The irreplaceable Sir Terry Pratchett passed away last week. As was completely appropriate for one of the world’s most prolific storytellers, the news was published on his twitter account as a three-parter.
I can’t remember when I started reading him… I think I steered clear for ages because I thought his Discworld series was pure high fantasy, and high fantasy is not really my thing. You know, the whole disc-shaped world carried on the backs of four giant elephants that are riding on the shell of a gigantic turtle swimming through space kind of thing.
I inexplicably get frustrated with it. For me fiction has to have at least some link to the real world, no matter how tenuous, and this is possibly why I generally prefer science fiction and urban fantasy.
I thought Sir Terry’s first two Discworld books, The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, were great; insanely creative, silly, and good for a laugh, but I wasn’t a true fan… yet.
I think it was Guards! Guards! that got me hooked, and that’s because it was in the style of a cop thriller. I fell instantly in love with The Watch, led by the drunken and damaged Captain Sam Vimes. Sir Terry never described what he looked like but I always pictured him very similar in appearance to my favourite drunken and damaged LAPD homicide detective, Hieronymus ‘Harry’ Bosch; a middle-aged war veteran, greying and rumpled but with a core of steel. Rough edged, tenacious, and righteous.
As I read more of The Watch series, and more Discworld books in general, I realised that while technically they were high fantasy, and that the world Sir Terry had created was completely fantastical, there was a lot of our world in it. Just… tweaked. When he incorporated real world places, characters, events and problems it was usually for one of two reasons;
- To take the piss in order to comment on serious social, cultural and political issues in the real world.*
- To take the piss just for the fun of it.**
* For example, one of Sir Terry’s best; Jingo. Over the years, decades and centuries the players change but war stays the same. Not always we hope; Sir Terry was optimistic, as am I.
** Another of my favourites is The Last Continent set in the far off land of Fourecks which I strongly identify with because I kinda live there. Rincewind enjoyed a magical arrival via teleportation by the wizards of Unseen University while I enjoyed a magical arrival in Queensland via transportation by the wizards of QANTAS.
Like all great storytellers his books were multi-dimensional, and were intended for deeper interpretation. His stories were full of puns, witty observations and rollicking adventure, but they were also a way for him to tackle real world issues such as racism, sexism, bigotry, abuse of privilege, nationalism, xenophobia, drug abuse, death… HE EVEN MADE DEATH FUNNY.
His publishers put it beautifully;
In over 70 books, Terry enriched the planet like few before him. As all who read him know, Discworld was his vehicle to satirize this world: he did so brilliantly, with great skill, enormous humour and constant invention.
– Transworld Publishers
That he was taken so soon by Alzheimer’s is incredibly tragic… what he called ‘the embuggerance’ was probably the cruelest disease possible to strike such a brilliant writer and creative genius. I admire him for his bravery in facing this disease, and am ever so grateful to him for his final gift to his fans; one more book.
It features the young witch Tiffany Aching, but I desperately hope all of my favourite Discworld characters take their final bow… Sam Vimes and the Watch, the Nac Mac Feegles, Nanny Ogg & Greebo, Granny Weatherwax, the Luggage, the Librarian, Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, and, of course, DEATH.
Some of my favourite bunches of words written by him:
“Many people, meeting Aziraphale for the first time, formed three impressions: that he was English, that he was intelligent, and that he was gayer than a treeful of monkeys on nitrous oxide.” – Good Omens
“Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” – A Hat Full Of Sky
“There isn’t a way things should be. There’s just what happens, and what we do.” – A Hat Full of Sky
“Ook!” – The Light Fantastic, Guards! Guards!, Lords and Ladies, Soul Music, Thud!…
“It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone’s fault. If it was us, what did that make Me? After all, I’m one of Us. I must be. I’ve certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. No one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We’re always one of Us. It’s Them that do the bad things.” – Jingo
“Give a man a fire and he’s warm for a day, but set fire to him and he’s warm for the rest of his life.” – Jingo
“The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it.” – Diggers
“I get it,’ said the prisoner. ‘Good Cop, Bad Cop, eh?’
If you like.’ said Vimes. ‘But we’re a bit short staffed here, so if I give you a cigarette would you mind kicking yourself in the teeth?” – Night Watch
“That was always the dream, wasn’t it? ‘I wish I’d known then what I know now’? But when you got older you found out that you NOW wasn’t YOU then. You then was a twerp. You then was what you had to be to start out on the rocky road of becoming you now, and one of the rocky patches on that road was being a twerp.” – Night Watch
“The enemy isn’t men, or women, it’s bloody stupid people and no-one has the right to be stupid.” – Monstrous Regiment
“The purpose of this lecture is to let you know where we are. We are in the deep cack. It couldn’t be worse if it was raining arseholes. Any questions?” – Monstrous Regiment
“He’s going to go totally Librarian-poo.” – The Truth
“‘I meant,’ said Ipslore bitterly, ‘What is there in this world that truly makes living worthwhile?” Death thought about it. CATS, he said eventually. CATS ARE NICE. – Sourcery***
(*** He was a cat person; he passed away with his own cat sleeping peacefully on his bed. I wonder if one of his cats was the inspiration for Greebo. I certainly hope not.)
“Do you not know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken?” – Going Postal
I’ll have to read them all again. All 40. Plus one of my all-time favourites, co-written with fellow legend Neil Gaiman, Good Omens. Then some others I haven’t got to yet. They should keep me going until The Shepherd’s Crown comes out. Also, Finn and I have only two chapters left in Harry Potter and The Chamber Of Secrets. Then I’m going to start us on The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents.
It’s not The End. Not really.
P.S. If you’re keen to read the sprawling Discworld series but don’t know where to start, this web page provides a handy guide.