Today, April 28th, marks Sir Terrence David John Pratchett’s birthday, and along with being appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 2009 (an honor that caused him to forge his very own sword from iron that he dug out of the ground), he was also once reputed to be the most shoplifted author in Britain. And what that tells us is actually very simple: Terry Pratchett writes wonderful books and we love to read them.
An only child and self-described “nondescript student,” Pratchett was first commercially published at age 15, and claimed to have received his true education from the Beaconsfield Public Library. He was an astronomy enthusiast all his life, and had an observatory in his home garden. There is an asteroid named after him. He had a love of wide-brimmed black fedoras, and a wit welcome among the likes of Twain and Wilde. While a great deal of fantasy spends its time displaying the grimmer aspects of life, the world loves Terry Pratchett for his ability to tell the truth in ways that make us laugh.
With a background in journalism, it wasn’t until 1987 that he began to write novels full-time, but he already had several Discworld books under his belt. Discworld, of course, is Pratchett’s comedic fantasy series that takes place on the Disc, and has given readers such memorable characters as Rincewind, Samuel Vimes, Granny Weatherwax, and Susan Sto Helit. It is Pratchett’s mastery of satire that makes him a legend, along with the vast knowledge of literature and more that permeates all of his works.
Pratchett was known for his staunch defense of the fantasy genre, his aggravation when it was dismissed as a literary form because, as he has said, it is “the oldest form of fiction.” His ability to write fantasy novels that are sharp, referential, and relevant have led many fans to the genre who might have otherwise never explored it. His was a mind that never stopped learning and exploring, and the books that he wrote reflected the scope of his interests, making us smarter in turn.
Despite being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2007 (or, to use his words, the “embuggerance”), Terry Pratchett continued to write, refusing to stop unto the end. When he passed on March 12, 2015, fans and readers mourned, and even petitioned Discworld’s DEATH to bring him back. He was a reader’s reader, an author’s author, and a treasure not just for genre fiction—but for the literary world.
This article originally appeared April 28, 2013 on Tor.com, and has been updated to reflect recent events.