So we all knew it was coming; like Iain Banks we’d known he was seriously ill and it was only a matter of time, but it was still a shock to hear the news of Terry Pratchett’s death at the age of 66.
Terry Pratchett was the most significant fantasy author of the past thirty years, certainly from a British perspective. Nobody other than perhaps Tolkien has cast a longer shadow over the genre, and Pratchett has produced a huge body of work. He’s crossed over to the mainstream with a readership well beyond the confines of science fiction and fantasy’s usual audience, while remaining hugely revered within fandom. The blurb of his books used to say he was sometimes accused of writing literature. That’s because he did. Although the majority of his books were comedies, Pratchett fiercely rejected the idea that comic was the opposite of serious. He could and did tackle many weighty subjects, and brought them to an audience Serious Literature could not hope to reach.
The vast majority of his comic fantasies took place in the Discworld, a vast flat disc on the back of four elephants on the back a giant turtle. His fantasy world was a mirror held up to our own; like much classic SF this enabled him to explore real-world issues from a position slightly removed. He tackled politics, economics, organised religion, race and gender, and did it without the preachiness of many a lesser author. He populated his world with so many memorable characters; Sam Vimes, unique as a comic policeman who’s actually competent, the witches Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, Moist von Lipwig, the convicted conman turned nationalised industry boss, and Death, the ‘anthropomorphic personification’ Pratchett managed to make into a sympathetic three-dimensional character.
Pratchett’s insights into human nature make his work valuable to all sorts of professions. Of the tributes I’ve seen online, Mike Talks has suggested some of his books are a must read for any tester just to challenge them, and to expand their minds. And Rev. Rachel Mann has not only named Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg as inspirational characters, but suggests that “Equal Rites” and “Small Gods” should be required reading for anyone wanting to enter the priesthood.
If you haven’t read any Pratchett, you need to. If you’re not an avid fantasy fan I would recommend you avoid the first couple of Discworld novels starring the failed wizard Rincewind. “The Colour of Magic” and “The Light Fantastic” are picaresque journeys parodying corny fantasy clichés, and won’t work as well if you’re not familiar with the works being parodied. Start instead with something like “Guards! Guards!” or “Wyrd Sisters”, which introduce you to Sam Vimes and the witches.
And now he has met one of his best characters. I’ll let his Twitter feed have the last word.
(The image of Terry Pratchitt and Death came from Mike Talk’s blog, which does not identify the artist)