The world lost one of its greatest writers the other day. After a decade-long struggle against early-onset Alzheimer’s, the comic fantasist Sir Terry Pratchett passed away at the age of 66. In his lifetime, he wrote over forty Discworld novels that combined fantasy with the many branches of comedy; he wrote a good number stand-alone or non-series novels. Aside from his knighthood and OBE, his output earned him a number of awards, including a British Books Awards, a Locus Award, a Carnegie Medal, a Hugo nomination (though he recused himself to enjoy Worldcon without stressing over the award), a World Fantasy Award, and a good number more.
I have yet to review a Pratchett novel on this blog—indeed, they may seem far from my usually fare but I used to read a lot of comic fantasy, especially in high school and college. Even after I burnt out on “serious” contemporary fantasy, I kept buying and reading fantasies of the comic sort. I’d pick one up every year as my annual lazy-summer comic fantasy read, and remember every one I bought, remember picking up those bright covers in the now-defunct Borders bookstores. There’s about a half-dozen of them resting on the shelf behind me. To me, they are all those summer afternoons and evenings I spent reading on the back patio or porch of whatever relative I was visiting. Like summer, Pratchett’s books are joyous, and bright, and sometimes absurd, much like the above photograph of the great author.
The first Terry Pratchett novel I ever read was a Science Fiction Book Club edition of Good Omens, chosen because it was co-authored with Neil Gaiman. I was well acquainted with Gaiman, but was pleased to discover Pratchett. It’s a wonderful book, smart, and wise, and most of all funny in the unique British style, with both authors so in tune with each other that it’s impossible for me to tell where one author stopped and the other picked up. Wanting more, I snatched up several compilations of Pratchett’s first Discworld novels from ye olde book Club, and found them not bad but less refined and not as punchy—their humor not as strong or sure, their pacing slow and less elaborate. Discworld was established in bits and pieces, elements added in each successive book, and the early years lack many of the series’ stalwarts. But I tried again a few years later and was rewarded by Pratchett’s later accomplishments.
Many of those are top-shelf material, showing much insight into the human condition as they take jabs at society from the topsy-turvy lens of the Discworld. Monstrous Regiment deals with feminism, classism, patriotism, and war-mongering, and as you may expect it was released in the months after the Iraq War started. Unseen Academicals combines humanity’s love of sports with its irrational hatred of minorities, the fear and mistrust of those who are different. Going Postal and Making Money are satires of bureaucracies and governmental functions we take for granted. The city watch books, from Guards, Guards to Thud!, show the development of one Sam Vimes from disillusioned drunkard to doting father and respected aristocrat. Individually, the books often stumble or falter and not every joke is a success—the fate of comedy, a subjective and personal element. But taken as a collective, Pratchett’s bibliography has no equal.
He was a humorist who wrote without malice or spite, even as he satirized the deep, dark truths of everyday society and savaged human foibles. His comedies are a reflection of our own world—both causing us to think and causing us to laugh. (Well, at the least, to chuckle or smile.) Battling through the dementia, Pratchett continued to write, and write, and write, leaving in his wake a wealth of material. He was writing up to the bitter end, with several collections, re-releases, and one more new Discworld novel slated to come out later this year. In fact, he wrote a good number of books in the past few years. Reviews were not kind to the latest of them, and in the wake of his passing it seems both petty of the reviewers and so damnably cruel of Alzheimer’s.
His Twitter account’s final tweets are a sad yet fitting capstone to his life:
A few articles in remembrance:
- NPR: Author Terry Pratchett Was No Stranger To Death
- Tor.com: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Might Be The Highest Form of Literature on the Planet
- The Guardian: Neil Gaiman: ‘Terry Pratchett isn’t jolly. He’s angry’
- The Guardian (again): Terry Pratchett in quotes: 15 of the best
- Huffpo: Sir Terry Pratchett Dead: Words Of Wisdom From Great Author On Living With Alzheimer’s Disease
- Buzzfeed: 26 Discworld Quotes About Life, The Universe, And Everything