Tribute: Sir Terry Pratchett
This is a difficult one to write. Not only was Sir Pratchett a massive contributor to geek culture and very open in communicating with his fans, but his passing has long been foreshadowed. In the past few years Pratchett has been struggling with Alheimer’s or, as he called it, an ’embuggarance’, and this morning he succumbed to a chest infection. Aged 66 and surrounded by family, and his pet cat, Pratchett died peacefully in his home leaving an epic legacy. Sir Pratchett has long been beloved by his wide fan base, providing wit and wisdom to live by. I even quoted Pratchett during my own father’s eulogy.
When I was a teenager my interest was more video games than books, even though I was an avid reader as a child. Strangely it was this hobby, and a love of Monty Python, that made me into a Pratchett fanatic. In the old days game demos came on a disc glued to the front of gaming magazines, and one issue came with a demo of the first Discworld point and click adventure. It wasn’t a great game compared to what else was on the market at the time, but the voice given lead character Rincewind was none other than Eric Idle. With this as a hook I finished the demo and thus intrigued sought out the source material. Fortunately there was a cross promotion with the game and the latest release in the series, ‘Men at Arms’. This was the 15th book in a series that would eventually balloon out to 41 novels.
Sir Pratchett was born in 1948 in Buckingham Shire, and showed a large appetite for sci-fi stories. His first short story, ‘The Hades Business’ was published in the school magazine when he was aged 15. At 17 he left school to work as a journalist, providing children’s stories (under the name ‘Uncle Jim’) in a serial that would later form the basis for his first novel ‘The Carpet People’, published in 1971. This lead to his early sci-fi novels ‘Strata’ and ‘The Dark Side of the Sun’. Still working as a press officer and journalist, Pratchett’s star really did begin to rise with the 1983 publication of ‘The Colour of Magic’, a satirical fantasy story about a cowardly wizard and the world’s first tourist.
The fantasy universe of ‘Discworld’ proved the perfect platform for Sir Pratchett to satirise the modern world in a fun and sometimes biting fashion. The ‘Colour of Magic’ was followed with ‘The Light Fantastic’ and ‘Equal Rites’, and with the fourth entry in the series – ‘Mort’ – Pratchett quit his day job and began writing full time. The ‘Discworld’ series would continue to be written by Pratchett for 31 years, and would inspire radio plays, an animated series, BBC produced TV movies, cookbooks, maps, scientific theories, video games, board games, internet games and much, much more. The small army of characters who populated the increasingly detailed world became common fixtures in pop culture, some recognisable even to those who don’t follow the books.
Not that Sir Pratchett was one to rest of his laurels. Having already found great success with the ‘Discworld’ series he published many other books including’Nation’, ‘Dodger’, his collaboration Neil Gaiman ‘Good Omens’ and his ongoing ‘Long Earth’ series with Stephen Baxter. Sir Pratchett also had a vivid interest in the natural world, astronomy and computers. He kept a greenhouse of carnivorous plants and was the trustee to the Orang-utan Foundation. He dabbled with computers during the pioneering days of the home computer and became one of the first authors to interact with his readers via the internet. Eventually he set up a bank of six monitors for the ‘ease of writing’, but it was likely also utilised in playing Half-Life 2, one of his favourite games.
Although the ‘Discworld’ series will likely continue in one form or another (his daughter is reported to take up the mantle) the absent voice of Sir Terry Pratchett is a great loss to the literary world. Prior to the adventures of boy wizard Harry Potter, Pratchett was the biggest selling author in the UK. His last ‘Discworld’ book was the third fastest selling book in history, and he sold a mind-boggling 85 million copies of his books world wide. He has garnered enough awards to sink a cruise liner and has had an incalculable influence on the world of literature.
For the fans, we’ll miss looking forward to the annual additions to our libraries. We’ll miss his odd behaviour at conventions and signings, from the black jelly beans to the Death’s Head cane. We’ll miss Sir Terry Pratchett.