Thursday, 12 March 2015

Terry Pratchett 1948 - 2015

It was with great sadness that I heard about the death of Terry Pratchett. Here are my thoughts interspersed with some quotes from his Discworld novels. My apologies for the bits not written by Terry.

"The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to the presence of those who think they’ve found it." Monstrous Regiment

I borrowed Mort, the fourth Discworld novel, from Ross, a boy at school who was busily reading the first, The Colour Of Magic. I chose it over the others he had because it had a fantastic cover and the first line of the blurb well and truly hooked me: "Death comes to us all. When he came to Mort, he offered him a job". I was ten and reading about existentialism and anthropomorphic personifications of concepts like Death in a book that juxtaposes the sublime with the ridiculous to the point you are left wondering which is which.

"Give a man a fire and he's warm for a day, but set fire to him and he's warm for the rest of his life." Jingo

I never met Terry, but he had a profound affect upon my life. He turned me from a lazy reader into a voracious one. Pratchett's writing was like a gateway drug to me and so any Dickens, Shakespeare, Tolkien, Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore and many more that I ever read was down to him, but it was to Pratchett that I kept returning. His writing has been a constant in my life and I'm enormously grateful to him (and also to my mother for turning a blind eye to the grim reaper looking out from the front cover of that book).

"Actors," said Granny, witheringly. "As if the world weren't full of enough history without inventing more." Wyrd Sisters

I kept reading...Wyrd Sisters, Reaper Man, Witches Abroad, Soul Music, Night Watch...I read them all and often couldn't put them down. Thanks to a period when it seemed like he was writing them faster than I could read them, I still have a few to go. It seems strange to say goodbye when I still have so much more of his work to enjoy.

"Bad spelling can be lethal. For example, the greedy Seriph of Al-Yabi was cursed by a badly-educated deity and for some days everything he touched turned to Glod, which happened to be the name of a small dwarf from a mountain community hundreds of miles away who found himself magically dragged to the kingdom and relentlessly duplicated. Some two thousand Glods later the spell wore off. These days, the people of Al-Yabi are renowned for being remarkably short and bad-tempered." Witches Abroad

Beyond Death the cast of characters runs into thousands, all beautifully drawn and realised. There's Rincewind, the Librarian, Granny Weatherwax, Mort, Albert, Nanny Ogg, Sam Vimes, Sergeant Colon, Corporal Nobby, Carrot, Lord Vetinari, Windle Poons, Mustrum Ridcully, the Dean, the Bursar, Susan Sto Helit, the Death of Rats, Brutha, Angua, Detritus, Ponder Stibbons, Hex, Leonard of Quirm, Harry Dread, Tiffany Aching and Moist Von Lipwig to name, but too many. A supporting character in a Terry Pratchett novel is always compelling enough that they might have sustained their own book, nay series of books. I would have read The Further Adventures Of You Bastard.

"Rincewind could scream for mercy in nineteen languages, and just scream in another forty-four." Interesting Times

But Terry didn't write about characters. None of his characters is the excuse for a story. Terry wrote about social change and cultural phenomena. He placed his characters at the centre of the friction between tradition and progress. He used the veil of fantasy to write satire and commentary on a vast array of subjects.

"When banks fail, it's not bankers who starve" Going Postal

If you've never read any of his work, do. If you only read one of his books, read Small Gods. It is an absolutely spectacular piece of work and quite simply, the best book on the subject of religion ever written. It's a brilliant treatise on faith and organised religion that is both hilarious and intelligent regardless of your faith or indeed lack thereof. Less I'll believe it when I see it and more I'll see it when I believe it.. In literary terms the Bible, the Koran and The God Delusion achieve far less in their many thousands of pages than that one book does in about 350, plus, you know, Pratchett's caused fewer wars. If someone had simply written that one book he would be a cast iron absolute genius, but to have written that and forty more, and that's just before you leave the Discworld, gives you the measure of just what we have lost.


Thanks Terry.

"No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away…" Reaper Man

"Probably the last sound heard before the Universe folded up like a paper hat would be someone saying, 'What happens if I do this?'" Interesting Times


Maurice Mitchell said...

What a touching tribute Dave and Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore are all extremely important writers to me too.

Dave said...

Thank you.