Farewell, Ankh-Morpork: Author Terry Pratchett, Dead at 66

Novelist Terry Pratchett on Day 2 of the 2012 New York Comic Con, Friday October 12, 2012 © Luigi Novi / Wikimedia Commons

Novelist Terry Pratchett on Day 2 of the 2012 New York Comic Con, Friday October 12, 2012
© Luigi Novi / Wikimedia Commons

by Gene Howington

Still reeling from the loss of Leonard Nimoy, the science fiction and fantasy community suffered another great loss today with the death of acclaimed fantasy author and humorist Terry Pratchett. For those of you not familiar with his work, he is best known for the Discworld series. The Discworld itself is described as a large disc resting on the backs of four giant elephants, all supported by the giant turtle Great A’Tuin swimming through space. As intelligent as they are funny, his stories always managed to skewer absurdities of the modern world, from the often convoluted nature of bureaucracy to the vanity of celebrity.  And that? Is when science fiction and fantasy are at their best: when they tell us something true about ourselves through a tale set in an often radically different reality. Having published over 85 books in 7 languages, Terry Pratchett is currently the second most read British author in the world. He died from complications of early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease, aged 66, at his home “with his cat sleeping on his bed, surrounded by his family”.

Although I have not read all of his works, I have read a great many. Unlike some authors as prolific as Sir Pratchett, I can honestly say that I have enjoyed every single one. The first of the Discworld series, “The Colour of Magic“, was published in 1983. At the time, I was in high school working part-time at a local bookstore that was staffed by a diverse group that had one thing in common: we would all read just about every genre with the exception of Harlequin romance novels. That year, the backroom and floor hummed with praise from all corners about Pratchett’s work. It was love at first read. While his bad health was no surprise to fans (he announced his condition in 2007), it strikes a particular cord with this author. Why? Because the novel sitting on my nightstand right now is “The Colour of Magic“. Although the Discworld stories are basically told in chronological order, they need not be read that way. If you are a fan, please share your Pratchett related tales below. If you are not a fan?  It is only because you haven’t read him yet. I strongly encourage you to do so if you haven’t.

My only regret is I’ll never be able to join the wizards at the Unseen University or carouse on the streets of Ankh-Morpork for new tales of hilarious wonder and social satire.

But I can always visit.

Remember this wisdom: “It’s not worth doing something unless someone, somewhere, would much rather you weren’t doing it.”

Farewell, Terry.  May you find that it is turtles all the way down.

About Gene Howington

I write and do other stuff.
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5 Responses to Farewell, Ankh-Morpork: Author Terry Pratchett, Dead at 66

  1. Slartibartfast says:

    First Spock, now PTerry? I am inconsolable. I recently bought Raising Steam (haven’t read it yet)—it’s going to be hard knowing it’s the last new Discworld book I’ll ever read.

    Gene,

    “Chronological order” is impossible to establish on the Discworld as the history monks were forced to patch things together as best they could after the glass clock fiasco. You wouldn’t want to cross Lu-Tze, would you. Always remember rule 1:

    Do not act incautiously when confronting little bald wrinkly smiling men

    and rule 19:

    Remember never to forget Rule One, and always ask yourself, how come it was created in the first place?

  2. Elaine M. says:

    From The Horn Book website:

    Remembering Terry Pratchett
    March 12, 2015
    by Siân Gaetano
    http://www.hbook.com/2015/03/news/obituaries-news/remembering-terry-pratchett/#_

    Excerpt:
    Just two weeks ago, the nerd world lost the beloved Leonard Nimoy. Today, we’ve been served another crushing blow: Sir Terry Pratchett has died at 66 after a struggle with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The fact that my Twitter feed is full of Pratchett love and lore is enough to choke me up, but that last tweet from his account — “The End.” — is close to throwing me right over the edge…

    I’m sad. Of course I’m sad. Surprisingly upset, in fact, at the loss of someone I did not personally know. But I’m finding that there is also joy and laughter in remembering an author who could both break your heart and make you do a spit-take with one sentence.

    I am thinking of one of my favorite moments in grad school having to do with Pratchett’s 2009 Boston Globe–Horn Book Fiction Award–winning Nation (his speech can be found here). Our class had just finished Nation and was discussing it critically, probably in relation to Marxism or post-structuralism or something else equally mind-stretching. At some point toward the end of our discussion, our professor asked the class when it was that we all realized the story took place in an alternate world. One of my classmates — a marine biologist — was completely taken aback.

    “Are you saying,” my professor asked, “that the tree-climbing and -dwelling octopi didn’t alert you to the idea that maybe this wasn’t Earth?”

    My classmate — again, guys, a marine biologist — stared for a moment and then burst out laughing. She was so taken by the story that at no point had the oddness of a tree-dwelling cephalopod struck her as something otherworldly.

  3. Elaine M. says:

    Gene,

    Pratchett was the author of one of my favorite essays on children’s/young adult literature. It was required reading in the children’s literature course that I taught at BU:

    Let There Be Dragons
    By Terry Pratchett
    http://booksforkeeps.co.uk/issue/83/childrens-books/articles/other-articles/let-there-be-dragons

    Excerpt:
    I have still got the first book I ever read. It was The Wind in the Willows. Well, it was probably not the first book I ever read – that was no doubt called something like Nursery Fun or Janet and John Book 1. But it was the first book I opened without chewing the covers or wishing I was somewhere else. It was the first book which, at the age of 10, I read because I was genuinely interested.

    I know now, of course, that it is totally the wrong kind of book for children. There is only one female character and she’s a washerwoman. No attempt is made to explain the social conditioning and lack of proper housing that makes stoats and weasels act the way they do. Mr Badger’s house is an insult to all those children not fortunate enough to live in a Wild Wood. The Mole and the Rat’s domestic arrangements are probably acceptable, but only if they come right out and talk frankly about them.

    But it was pressed into my hand, and because it wasn’t parents or teachers who were recommending the book I read it from end to end, all in one go. And then I started again from the beginning, because I had not realised that there were stories like this.

    There’s a feeling that I think is only possible to get when you are a child and discover books: it’s a kind of fizz – you want to read everything that’s in print before it evaporates before your eyes.

    I had to draw my own map through this uncharted territory. The message from the management was that, yes, books were a good idea, but I don’t recall anyone advising me in any way. I was left to my own devices.

    I am now becoming perceived as a young people’s writer. Teachers and librarians say, `You know, your books are really popular among children who don’t read’. I think this is a compliment; I just wish they would put it another way. In fact, genre authors get to know their reader profile quite intimately, and I know I have a large number of readers who are old enough to drive a car and possibly claim a pension. But the myth persists that all my readers are aged 14 and called Kevin, and so I have taken an interest in the ‘dark underworld called children’s literature.

    Not many people do, it seems to me, apart from those brave souls who work with children and are interested in what they read. They’re unsung resistance heroes in a war that is just possibly being won by Sonic Hedgehogs and bionic plumbers. They don’t have many allies, even where you would expect them. Despite the huge number of titles that pour out to shape the minds of the adults, my Sunday paper reviews a mismatched handful of children’s books at infrequent intervals and, to show its readers that this is some kind of literary play street, generally puts a picture of a teddy bear on the page…

    *
    Not long ago I talked to a teacher who, having invited me to talk at her school, was having a bit of trouble with the head teacher who thought that fantasy was morally suspect and irrelevant to the world of the ’90s.

    Morally suspect? Shorn of its trappings, most fantasy would find approval in a Victorian household. The morality of fantasy and horror is, by and large, the strict morality of the fairy tale. The vampire is slain, the alien is blown out of the airlock, the Dark Lord is vanquished and, perhaps at some loss, the good triumph – not because they are better armed but because Providence is on their side.

    Why does the third of the three brothers, who shares his food with the old woman in the wood, go on to become king of the country? Why does James Bond manage to disarm the nuclear bomb a few seconds before it goes off rather than, as it were, a few seconds afterwards? Because a universe where that did not happen would be a dark and hostile place. Let there be goblin hordes, let there be terrible environmental threats, let there be giant mutated slugs if you really must, but let there be hope. It may be a grim, thin hope, an Arthurian sword at sunset, but let us know that we do not live in vain.

  4. eniobob says:

    Thousands Sign Petition Asking Death To ‘Bring Back’ Author Terry Pratchett

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/13/terry-pratchett-petition-death_n_6861106.html

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