Jess Waters ‘17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
On March 12, 2015, modern literature lost one of its great pillars with the passing of Sir Terry Pratchett, author of more than 70 books, including the 40+ volume Discworld series. Sir Pratchett is mourned by his family, his friends, and the fans who bought and loved more than 85 million copies of his novels in 37 different languages.
The reaction to Pratchett’s death at age 66 from a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease has been overwhelming. Fellow authors have spoken about the tragedy of Pratchett’s passing, including Neil Gaiman, with whom Pratchett co-wrote the bestseller Good Omens, and who has spoken about his grief over Pratchett’s illness before. In September of 2014, Gaiman wrote an introduction to a collection of Pratchett’s work that said:
“As Terry walks into the darkness much too soon, I find myself raging too: at the injustice that deprives us of – what? Another 20 or 30 books? Another shelf-full of ideas and glorious phrases and old friends and new, of stories in which people do what they really do best, which is use their heads to get themselves out of the trouble they got into by not thinking? Another book or two of journalism and agitprop?”
His sentiments are shared by all who have known and loved the works of Sir Terry Pratchett. But as Gaiman goes on to say later in his piece, “We have already had more [of Pratchett] than might be reasonable.” The author has left a legacy of books, interviews, jokes, works, stories, appearances, and memories that leave us with something to hold onto like the string of a balloon. Though the world may mourn what it lost with Pratchett’s passing, it must also remember what he has left behind.
Documented forever in the pages of Pratchett’s novels are the wit and whimsy that made the man so beloved. If you’ve never read a Pratchett novel and aren’t sure what all the fuss is about, this is the reason you should pick one up. Even if you feel that fantasy isn’t your genre or that young adult fiction is childish, know that there’s nothing immature about these books. According to Pratchett in a 2006 interview with Science Fiction Weekly, Discworld originated as a way to “have fun with some of the cliches.” Its irreverent and satirical nature has tackled everything from war, theocracy, and capitalism, to Conan the Barbarian and opera music.
Those who know and love Pratchett’s work can find comfort in returning to it again and again. A good book is not a one-use item, and rereading one can be as comforting as visiting an old friend. In the same way, a good author is never truly gone—Pratchett will continue to make his fans laugh, even through the sadness of his loss, for many years to come.
Pratchett was very open about his ongoing struggles with early-onset Alzheimer’s. He spoke of his own death openly and much in the same manner he wrote about death as a concept—namely, that it’s not actually so bad. Pratchett’s novels portray Death as a skeleton in a black hoodie, who in Pratchett’s words, “isn’t cruel, merely terribly, terribly good at his job.”
Pratchett was an advocate for dementia research funding, campaigning for legislative reform and making significant personal donations to the Alzheimer’s Research Trust. He was also an advocate for assisted suicide, who “didn’t believe in a duty to suffer the worst ravages of terminal illness.” (Despite this, Pratchett’s estate has informed the public that his death was of natural causes.) Pratchett made clear to everyone through his whole journey that he did not believe death was something to fear. His coat-of-arms, legally granted along with his knighthood, is inscribed with the motto “Noli timere messorem”—Latin for “Don’t fear the reaper.”
This charismatic honesty and gallows humor have inspired his fans and loved ones and given them a method of coping with his passing. On the morning of his departure, Pratchett’s daughter Rhianna posted to his Twitter account as the persona of Death (who in Pratchett’s books always spoke in SMALL CAPS): “AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER.” On Change.org, thousands of his fans have signed an online petition addressed to Death, asking him to return Sir Terry Pratchett to life. The petition quotes Pratchett saying, “There are times in life when people must know when not to let go. Balloons are designed to teach small children this.” Despite this, Prachett’s view of death is perhaps best encapsulated by a quote from Death in Good Omens: “DON’T THINK OF IT AS DYING. JUST THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH.”
In summer 2014, for the first time since its inception, Pratchett was unable to attend the biennial International Discworld Convention, a fan-run event celebrating his Discworld series and other works. Pratchett had been the guest-of-honor at the convention (also known as DWcon) since it began in 1996. He has also been the guest-of-honor at a number of conventions around the world, both dedicated to his work and to science fiction and fantasy in general. Pratchett spoke often about his fanbase and his love for book tours and the convention circuit—in a 1997 interview with January Magazine, he declared that his fans were “everything” to him.
Despite his absence, the four day convention sold out with more than a thousand attendees who gathered for panel discussions, craft workshops, gaming, cosplaying and more, all related to Pratchett’s Discworld series. According to an announcement on its website, DWcon 2016 is still on and scheduled to be much the same. Eelco Giele, the chairman of the convention, wrote in the announcement that “although he will not be joining us in person, in his stories he will be with us.”
This is exactly the following—those who have devoted their time, energy, passion, and efforts—that will keep Pratchett’s memory alive. DWcon will continue, as will many similar conventions around the world, and they will welcome newcomers to share their excitement just as much as they provide old-timers with familiar companionship and nostalgia. Though Sir Pratchett may have passed, his voice is gone forever—there are thousands still willing to remember and speak for him, as the reaction from his fans has shown.
In the days following Pratchett’s death, fans organized an online fundraiser for The Research Institute for the Care of Older People (RICE) that, as of this writing, has raised more than $50,000 USD. People of many different backgrounds have already written dozens of articles and thousands of social media posts have spoken about how Pratchett had touched their lives. In his passing, that touch has not been erased. Though he may not release any more novels, nor provide smart quips in interviews and thoughtful banter at conventions, Death cannot truly take Terry Pratchett from the world. His influence has gone too deep, his words have spread too far, and the things he most believed in—laughter, bravery, community—are the very things he’s left in our care.