000 supporters of an online petition to Death, asking for Sir Terry back. I could write something clever, perhaps mentioning the wealth of characters affected by his passing, but here, on his own Twitter –
AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER.
Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors
and on to the black desert under the endless night.
Who could better that? Not I, certainly. Instead I will limit myself to that part of him that I actually knew – his writing. You see, I sit here and write opposite some bookshelves. Not unusual, I’m sure we all own books, but my shelves have an impressive proportion of books Sir Terry wrote. Forty Discworld novels commands some serious real estate in my little library. The news that a world I have been thoroughly immersed in for decades had ended was a heavy blow indeed. He inspired non-readers to enjoy reading, and avid readers to read more omnivorously.
My own first forays into the Discworld began in the 90’s. I remember being enthralled immediately by the concept. A world so familiar as to be almost a fantasy cliché, and yet so like our own. I literally could not put them down, laughing along as I was encouraged to see our world in a completely new way. The Discworld is described as a ‘world, and mirror of worlds’, and it does this perfectly. It deals with Music (Soul Music), Movies (Moving Pictures), Gender (Equal Rites), Race (Jingo), Media (The Truth). It would be impossible to list them all. That is its real magic. Sir Terry could take the mundane, and make it sublime. He could effortlessly show us something, some part of our lives or aspect of our society with which we have such familiarity that we are certain we know it all, inside and out. And then he’d turn it on its head and show us something in it we hadn’t noticed. It was the ultimate literary magic trick, and it happened again and again, in every book. This alone is really very clever, but what stepped him beyond and into genius is this – while he did all this he made us laugh.
To me really good Sci-fi and fantasy is not just a narrative. It is the prism which breaks the white light and reveals the rainbow. It is the lens through which we see ourselves, all in clear, sharp focus. The Discworld novels manage this expertly, as well as being generally a thumping good read. And did I mention how funny they are? To think they are now over is saddening, barring his last as yet unpublished Tiffany Aching novel, The Shepherd’s Crown.
Of course the thought of us having lost anything is nonsensical at best. I look across this very room, and there they are. More than forty novels, still on my shelves. They certainly aren’t going anywhere soon. Like all great writers, Sir Terry Pratchett OBE is survived by his considerable body of work, and through it has attained a small measure of immortality. The Discworld has not ended, nor will it ever. It will be enjoyed for as long as we still read those books. Vimes will still stand in Vetinari’s ante chamber, fuming. Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax will still bicker and glare, as only they can. And Death will still ride Binky across that endless starry night sky.
Most of all, Great A’Tuin will swim on through the infinite cosmos, Bringing joy and wonder to new generations as the years pass, unending. The Discworld can never end.