So, in case you somehow haven’t seen the news- Sir Terry Pratchett, the author of the Discworld series and a host of other books, passed away peacefully in his home following a long battle with Alzheimers disease, one which he made public around 8 years ago. During that time he spent much of his life trying to raise awareness of the disease, championing the right to die and trying to generate more funding for research into how to cure and treat the condition.
This alone would make Sir Terry worthy of praise- being dealt an absolutely terrible hand and still fighting to try and make the world a better place for others in the same position as himself. I can’t say enough for his attitude towards death and how he undoubtedly made it much less scary for a lot of people.
However, I mostly wanted to talk about his writing, because Sir Terry has been and always will be my favourite author. Not just my favourite- those words aren’t strong enough. He has been my biggest inspiration, and is responsible for giving me the passion to try and write myself.
I first pulled a Discworld book (Guards, Guards) off my dad’s bookshelf at the age of about 10 or 11 and was immediately captivated by the richness of the world and the incredible humour and warmth which suffused it. Some of the jokes undoubtedly flew over my head, but I loved it, and continued to quietly plow through the rest of the books in the series until my dad noticed and got annoyed about me bending the spines, insisting that I use my pocket money to buy my own copies so as not to ruin his. (I always picture the Librarian’s opinion on books when thinking about this- books aren’t meant to be read, you might wear the words out!)
What captured my imagination most about the Discworld was the strength and power of Pratchett’s “author voice”. Reading them makes you feel as though you’re being told a story by a kindly, bearded uncle with a twinkle in his eye- sometimes. At other times, Pratchett’s anger and fury at the injustice of the world and the many problems that our species has pours through and scorches its way off the page. His mastery was in being able to weave together the different strands of his voice- from telling fantastic tales of magic and dragons laced with dry humour and wit, to stark, thinly-veiled commentary on the problems of our own society as mirrored by the Discworld. And then there was the inspirational side of his writing, where his characters stepped off the page and into my head. Moist von Lipwig’s life motto in particular has stuck with me since I first read it in ‘Going Postal’;
“Run before you walk! Fly before you crawl! Keep moving forward! You think we should try to get a decent mail service in the city. I think we should try to send letters anywhere in the world! Because if we fail, I’d rather fail really hugely. All or nothing, Mr. Groat!”
I could wax lyrical for thousands of words about every one of Sir Terry’s characters. Of Death, who somehow became human and heartwarming and heartbreaking all at the same time, while still being a 7-foot tall skeleton and the reaper of souls. Of Granny Weatherwax’s incredible, innate stubbornness and sheer, bloody-minded refusal to quit. Of Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, the most optimistic businessman in history, constantly coming up with schemes and ideas to make a fast buck. And of course, of every member of the City Watch- and Commander Vimes in particular, the very first Sir Terry creation that I encountered and my all-time favourite, a man who distrusts every kind of authority despite being an authority figure himself, who despises the Gods themselves for getting the world wrong, who balances himself on a knife-edge and willingly battles with the knowledge that he could be very bad but chooses instead to be very good.
I could keep going, but I’d be labouring the point. Anybody who’s reading this and has read the Discworld will know exactly what I’m talking about- anybody who hasn’t picked up a book, please do, I can promise you won’t regret it.
Thank you, a thousand times thank you for letting us into the world inside your head, Sir Terry. We promise to keep the lights on for you.
Non timetus messor.
Sir Terry Pratchett 28 April 1948 – 12 March 2015