“One of the things forgotten about the human spirit is that while it is, in the right conditions, noble and brave and wonderful, it is also, when you get right down to it, only human.”
Terry Pratchett Guards! Guards!
Like a lot of people I know I was upset to hear of the passing of the (note the deliberate absence of unnecessary epithet ‘fantasy’) author Sir Terry Pratchett. It seems a little strange to get emotional over the death of someone you do not relay know, but there are people who have made a major impact on me through my life and as with many friends and family you only really appreciate them when they are gone.
I cried a little when I heard the news, in the same way that I found it hard to unemotionally take the death of Elizabeth Sladen a few years back and I know I will again when the various other heroes of my childhood eventually pass over – David Attenborough had better have a State funeral (hopefully in many years to come) to my mind, I’d certainly turn up to pay my respects to a man who gave me a true wonder and diversity of the natural world.
But going back to Terry Prachett, for me he had just always been there. I was always a voracious reader as a child but a bit one track and Pratchett’s work appeared in the shops at just about the time I was widening my net. The first two Discworld novels are, in my opinion, not great, but fun enough (and taught me about scrofula). Then suddenly with the third book ‘Equal Rites’, which is just as relevant sadly nowadays then it was back in the 1980s when talking about sexual equality suddenly appeared and he was off, and I was hooked. I met him the first time at a signing in Newcastle and a few times later on (most notably being a signing of the wonderful Good Omens in Oxford, I wore the promotional T Shirt with ‘My other T shirt has a crocodile on it’ emblazoned on the back until it literally fell apart many years later…) and brushed near at a number of conventions in the 90s where the presence of a floating black hat among the masses was always a sign he was about. There is no doubt he enjoyed what he did and that always came over in both the writing and at signings and the like. From his friend Neil Gaiman’s insightful article a short while back in the Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/sep/24/terry-pratchett-angry-not-jolly-neil-gaiman ) it is clear that like any other human being Pratchett could be difficult and angry, but he also knew the importance of not letting that get in the way of those who loved his books and loved him.
So I started my love affair with his work in my teens; I’ve just put down the last book published to date this weekend, although I guess there might be something posthumous. Once or twice a year a new book would come out so I’d drop whatever I had been reading and devour the new bit of thoughtful silliness. A new Terry Pratchett was less of a book, more of an annual event to be looked forward too. But no more and I find it especially sad as some really interesting books were starting to emerge, maybe precisely because he knew time was limited. In particular the non Discworld novels such as ‘Nation’ and ‘Dodger’; books you can enjoy as adults and give to teenagers that cover serious issues without pulling their punches whether that be asking questions about death, life, belief or the human condition. They are a good place to start for someone who is not ready to engage with the entire Discworld marathon from ‘The Colour of Magic’.
So I will look at my sagging shelves of hardbacks, some signed, some not (at one point we had a running joke that there were fewer unsigned Terry Pratchett books then signed ones) and look forward to rereading them and reflect on a remarkable publishing life and a wise man who has made both think and laugh for thirty years, which is no mean feat. I doff my cap, Sir Terry and Gaspode and I are off for a sausage in a bun.