Last night I cried about the death of a man I have never met, and now I never will. The closest I came to meeting Terry Pratchett is a signed copy of The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, given to me by a friend who managed to get to a signing when I had an exam I couldn’t get out of. It’s one of my most prized possessions.
When I was 11 or 12 I read The Colour of Magic. It was OK, and I enjoyed it enough to start reading The Light Fantastic, but I gave up half-way through. A few months later my parents were reading Lords and Ladies, and I picked it up and have never looked back.
Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder.
Elves are marvellous. They cause marvels.
Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies.
Elves are glamorous. They project glamour.
Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment.
Elves are terrific. They beget terror.
The thing about words is that meanings can twist just like a snake, and if you want to find snakes look for them behind words that have changed their meaning.
No one ever said elves are nice.
Elves are bad.
― Terry Pratchett, Lords and Ladies
He’s taught me so much about language and the joy of words.
‘Well, I must say I’ve never thought about that word “conundrum”,’ she said slowly, ‘but it is certainly metallic and slithery.’
‘I like words,’ said Preston. ‘”Forgiveness”: doesn’t it sound like what it is? Doesn’t it sound like a silk handkerchief gently falling down? And what about “susurration”? Doesn’t it sound to you like whispered plots and dark mysteries?…Sorry, is something wrong?’
‘Yes, I think something may be wrong,’ said Tiffany, looking at Preston’s worried face. ‘Susurration’ was her favourite word; she had never met anyone else who even knew it.
– Terry Pratchett, I Shall Wear Midnight
He taught me how to use punctuation correctly.
“Multiple exclamation marks,” he went on, shaking his head, “are a sure sign of a diseased mind.”
– Terry Pratchett, Eric
A poster of the Discworld was the first one I ever owned, and for many years the amazing artwork inspired by his writing was on my calendars and diaries.
When I was doing GCSE French, we had to come up with a profile of a famous person. Pratchett was my choice, and I was amazed when I managed to randomly pluck his birthday out of the air by combining the month of my birthday and the day I was writing the profile on and get it completely right.
Scientists have calculated that the chances of something so patently absurd actually existing are millions to one.
But magicians have calculated that million-to-one chances crop up nine times out of ten.
― Terry Pratchett, Mort
On my first day of my new job as a college librarian at university, I was 90 minutes late for my 2-hour shift because I was reading Going Postal and forgot that I was supposed to go to work. Luckily I was supposed to be opening the library so nobody was waiting for me to take over from them, and the first ‘patron’ I ever saw in there was about four months later, so it ended up not mattering!
Words are important. And when there is a critical mass of them, they change the nature of the universe.
– Terry Pratchett, Going Postal
Good Omens is one of the only books I’ve ever read multiple times, and if I had to choose one, I’d probably say it’s my favourite.
God moves in extremely mysterious, not to say, circuitous ways. God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players*, to being involved in an obscure and complex version of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won’t tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time.
Footnote to above: * ie., everybody.
– Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, Good Omens
There are so many layers to all of his books, the humour, the metaphors, the ideas, the footnotes, but above all, the story. The story that grabs you and won’t let go, meaning you can’t wait to get back to reading, and resent anything that tears you away. I learnt early on that each new Pratchett book needed a dedicated time, and that I should have no other plans until I’d finished.
He cared a lot about reading, and you can see how widely read he was throughout his books, with so many throwaway references to everything under the sun, that it’s impossible to catch them all.
As the Discworld series progressed it got darker and deeper. Technology started to invade more and more, and the world moved closer to the one we live in, shining a light on how we live with the changes we’re experiencing all the time. The Science of the Discworld books are particular favourites of mine, weaving fiction and non-fiction together very cleverly. The fourth one is one of the only books of his I still have to read – so few left now, and so many lost because of his premature death.
Time is a drug. Too much of it kills you.
― Terry Pratchett, Small Gods
Other, very different, books have also appeared in the last decade since Pratchett was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, such as The Long Earth series with Stephen Baxter. It is equally thought-provoking, and although there was less of the humour of Discworld, there are still flashes of it throughout.
The work Pratchett did to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s and dementia may well affect me and those I love in the future. As with many people, it runs in my family and his efforts may mean that treatments and cures are developed just that little bit faster.
He also worked with orang-utan charities, something close to my heart because of my time at the Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre in Borneo. The documentary he made in 2013 about the plight of orang-utans, called Facing Extinction, brought tears to my eyes repeatedly, in part because of the obvious struggle he was having to get through the experience.
Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky
If you’ve never read anything by Pratchett, I’m jealous. You’ve got worlds to discover which will open your eyes. Start now. Start with Death. Start with Death and What Comes Next. It’ll take you 10 minutes. It’ll make you laugh. It’ll make you think. And it’ll introduce you to Pratchett’s greatest character, the one he has now gone to join.
It is often said that before you die your life passes before your eyes. It is in fact true. It’s called Life.
– Terry Pratchett, The Last Continent