British Fiction Focus

Terry Pratchett: The Legend Lives On

When Sir Terry Pratchett passed away last week, we lost so much more than an inspiring author and razor-sharp satirist. We lost a husband, a son, a father, a friend. We lost, at the last, a living legend… but only in life.

Legends, after all, are not born but made, thus they do not die as men and women must. On the contrary, they live on as long as their stories are still told; perhaps for even longer than that, because of course stories can take on lives of their own.

Today, to wit, let’s leave behind the particulars of Pratchett’s last battle with the blasted embuggerance, the better to turn instead to the tributes of those storytellers whose stories tell of his tale in turn.

Here on, Jo Walton reminisced about how, “whether you knew him only through his writing, or whether you were lucky enough to have met him and been his friend, he made the world a better place.” Her sentiments echoed those of a number of other authors, not least Shadows of the Apt’s Adrian Tchaikovsky:

[Pratchett] also wrote very passionately about real world issues. He made Points with his fiction. He wrote about class and about prejudice, about modernity and tradition, about the hypocrisy of war, about the many sides of religion. And he wrote these from the back of a turtle, without robbing them of any of their power.

And he was very, very funny.

Over on Antipope, Charles Stross of The Laundry Files fame related a long anecdote about the last time he met Pratchett, with whom he had what Stross called a “context-sensitive” friendship:

He was generous not just with money, but with his soul. He was irascible, yes, and did not suffer fools gladly: but he was empatic as well, and willing to forgive. Witty. Angry. Eloquent. A little bit burned by his own fame, and secretly guilty over it, but still human. And the world is smaller and darker without him, and I miss him deeply.

Unsurprisingly, some were singularly saddened by Pratchett’s passing. Other authors were actively angered. Scott Lynch took the news as evidence that the world is out of whack:

Sixty-six is a good span of years, but Terry Pratchett was walking proof that we can have a world and a society where sixty-six is too young to go, too impossibly unfairly fucking young by far. All around us, people are trying to destroy the very possibility of that world. Some of them work with machine guns and some of them work with balance sheets, but Terry Pratchett was visible evidence that they all have to be mocked and scorned and hunted and fought. There can’t be Terry Pratchetts in the world they intend for the rest of us, which is proof enough that their world is a pile of shit.

Jo Fletcher Books’ own Jo Fletcher felt similarly:

Terry wasn’t just a brilliant writer; he was far more than that: a man of enormous brain and insatiable curiosity, and Britain’s best and most effective satirist. But last night most of the newsreaders were reporting “the death of the fantasy writer Sir Terry Pratchett” and I found myself getting cross at that too: why he wasn’t he just “the writer”? Yes, he wrote fantasy and SF, but so have Salman Rushdie and Kazuo Ishiguro and Margaret Atwood and Ursula K. Le Guin and untold numbers of wonderful, literary authors. And then I started getting mad all over again because now he never will win the Booker or any of the major literary awards, which is an appalling lack of recognition of such an astonishing talent.

Some of the tributes were heartrending in their brevity. Neil Gaiman, a close collaborator and personal friend of Pratchett’s, noted only that “there was nobody like him.” Ursula K. Le Guin agreed that “he will be much missed, but what a legacy of wit and good cheer he leaves us!”

Speaking of wit and good cheer, in the course of an article for the Guardian, Christopher Priest wondered whether Death would “dare to speak in capitals to Sir Terry Pratchett”:

BEING DEAD IS NOT COMPULSORY. NOT IF YOU DON’T WANT TO. These are the words of Death, one of Terry Pratchett’s ingenious comic creations in his Discworld novels. Death has a booming, unamused voice (always in capitals, never in quotation marks), and is the permanent straight man in the comic chaos around him. He goes about his morbid business on a horse called Binky, whose hooves throw up sparks on every street cobble. Death is a skeleton, with eyes like two tiny blue stars set deep within the sockets. He wears a black cloak, carries a scythe and, at the end of a day’s work, loves to murder a curry. At the point of contact with his latest client, he usually spends a few moments having a courteous word or two with the recently deceased, until they fade away.

Now Death has gained a most illustrious client, for Pratchett himself has died, aged 66, after suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The exchange is no doubt unamused but courteous on one side, amusing but rueful on the other, but of fervent interest to both parties. It’s a conversation that millions of Pratchett fans would ache to overhear.

The topic of conversations takes us to Lavie Tidhar, who dusted off some old interview footage he and a few friends had shot with the late great for a since-shelved documentary about science fiction and fandom. The result? Fifteen more minutes with the man. Magical minutes:

“Here’s the point,” as Scott Lynch sees it. “Terry Pratchett can die, but he can never go away.”

Aliette de Bodard, author of The House of Shattered Wings, stands as an example of that. She didn’t know Pratchett personally, but she knew his books practically by heart. “It’s hard to state how much his writings have shaped me and what I write today,” she explained. “I taught myself English (and puns on British life) with the Discworld […] and came to the fantasy and science fiction bookshelves of Waterstone’s because that was where you could find his books.”

We’ve hardly scratched the surface of the sundry tributes made in the days since Pratchett’s date with Death, but I’d say this selection has served its particular purpose: to remind us that though the author is gone, his legend lives on.

Let’s close on that note with a few choice words from the mouth of George R. R. Martin:

Terry Pratchett is gone, and the world of fantasy is that much poorer this morning.

The creator of Discworld, and author of more novels than I can dare to contemplate, Terry was one of our greatest fantasists, and beyond a doubt the funniest. He was as witty as he was prolific, and that’s saying something. […] I cannot claim to have known Terry well, but I ran into him at dozens of conventions over the decades, shared a stage with him a few times, and once or twice had the privilege of sharing a pint or a curry. He was always a delight. A bright, funny, insightful, warm, and kindly man, a man of infinite patience, a man who truly knew how to enjoy life… and books.

He is survived by Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Mort, Death, Death of Rats, Commander Vimes, the Librarian, Cohen the Barbarian, Rincewind the Wizard, the Luggage, and hundreds of other unforgettable characters, whose adventures will continue to delight and surprise readers all over the world for many years to come.

Niall Alexander is an extra-curricular English teacher who reads and writes about all things weird and wonderful for The Speculative Scotsman, Strange Horizons, and He’s been known to tweet, twoo.


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