“No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away…”
― Terry Pratchett, Reaper Man
On the evening of the 12th of March, 2015, I was in conversation with Jack Dawson about the many merits of Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters. I’d finished reading the book in less than a week; had completely fallen in love with the characters; and the satirical parody on Macbeth and Hamlet did not go unnoticed. It was my favourite Discworld book to date, I told him.
Later that same evening, I received the news that Sir Terry Pratchett had died at the age of 66.
It wasn’t a bad death, I’m almost certain he would have said. He passed away in his home, surrounded by family, with his cat asleep on his bed.
His death was announced on Twitter in a Discworld-esque fashion:
“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.
It did not ease the devastation.
I could possibly strike up an argument with myself about how it should not have hurt so much: after all, I was a recent fan of Sir Terry’s, I hadn’t read him when I was younger when I had the chance, and I’d held an undeserved grudge towards him at fourteen when I thought he was trying to usurp JRR Tolkien’s place as the father of fantasy. Try not to judge me too harshly; I was fourteen. I know better now.
So gather round the fire, friends, while I tell you story about how I learned to love Sir Terry Pratchett.
It was July 2014, I believe, when, while browsing through the Boffins Bookstore in Perth’s CBD, a series of books with very pretty covers caught my eye. I know it is immoral to judge a book by its cover, but at that point it was something I’d been doing for a fair while. Not only had I been judging books by their covers, I’d been judging them by their fonts and their character names as well. I’d also flip open a book, read a few sentences, and if I found that the writing style did not appeal to me, the book remained on the shelf, and I wouldn’t look at it again.
In 2009, a friend of mine told me that she was reading Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett. Coincidentally, that same year, my class was studying Shakespeare’s Macbeth; and if I had had the intuition to pick it up and read it there and then, I might have saved myself a few years of morbid boredom.
Then again, maybe I wasn’t ready for Sir Terry Pratchett. I was fourteen, and I was determined to be as serious a teenager as I was able. So I delved into Tolkien and Shakespeare, and didn’t raise my head from their hallowed writings for many a long year, building up my sense of humour as slowly as a sloth builds a three-storeyed house of clay on the riverside.
In July 2014, I wasn’t reading. I was writing, yes, but I was finding it difficult to get into a proper book. I found that I missed the immersion of being in another world, to love characters, to go on fantastical journeys from the comfort of my bed. So I haunted the bookstores around Perth, searching for the book that would drag me out of my lethargic, uninspired state. The book that I picked up, one of those with the pretty covers, as you may have guessed, was the first of Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books.
I picked up The Colour of Magic, inspected the front and back covers, opened up the book, cringed slightly at the choice of font (Book Antiqua), and was just about to close the book when I did something that would change my life for the better—I read the first sentence.
And then the next. And the next—until I realized that I was going to have to get this book; Sir Terry Pratchett had started a conversation with me and I did not have either the strength or willpower to refuse him.
The book was ridiculous, of course: a tourist named Twoflower, a wizard named Rincewind, a world that was precariously placed on top of four elephants who stood on the back of a giant turtle that was happily swimming through space. Fourteen-year-old me would have cast aside the book. Eighteen-year-old me couldn’t put it down.
Today I’m up to Pyramids, and I don’t believe I’m going to stop until I’ve read everything Sir Terry Pratchett’s ever written. It is easy to remember a writer by the words he has written. In fact, I think it is how most writers want to be remembered. Writing is the act of achieving a small immortality, of leaving behind a legacy for generations to come. The legacy of Sir Terry Pratchett will not be easily forgotten.
Terence David John Pratchett, born the 28th of April, 1948, is often described as a comic fantasy writer. It’s the simplest way to condense the enormity of the personality that is Sir Terry, to confine it into three little words and think no more on it. While readers outside of Discworld will find it easy enough to believe that the bright-eyed author can be described in those three mundane words, it almost goes without saying that Terry Pratchett did more, gave more, and was far more than just a ‘comic fantasy writer’.
JRR Tolkien spent seventeen years working on The Lord of the Rings, fashioning each chartered landscape, rearranging forests and cities like he rearranged furniture. Tolkien was bent on creating a world of his own, and thus Middle Earth was born. Terry Pratchett, on the other hand, seemed to have woken up one morning, gone for a walk, decided to upend reality, got home, took out some paper and a pen, and did just that.
Terry Pratchett turned our world inside out, flattened it with his wheeling imagination, placed it on four elephants and put those four elephants on a giant turtle and decided that it would sail through space. He named the flattened world the Discworld (who saw that coming?), and inside the world, he gave his take on our reality, satirized our lifestyles, with the wit and humour that has become the trademark of his books. His was a level head that could see out of clouds while keeping his feet firmly on the ground: he delved into the realm of fantasy, fished out a few witches and dragons, and gave them more life and more personality than any writer had ever given them. He took the practicality of everyday life and instilled it in every one of his characters.
Sir Terry could make a rock the most interesting thing in the universe.
And yet, for all his fond reality-fantasy collaborations, reality cast a blow from which he would never recover. In December 2007, Terry Pratchett was diagnosed with a very rare form of eary-onset Alzheimer’s, posterior cortical atrophy (PCA) , which meant that areas at the back of his brain would begin to shrink and shrivel. Sir Terry called it an ‘embuggerance’, and continued to write—and when that proved to be too difficult, he dictated to his assistant, Rob Wilkins, or used speech recognition software.
He fought his disease boldly and bravely, and was as vocal as he possibly could have been. In 2010 he gave a Richard Dimbleby lecture called Shaking hands with Death . In August 2011, he presented a one-off BBC television documentary titled Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die, about assisted suicide. Although in his lifetime Sir Terry campaigned tirelessly for pro-euthanasia., he died a natural death.
As soon as I finish writing this, I’m going to pick up Terry Pratchett’s Pyramids and read until my eyes demand repose. It’ll be the first book of his that I’ll read after his death. I know I’ll hear his voice in the words he has written. Perhaps it is a magic of its own, the power of words as they speak. After all, “it’s still magic even if you know how it’s done”. Sir Terry Pratchett is still with us, as long as there are people reading his books. As long as his books exist, so do his ideals. And in the years to come, our children will pick up his books and dream of a world shaped like a disc, sitting on four elephants that are in turn standing on the back of a giant turtle, swimming through time and space. He will speak to them, and they will listen.
“This I choose to do. If there is a price, this I choose to pay. If it is my death, then I choose to die. Where this takes me, there I choose to go. I choose. This I choose to do.”
― Terry Pratchett, Wintersmith
Words By: Mandy Moe Pwint Tu
Picture Credit: Huffington Post