Robert Anson Hoyt/Contributor
It has been less than an hour, at the time of this writing, since I learned that Terry Pratchett had died.
Probably I should wait a little longer, and organize my thoughts, but is it not written, “there is no time like the present?”. As with many things in writing, this is something I have to say before I’ve quite gotten the words perfect, and the spark burning in the heart of the thing dies.
And why do I feel impelled to do this? Because Pratchett had such a profound effect on who I am, on how I think, that I can’t, now, simply let his death pass without comment. His diagnosis with early onset Alzheimer’s was an important part of why I set out to pursue neurology. I grew up reading— and, the time between release dates being what it was, re-reading his books, until I could quote them with insufferable accuracy. If I’m being honest, in the cold light of this somber morning, he was also part of why I started writing, as hard, and as fast, and as early as I could manage. I had a diffuse idea that if I could beat the clock from age 8 when I started, to age 18 when I became an adult, and become a recognized child prodigy, I might get to hang out with him at conferences. The plan never worked out, but I gave it my puppyish best.
Of course, he didn’t lose it all today. Today was just the final check he mailed in on his mortgaged consciousness, and as hard as that’s been for fans to reconcile themselves to, it’s probably been stony Hell for his family. Times like this are especially hard, because these too-large-to-contemplate events get contemplated anyway, by total strangers like me.
What can I say? He left a mark on the field. I know these obituaries all say that, but it’s true anyway. The Discworld is a brilliantly simple concept, a parallel universe almost, but not quite unlike ours. In these past few decades he populated it with one of the richest casts of interesting, heroic, frightening, and daring characters ever to inhabit a single world. He had a special gift for wrangling unique and powerful personalities into thoughtful stories. He left so many hieroglyphs of craft scattered on every page that those of us so inclined will be musing over and decoding them long after the sun sets today.
Was his work always perfect? No writer would say that of their own work, and he, like all of us, had growing pains coming up. But what made his work special was the ray of insight that lay beneath whatever he wrote. Whatever tale he told, even given that a writer’s job is writing interesting and entertaining lies, his always contained that grain of truth that was at least as valuable as gold.
And even as I say that, he wrote at least one book that showed his true potential before he left. In fact, he wrote four of them. And I fully believe that the Tiffany Aching series, will, in the fullness of time, stand alongside the other classics of Western literature. In it, all the powers of craft and imagination innate to Pratchett, and all the experience of many long years writing, culminated in something that transcended even the stiff competition of his other work. Of course, we will never know how many more books like it will wait forever in L-space, with no one capable of giving them form.
I am, to say the least, saddened. But as with all mourning, it has more to do with the pain of the ideas in my head being rearranged around a new and awkward absence. If you feel the same, spare some sadness for the person inevitably asked to step into his shoes. They will surely be good, impeccably trained writers— but they will never be what is asked of them: the same. No one can be. That’s the point, really.
I hope that he takes with him that sword he forged of thunderbolt iron when he was knighted. I hope he had a chance to sharpen it on steel, on silk, and on sunlight. I hope he gave the death of writers, whose bones are as white as paper and whose eyes as dark as ink, something to remember him by. It’s never time for the famous last stand, but sometimes you don’t get a choice. I hope he found that, when he needed it, he had his potato. And I hope, more than any of these, that his name rides up and down the clacks of the internet, somewhere in the undertow, forever.
Man’s not dead while his name is spoken.
Farewell, sir Terry Pratchett.