I am still, now, working out how I feel. ‘Sad’ is probably most obvious, and I am sad. But there is more to it than that. We’ve not only lost a gifted writer devoted to his craft, the creator of many highly regarded books, but also an author that made a significant contribution to fiction and literature, an author whose work paved the way for a new development of the fantasy genre and opened up a renewed consideration of what it can and should offer to its readers.
Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, arguably his most popular contribution to the genre, is a set of books that are, in my humble opinion, quite frankly, unbeatable. On my bookshelves, they have been placed amongst a host of other good books – many of which sit firmly in the fantasy genre – and yet it is as if they occupy a category of their own. They’re often funny, occasionally sad, always intelligent, and ultimately, fundamentally fantastic. They’re irreverent, reckless, audacious, and so devil-may-care even James Bond would choke on his martini. They’re profoundly readable, whether we’re being treated to Rincewind’s latest exploits (which may or may not involve Luggage), one of Moist von Lipwig’s conversations with Vetinari, or Nanny Ogg’s often tumultuous relationship with Esme Weatherwax. The characters are unique and believable, artfully brought to life and established in a wonderfully imaginative setting that never fails to delight and intrigue, the plots are varied, cleverly paced and dynamic, and the writing quite honestly unparalleled by other high-profile names in the genre.
Again, that’s not all there is to it. His books may be fun, but they’re also insightful, some of the most deeply thought-provoking pieces that I’ve ever read. They draw attention to firmly established conventions of behaviour, thought, and speech, and by the time they’re not even halfway done, the reader is left to not only question those conventions, but also quite often to dismiss their foundations as, at best, irrelevant. Terry Pratchett’s books hold a magnifying glass up to the world, and there’s no one there to paper up the cracks. The Discworld series may be about a fantasy universe where the world is flat and assassins leave receipts, but the basic concepts, thoughts and themes are as real as you or I.
Terry Pratchett’s books are a wonderful contribution to literature. They’re unique, impudent, and fearless, fall into cliché only to laugh at it, and feature interestingly varied plots with multiple threads, a few side-issues and a cat or two, in a well-mixed cocktail of politics, religion, industry, and dishonest tradesmen selling dubious meat. He didn’t just write stories; he created complex, multi-faceted, gloriously bizarre yet quite plausible worlds, and showed us what it would be like to live in them. He exhibited a sense of breadth and depth combined with an understanding of society and human nature that most textbooks fail to provide.
So, yes. I am sad, and for many, obvious reasons. But it’s not about me. It’s about a wonderfully clever man that is no longer with us, and so there is really only one thing that needs to be said.
Thank-you, Terry Pratchett. For everything.