I met Terry Pratchett. It was a fleeting encounter at a book signing in Southampton; the lines were long, and I blurted as much to him when I reached the end. “To Dave,” he wrote, “who was born in the queue.”
It’s not a bad two second appraisal. I am always late to the party, seemingly always the one to be told, and not to discover. But not, actually, with Pratchett himself. I discovered his books for myself when I was a boy, Sourcery was the most recent, which would make me only around 12 years old, and I spent a happy Summer that year devouring the first five Discworld novels and getting to know a voice and sense of humour that would become very familiar.
That humour was gentle, kind, and English, and turned the mundane into a deadly weapon against the worst kinds of pomp and grandiosity. His prose poked fun at the ridiculous structures of our society, no godly upstart or mythic narrative was safe. “When shall we three meet again!” An eldritch voice shrieked at Granny Weatherwax. “Well I can do next Tuesday,” she replied.
The first few Discworld books were affectionate parodies of the Fantasy genre, but as Pratchett got into his stride his later books become commentaries on our world, its prejudices and injustices, and the little acts of kindness that make living well possible.
Injustice is the right word to apply to the news that last week Terry Pratchett died, aged 66. He was a popular author, but he was also a good author, in all senses of that word, and it seems an injustice against all of us that his voice has fallen silent. An injustice that we have been robbed of any more of that brilliant wit. An injustice that a good and decent man has left us.
And to that 12 year old boy, with his growing collection of Kirby covered paperbacks, it is a reminder that nothing is forever, and that however good and sweet and brilliant we are, Death comes to everyone. DON’T THINK OF IT AS DYING, JUST THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH.
But Pratchett would not have been so melancholy. When he revealed that he had been diagnosed with a rare form of Alzheimers, he named the monster and fought the embuggerance, showing how even when faced with the cruelest of fading aways we can go with grace and humour. And besides, ‘No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away…’
He gave the 2012 Richard Dimbleby lecture, talking about his disease, his fate, and the need to die well. It is captivating. And although no-one in the end wants to go, I hope that he, in the end, did die well.
In his own words: “Rather than let Alzheimers take me, I would take it. I would live my life as ever to the full, and die before the disease mounted its last attack, in my own home, in a chair on the lawn, with a brandy in my hand… and with Thomas Tallis on my iPod, I would shake hands with Death.”
RIP Terry, and thank you.