R.I.P. Sir Pterry Pratchett, OBE, 1948-2015

WC has lost his favorite author. Terry Pratchett died March 12 at age 66. There won’t be any more Pratchett novels.1 Commander Vimes has solved his last mystery. Granny Weatherwax won’t practice any more Headology. Lord Veterinari, the amazingly devious ruler of Ankh-Morpork, has no more schemes. Moist von Lipwig has run his last con. Death and his horse, Binky, have made their final call.

Terry Pratchett

Pratchett had been ill since 2007, diagnosed with a rare form of early onset Alzheimer’s Syndrome. Pratchett called it the “embuggerance.” His fans all knew what it meant, but the books kept coming – Raising Steam was finished in 2014 – so we who loved Pratchett tried not to think beyond the next book.

WC, as many of you might suspect, was a long-standing member of the Science Fiction Book Club. In 1983, the Club’s monthly catalog offered as a Featured Selection a new author, a Brit, who wrote fantasy. WC, as he usually did, bought the novel, just because it was a Featured Selection, something called The Color of Magic. It was . . . promising. It was a pure satire, a sendup of every trope of fantasy literature, set on a discworld that rested on the back of four elephants, who themselves stood on the back of a great turtle. The jokes ranged from dreadful puns to amazing references. The Discworld-carrying tortoise, Great a-Tuin, for example, was described as “the only turtle to appear in a Hertzsprung–Russell diagram. There wasn’t much of a plot, but the ideas, the characters and set pieces were wonderful. The writing had flashes of pure brilliance.

And the stories got better from there. Pratchett’s writing moved from very good to superb.2 But what emerged from the fifty-plus Pratchett books was a writer who reflected a strong, consistent theme of humaneness. The villains in Pratchett novels, and there were some classic bad guys, were the people who treated others as objects. Pratchett made wonderful, subtle condemnations of racism using humans, trolls and dwarfs. His stories had heroes, but the heroes had deep flaws; Sam Vimes, Commander of the City Watch, was a recovering alcoholic and “not the sharpest spoon in the drawer.” But those characters has a humanity about them that carried them through. Pratchett found that humanity in dwarfs, werewolves, trolls, zombies, gnolls, golems and even vampires.

WC was lucky enough to see and hear Pratchett at a book reading in Seattle some years ago. He was as sharp, as smart, and amazingly funny in person as his writing suggests. Ferociously intelligent, charming and patient, too.

Terry Pratchett signing WC's copy of Wintersmith. Photo by Mrs .WC.

Terry Pratchett signing WC’s copy of Wintersmith. Photo by Mrs .WC.

He could write terrifying scenes. He could write deeply moving scenes. But, most famously, he could write hysterically funny scenes. When the Nac Mac Fleegles, the wee free men of the Tiffany Aching books, set off by coach to rescue their Hag, the 11-year old Tiffany Aching, Pratchett wrote one of funniest extended scenes in WC’s experience. WC promises it will reduce any reader to helpless tears of laughter.3

Sir Pterry4 wrote for his fans as well as his readers. Many of his books contain sly references for the fans to figure out. Entire web sites are devoted to decoding Pratchett references. It adds a layer of fun.5 But even without working out the references, Pratchett books have always entertained and rewarded a reader. Some critics sneered at Pratchett because he used humor. WC is satisfied that history will put Pratchett on a level with Jonathan Swift and Charles Dickens long after the critics are forgotten.6

WC would like to think Sir Terry triumphed. When the Vampyres bit Granny Weatherwax,7 Granny didn’t get “vampired;” the Vampyres got “Weatherwaxed.” Alas, in this real world there are no triumphs over death. Death doesn’t get humaned, although Pratchett’s Death certainly tried. But Sir Pterry has left a legacy of truly marvelous books, a vast and loving fan base and a small industry of Pratchettania. Sir Pterry used to hang out with the fans sometimes at alt.fans.pratchett. In November 1992 he jokingly posted, “One day I’ll be dead and THEN you’ll all be sorry.”  He was right.

WC sympathies to Sir Pterry’s wife, Lyn, and his daughter, Rhianna.

Now WC will attempt to cheer himself up with a Pratchett novel or two. And will close with a tweet stream, best read from the bottom up.



UPDATE: Randall Munroe at XKCD has a very nice tribute to Pratchett. Some amazing people have turned out to be Pratchett fans.

  1. Anyone who has read Pratchett knows about his use of footnotes. WC can do no less. 
  2. Sir Terry was knighted for services to literature. He often said that the “service” was never claiming to have written any. He was wrong about that. 
  3. See Wee Free Men and A Hat Full of Sky 
  4. The “Pterry” is a fandom reference to another Discworld novel, Pyramids, where Pratchett indicated a general “Egyptianess” by prefacing character names with a “P”; hence Ptracey was the female lead character. The fans tagged Terry with “Pterry.” 
  5. Including the best pun in fantasy literature. In Soul Music, Buddy is trying to persuade his dwarf horn player, Glod, to stay in the Band. “Who’s the most famous horn player in history?” Buddy asks Glod. “Brother Charnel,” the dwarf said promptly. “Everyone knows that. He stole the altar gold from the Temple of Offler and had it made into into a horn and made magical music until the gods caught up with him and pulled his. . .” “Right,” said Buddy, “But if you went out there now and asked who the most famous horn player is, would they remember some felonious monk or would they shout for Glod Glodsson?” 
  6. The libraries of the Discworld were afflicted with Critters, which consumed volumes of literature and excreted thin volumes of literary criticism. Important safety tip: never get in an argument with a brilliant satirist. 
  7. Carpe Jugulum