“It is often said that before one dies your life flashes before your eyes. This is in fact true. It is called living.” – Sir Terry Pratchett
Terry Pratchett’s last book, a paperback copy, sits on my shelf, pristine and unread since receiving it for Christmas and I find myself both cherishing and dreading the opportunity for one final visit to the most significant of the worlds he created, The Discworld.
I can honestly say that I had no idea how important the writer of these books was to me until I read he’d died. Sitting in my workplace looking at my monitor I welled up a bit. Deeply saddened and more than a little baffled I sloped off to the loo before anyone noticed. When I returned to my desk I started to wonder where the hell such a strong reaction had come from. When encountered with a problem I’m not sure what to do with I did what so many of us do these days and turned to the great saviour, Google. After pushing past the many obituaries that were rapidly appearing one thing became very clear, Terry Pratchett was generally perceived to be the writer of silly books. Good silly books but silly books all the same. Satirical comedies of a sort for the most part, heavily salted with cultural and literary nods which are sometimes a bit too clever for their own good. Not something taken too seriously by many people at all. In hindsight this seems incredibly unfair, but then in hindsight that is often the case.
I can only really tell you what I took from his books and all I really know for sure is what I have read. I am not an avid, obsessive fan of his books. I have liked almost all of those I read and I think I’ve even read nearly all of them at one time or another (My Mum latching onto Terry Pratchett as a quick win when it comes to Christmas or birthday presents when I was in my late teens). What I hadn’t put together until I was sitting at my desk last week was that despite the pervading silliness, shining through it all is the blunt wisdom and the almost cruelly kind heart of the author. Whilst his books are predominantly comical and fantastical by nature this is almost always tempered by a sinister, dark and occasionally unsettling undertone. Often his protagonists are dry, serious, impoverished and flawed underdogs mired in absurdity and chaos, oozing pathos. His antagonists are frequently brutal, sadistic, fastidious and notably affluent with little thought for the fate of the little people they see as of less value than themselves and their wants. Good or bad, his characters had a human voice. Most importantly the protagonists always find a way to overcome their flaws and win out in the end, good inevitably overcoming evil. Tying all this together is the voice of the narrator which has an air of the conspiratorial in its tone. Wry, knowing and disarming it leads the reader along gently from hope to despair, from defeat to triumph.
Sitting there I knew it was these voices I would miss the most, the characters live on in the pages of his books but these voices won’t be saying anything new to me after this last book and that is honestly a bit heartbreaking but I look forward to finding what is left to be said. I’d never really equated them with their creator until now, they had had developed a very strong identity of their own to me and I think I’ll miss them just as much.
I guess what I concluded and what I wanted to say is that although Terry Pratchett isn’t an important author in the traditional sense of the word I suspect he was very important to some people, if only because they like the good guys mostly pure and their bad guys black as pitch and their narrator in on the joke whether he’s actually trying to be funny or not.
Amidst all the adventures Terry Pratchett wrote a lot about Death, though the Death he wrote about was a big walking metaphor for our own mortality that was very fond of cats, rarely got jokes due to his literal mindedness and who SPOKE LIKE THIS. He met an awful lot of people in Terry Pratchett’s books – most were scared, some were angry, some were curious, nearly all were surprised. Sir Terry Pratchett had a fair bit of warning about his own end and definitely had some ideas about how he wanted to go so I doubt he was too surprised when his old friend came calling. As much as he may or may not have been prepared for his own demise, the reactions of friends and strangers indicate that many of the rest of us were not. We knew he was ill but he still seemed so very alive when he spoke and wrote. He will be sorely missed by those who walked in his odd little world. Stu Fletcher