I’ve been going to blog half a dozen times since this year began, but life kept getting in the way. But now I have to. The writer who I adored above all others died this morning.
You can go and look up his biography for yourselves, or read any of the several obituaries (a few links: from The Guardian, The Telegraph, and another very good one from The Guardian). Before JK Rowling, he was the writer who forged a path through fantasy literature to make it anything but niche. Librarians used to go up to him at book signings and make enthusiastic comments about how his books got kids interested in reading, so that they could turn them on to real books.
He was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimers in 2007 (which he referred to as his ‘embuggerance’), and had been campaigning for increased funding for research ever since (not to mention donating a million pounds of his own dosh to the cause). He was also a vocal campaigner for the right to die.
So why do I care so much? What makes him special? Oh gods, where do I begin to answer that? Because he was brilliant, funny, angry, searingly acute and the most assured social commentator/satirist since Dickens. Early books were stuffed full of jokes and parodies of various other fantasy novels, but from #3 (Equal Rites) on, he found his own work, and the jokes became deeper, the parodies became satire as well as spoof, and more pointed and subtle. He had a wonderful sense of the absurd, and all of his books are rife with joke references to bits of mythology, history, politics … you name it, it probably found its way in there somewhere. To the point where there was a wonderful online resource – the Annotated Pratchett File – which offered explanations for all of the references the various compilers noticed. (Yes, he was a god of Additional Content way before the internet found its stride.) And the marvellous thing was that it didn’t matter if you didn’t get them, or didn’t even notice them – the stories didn’t need you to – but it added an incredible richness to the texture of the world he created, and made it feel as though you had an extra connection to the books. And to the bloke. Plus it makes rereading an ongoing treasure hunt – I started reading his books back in 1989 (the year he published Pyramids and Guards! Guards!) and still find things that I didn’t see the first times around. I had the chance to meet him on a couple of book-signing tours he did, and to hear him speak. (The book-signing queues were legendary, and deservingly so!)
If you’ve never read his books, go find a copy of Mort as a starting place. (“Death comes to us all. When he came to Mort, he offered him a job.”) Then possibly Small Gods. Then go back and read the cannon in order. (The books do more or less stand alone for the first dozen or so, but you get the most out of it by reading in order.) There is always humour in his work, but the books gradually get darker, culminating in The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents (which is a fabulous, incredible, and quite dark children’s book), Night Watch, and Thud!. Religion, gender issues, politics, racial tension, finance (he wrote about shady deals in the city bringing about financial chaos way before the GFC happened – as I said, he was an acutely observant and intelligent writer and social critic) … no wonder he’s being studied as a philosopher. He was one. One who made you laugh, then think. Then laugh again. (And possibly weep.)
Sorry, I know this isn’t exactly my most insightful post. (Not helped by the power going off when I was writing the previous few paragraphs – grr!) I find it very hard to put words around what I’m feeling and thinking. How do you spell the human equivalent of a dog howling? (Overblown, I know, sorry Pterry. But it is true. Or at least the closest I seem to be able to come to true, what with this grief and all.)
He leaves behind forty something books of Discworld stories, which spawned numerous plays, television movies, games, even some seriously wonderful ceramic figurines. And a legion of fans across the planet who are really only consoled by the fact that his early death means he isn’t suffering. That he remained (mostly) himself. It was always going to be too soon.
A last thing to share with you is the way his fans found out about his death. A last post on his twitter feed, beginning in the block capitals that his most enduring creation always used when speaking:
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.