Beloved fantasy author Terry Pratchett died peacefully in his home today, surrounded by family. He was aged 66. The news was announced by a tweet from his beloved character, Death, on Twitter.
Sir Terry was an incredible inspiration to me. I read my first Discworld novel when I was sixteen. My boyfriend at the time would make these strange jokes with another friend of ours (another Terry Pratchett fan) and they both kept saying I had to read these books so I could understand. Alex gave me Pyramids to read, knowing that with my obsession with Ancient Egypt, I’d love it. And I did. I read my way through his Terry Pratchett collection over the next year and, after we broke up, started amassing a collection of my own. When I first visited my now-husband’s flat, it filled me with joy to see a line of Pratchett books lining his shelf.
“I meant,” said Ipslore bitterly, “what is there in this world that truly makes living worthwhile?”
Death thought about it.
CATS, he said eventually. CATS ARE NICE.” – Terry Pratchett, Sourcery.
At university I would binge-read his books during exams. Sometimes, a single quote from one of his books could encapsulate a whole semester’s worth of learning. I loved being able to get lost in the characters and worlds. . Terry had a knack for characterisation – to me that is his strength as a writer, along with his joyously cynical view of the world. He created characters so beautifully simple and impossibly improbable, and yet, they lived and breathed – as real as you or I. You always see a little of yourself in his heroes and heroines.
I had the honour of hearing Sir Terry speak twice, and of meeting him once, although I was too hopelessly shy to say anything of importance. I think I said, “Thank you”, which is such a woefully inadequate sentiment to express everything his books mean to me. He spoke about writing, the craft, the loneliness, the utter joy of it, with such reverence and enthusiasm. The first time I went to one of his talks I remember coming away thinking I wanted that life, the life of a writer. I wanted to do what he did, to challenge thoughts and assumptions, to use fiction to comment on the world as I saw it, to create characters that lived a million altered lives through a million readers.
“I’ll be more enthusiastic about encouraging thinking outside the box when there’s evidence of any thinking going on inside it.” – Terry Pratchett.
He made the world a brighter place. He gave a voice to so many people who wanted to question what they were told as truth. He gave hope. He used humour to create change. He believed that bravery, love, friendship, and cleverness never went out of style. He gave an incredible gift to the world, one that will endure for generations to come.
“It is said that your life flashes before your eyes just before you die. That is true, it’s called Life.” – Terry Pratchett, Last Continent.
The second time I heard him speak, he was at the Auckland Town Hall, being interviewed on stage by some local TV celebrity. The first half of the evening was a delightful journey through his career – talking about books, characters, writing, stories of his life. The second half was darker – for he spoke about his battle with the rare form of Alzheimers that was slowly claiming his mind and body. You could see him struggling to locate his glass of water on the table. He spoke as a man proud of his intelligence who knew exactly what was happening to him, and what would happen to him. You heard the fear in his voice, and the overwhelming anger at being forced to feel that fear.
Whether you agree or disagree with Sir Terry’s final cause – where he took to the press and to the courts to fight for the right to end his own life – you could not help but empathise with his plight. To a man like him, it is the ultimate horror, and he had no choice but to accept it. Which he did, with his affable humour and cynical heart. With the same bravery his characters called forth to face their ultimate enemies, Sir Terry faced his “embuggerance”, knowing that ultimately, the disease would claim him.
“Wisdom comes from experience. Experience is often a result of lack of wisdom.” – Terry Pratchett.
And now he is gone. At least, it sounds as if he went peacefully, in the company of those who loved him most.
Thank you, Sir Terry. Thank you for everything. I will do my best to do your legacy proud.
If you’ve never read Terry Pratchett before, now is the time to start. My favourites are Pyramids, Lords & Ladies, Men at Arms, Wyrd Sisters, Mort, and Small Gods, but they are pretty much all awesome.