What’s that saying in showbiz? Always leave ‘em wanting more? Well, I guess then it’s mission accomplished. Because I know I’m not the only one who will forever more be wanting more Sam Vimes, more Granny Weatherwax, more Captain Carrot and Lord Vetinari and Susan and Death of Rats and Nanny Ogg and Magrat and … and … and …
When we learned in 2007 that the man who created the Discworld was afflicted with a rare form of early onset Alzheimer’s disease, we knew we’d been given advance warning that we’d be losing him sooner rather than later. But that doesn’t make this moment any easier to bear. Sometimes being forewarned isn’t being forearmed. Sometimes it’s a really mean trick.
Terry Pratchett wrote extraordinary books. I’d go so far as to say that his was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of imagination and intellect. I’d go so far as to say that in Pratchett we had our own William Shakespeare. Terry Pratchett never wrote comedy, although so much of his work was witty and amusing and often made his readers laugh aloud. No. Terry Pratchett wrote deeply, passionately, sometimes angrily, sometimes kindly, but always with wisdom and keen insight, about the infinitely complicated truths of human nature and human society, about the need for and lack of simple human compassion – and the astonishing impact both the need and lack of it could have on both a single life and the world.
Since being asked to collect some thoughts on his work, and his passing, of course I’ve been revisiting his books, and my favourites among them. Inevitably there are some I love more than others, some I’ve re-read until the covers are in danger of falling off and others I’ve honestly only read once or twice. Far and away my two favourite subsets are the City Watch series, and the Witches series. No lie, I must be up to at least fifteen re-reads of those books and they never get boring or commonplace or over-familiar. I love them with all my heart and soul and as I think about them I’m overwhelmed by moments I adore: Magrat facing down the elves … Vimes and his egg-and-toast soldiers in Uberwald … Susan and her poker … Nobby Nobbs and Fred Colon and Lord Vetinari in the submarine … Nanny Ogg’s Joy of Snacks … Death and his cats and his curries and his bad fake beard … Granny Weatherwax the chiropractor … Greebo and the vampyres … Lady Sybil and her dragons …
So many wonderful moments and memories. So many characters who became dear friends.
Before I became a full-time novelist, I had my own speculative fiction bookshop. That’s why I was given the incredible opportunity to host Terry Pratchett, David Gemmell and Sara Douglass (and I can’t believe they’ve all left us now) at a weekend-long literary convention in Parramatta. Not surprisingly, the event was sold out and standing room only. It was fantastic, in every sense of the word. Three very different writers, three great talents, three gracious guests who gave of themselves without hesitation.
But what I remember best about that weekend is dinner on the Friday night before the convention officially began. It was just me, David Gemmell and Terry Pratchett at a table (Sara was coming in on the Sunday), and over our meal I was entertained by a lively debate between David and Terry on the various merits and pitfalls of Christianity. David was a committed Christian and Terry … wasn’t. He’d been raised in a religious family, though, and as a result he’d formed certain opinions. The Terry Pratchett I listened to and learned from that night was the Pratchett who’d written Small Gods just a few years earlier in 1992. As withering critiques of organised religion and its inherent flaws go, I think that book is the gold standard. I still think it’s one of the best books Pratchett ever wrote. Certainly it should be required reading for theological students everywhere.
But oddly enough, at the end of the day it’s not Small Gods that remains with me, lighting a fire in my heart. It’s the ending of another book, written some eight years later: The Truth. That’s the book about journalism, and lies – although perhaps I’m repeating myself. In it we meet two of Terry’s most amazing characters, Mr Tulip and Mr Pin. They’re not nice men. They’re killers for hire. But in taking us on their journey, Terry gives us a uniquely nuanced experience. Tulip and Pin might both be killers, but under that cruel veneer they’re quite different men. As always it’s the humanity of his characters that drives his exploration of them, leading his readers to think hard about the nature of good and evil and What If and, profoundly, the notion of There But For the Grace of God … and second –ing chances.
Terry Pratchett was many things: a philosopher, an historian, a theologian, a social analyst, a raconteur, a wit, an angry man and a humanist. But above all else he was a brilliant entertainer.
Thank you, Terry. You made our world a better place. You showed us humanity in all its different colours and flavours. You made us laugh, you made us cry, and best of all you made us think. And for as long as your books remain in print, you’ll go on doing that
The Turtle moves!
Karen Miller writes speculative fiction. Mostly of the epic historical kind, but she’s also written Star Wars and Stargate novels and under the pen-name K.E. Mills writes the Rogue Agent series, about a wizard with special skills who works for his government under unusual circumstances.
You can hear more from Karen at her blog The Talkative Writer.