Dave Freer/Guest Columnist
Sir Terence David John “Terry” Pratchett, OBE (28 April 1948 – 12 March 2015)
They tell me Sir Terry is dead.
It was as if the birds stopped their singing, Greebo stopped in stalking of them, and the giant turtle itself paused in its billion year long swim across the Cosmos, and shook its head in disbelief.
The octarine light cannot die. I keep wanting to go and look to see if there is a notice on his chest saying “I bain’t dead.”
Born in 1948, Terry Pratchett’s first book – Carpet People, came in 1971. It was only 1983, with the first of Discworld books, that the world began to take notice. The serious parts, the establishment of literature, of sf and fantasy, did their usual best to keep things pure for the rest of us: Tom Paulin on BBC 2 Late Review who said he was ‘A complete amateur… doesn’t even write in chapters… hasn’t a clue.’ The rest of us in our poorly led fashion told them to shove it in Slice* and just loved them, the puns, the satire, the characters — and mostly the warmth and humanity of those characters. More than seventy books and 85 million copies later, I think it might be clear the readers decided that complete amateurs are best: we loved Terry Pratchett. We thought his getting a Knighthood was wonderful. We celebrated his sword of sky iron.
(sigh) Sir Terry Pratchett, OBE. The best talent, by an order of magnitude (at least in my opinion) that bestrode humorous fantasy since… well, since that first sandwich dropped into the primordial ooze of the earth spawned life. He was, as a writer, the epitome of so far up, there is no more down.
What made Sir Terry Pratchett special (besides the fact that as an author he drove me near mad. I kept thinking I’d found an obscure bit of science or history or mythology in some tome to write about… and I’d get the next Pratchett book, and it would always show me I should have looked carefully for banana skin marks and ‘Terry Pratchett was here. His research-reading must have been prodigious.) was the accessible humanity of his characters. He knew those people, and you did too, or if you didn’t, you wanted to. He was as good about what he left out and let you fill in, as he was on the vast amount of tiny details that let you know it was a whole world you were looking into, not just a story. He mocked, questioned, ridiculed, but he did so kindly. And yet… there an anger there. A rage at all that was wrong with the world. He became successful and beloved by millions, but book after book, there were new sacred cows to skewer. He was a man remained himself, shy, unpretentious, loving writing despite that fame and success. Who on being awarded the OBE for his services to literature, commented about it in Ansible: “I suspect the ‘services to literature’ consisted of refraining from trying to write any”. This was a man burned brightly even when he was diagnosed with the worst thing that could come to any thinking man – especially one like him whose mind linked so much that he read and wove it the disparate threads of history, science, and humanity into wonderful stories. This was a man chose to put on his coat of arms Noli Timere Messorem. He had no need to. We feared it for him.
When I got the news this morning, I knew one of the greatest writers of my life had passed. My eyes were full of tears.
And then, blinking those tears back, I turned and looked at that shelf… and the one below it, full of the brightness of that mind. And I knew that my favorite author… was wrong. Sir Terry Pratchett believed in death. But looking at that bookshelf – one of many, many such across the world – I knew that death did not believe in him. That when Death said AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER… it was only his body he took across the black sand. Sir Terry Pratchett had his potato. The proof sits on that groaning shelf, full of his books.
And now I shall go and take down THE LAST CONTINENT and, for a while, forget that his body is gone.
*Where the sun don’t shine**.
**Mr. Shine, him Diamond.