Remembering Sir Terry Pratchett, author of the “Discworld” book series, who has passed away at the age of 66.
It is with a heavy heart and teary eyes that I write this article about the life and loss of Sir Terry Pratchett. Writing an obituary is always a sad time but in this case, it’s akin to the end of an era. I first read The Colour of Magic in late 1983, shortly after it was published. I was fairly new to the fantasy genre, having read the first book or two of David Edding’s Belgariad and the first book of Raymond E. Feist’s “Riftwar Saga.”
What I found in that first “Discworld” novel was something that not every author, regardless of the genre, understands. What I found was a wit so cutting that you were almost taken aback. The book was pure, unadulterated fun! Lots of novels are good, but not many will keep you smiling throughout the entirety. And that fun never ended, not once in the forty “Discworld” novels that he produced for my enjoyment. Well, it never ended until today, that is.
In life, Sir Terry was a world-renowned British author with more than seventy novels to his name. He was awarded a multitude of honors including nine honorary doctorates, a knighthood, and at least a dozen other prestigious literary awards. Always one to take these achievements with a grain of salt, he was often self-deprecating in his responses which seemed only fitting when you become familiar with his works. He was a man who took life seriously. As a matter of fact, he took it seriously enough to know that living is important and he constantly encouraged others to do the same. A master of satire, his books often poked fun at modern issues though they were often cloaked in a medieval setting.
Pratchett’s early life was one that seems common enough. Born in 1948, he was an only child who had a love of astronomy and reading. He had his first short story printed at thirteen in a school paper and two years later saw it commercially published. At age 17, he went to work as a journalist for the Bucks Free Press, quitting school to do so. During a fortuitous interview, he was given the chance to publish his first full length novel, The Carpet People, in 1971. He would also go on to publish two more books in five year intervals. After a few different journalism jobs, Sir Terry found himself the Press Officer for Central Electricity Generating Board, which apparently included nuclear power plants.
It was, however, 1983 that was the turning point for the part-time author. When Colin Smythe published the epic premiere novel of the “Discworld” series in hard back, it was like the ball had finally started picking up speed. The paperback rights were secured through another company and there was even a radio serial of The Colour of Magic! He continued to work his day job as a press officer until 1987, when he decided to commit himself fully to his writing, shortly after his fourth book. Averaging two books a year, he very quickly secured his place as a fantasy author of the first caliber. His work has been adapted into graphic novels, television programs, theatrical plays, and even video games. Heck, I’ve even got a couple of shirts based on his works.
Unfortunately, in mid-2007, Pratchett was diagnosed with a rare form of Alzheimer’s Disease called posterior cortical atrophy (PCA) that was originally mistaken for a stroke. Though he suffered some loss of motor functions, this in no way hindered his writing. He was openly outraged that he had been affected by this problem and steadfastly refused to allow it to deter him from his writing. Donating much of his time and money to raise awareness, he became a very visible activist in support of finding a cure. He continued to write throughout this time, often relying on dictation to complete his novels. The disease never managed to erode his resilience or curb his incessant need to create; if anything, I think it strengthened his resolve to live life to the fullest.
It was last year, in July to be specific, that we started to see the effects. For the first time ever, Sir Terry was forced to cancel an appearance at the International Discworld Convention. Though he continued writing through dictation, he continued to claim that his writing prowess was still fully intact and as sharp as ever. Unfortunately, on March 12, 2015, he lost his battle with PCA and passed away from a related chest infection. As a man who wrote about Death as a character in the vast majority of his novels, I can only hope his final meeting went as he expected it and that Death allowed him a ride on Binky, Death’s Horse in the “Discworld” series.
I hope that you have read his work, or failing that, you will go read it now (here’s a great Guide To The Proper Reading Order). His books are more than entertaining, they are a staple in the fantasy genre. I will always treasure mine and I know his other fans feel the same. This amazing man managed to create a world that I found entertaining for thirty years and more. His final installment in the series will hit shelves later this year, though he often stated his daughter was welcome to take up the mantle after he stopped writing. Personally, I’ve always been a Rincewind fan, and a huge part of that was The Luggage that accompanied the character. As fierce and deadly as The Luggage was, I hope it followed Sir Terry on his next adventure. It would be only fitting.
The finally tweets from his Twitter account were:”Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night.” This was followed a quote of the character Death: “AT LAST SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER” with the final tweet being, quite fittingly: “The End.”
And I can think of nothing better to end this article with than that. Peace be with you, Sir Terry Pratchett.
RIP Terry Pratchett
April 28, 1948 – 12 March 12, 2015