I don’t get choked up over celebrity deaths. I mean, they’re interesting people very far away, I’m just a fan of their work, we never shook hands…
But Sir Terry Pratchett passed this morning, and I feel I’ve been shaking hands with him my entire adult life, ever since a good friend gave me a hardcover edition of Hogfather for my eleventh birthday. I didn’t understand half of it, but I knew I’d been introduced to something elemental. A story that my parents didn’t mind me reading that was also deeply adult, unsettling, possibly dangerous.
Of course, I backtracked to his first novel and started reading forwards. I wasn’t even a teen and escapism was a survival tactic. Were there other authors I enjoyed at the time? Sure – Card, King, Brooks. All of them inspired me in some way to imagine further, to create stories in my head, but it was Pratchett who built in me the fanaticism required to put pen to paper, to understand that this was something I could do, that I had to do.
My first real attempts at writing were all Pratchett imitations. They were terrible but necessary. I saw, in his works, how he’d grown as an author, how his prose had tightened and matured between The Colour of Magic and Sourcery. I knew I could do the same.
I read Pratchett religiously until I was perhaps nineteen, when I decided I’d outgrown him. I put my books aside, in a box, for many years. It was my fiancee, also a great fan of Pratchett (probably a bigger fan than I) who encouraged me to pick them up again, and I discovered a whole new level of allegory tucked neatly inside the fantasy/satire wrapper I’d enjoyed throughout my childhood. I found myself knee-deep in Wyrd Sisters, laughing out loud in an airport lounge, remembering just how dangerous Discworld truly was for an eleven year old.
Because Discworld, and Sir Terry, was and will always be a scalpel. Fantasy? Yes. Satire? Sure, but something deeper than that. A surgical blade drawn across meat. It had the power to leave me laughing even as a knot of unease grew in the pit of my stomach, the slow understanding that this is not how things should be.
Sir Terry showed me injustice and class politics and systematic oppression. He took what I knew as a kid… and later, as an adult… and upended it. And he did it with a smile.
No other author ever did that for me. No other author ever felt so much like a friend.
Sir Terry is gone. I guess we should be glad we shared his company for so long, given his diagnosis eight years ago. And yet…
I don’t get choked up over celebrity deaths. Except this once. Today, I’m mourning.
There are characters in Pratchett’s work I grew so close to that they felt like friends – Carrot, Angua, Susan Sto-Helit, Vimes, and of course, Death. But they’ll always be close enough to touch. Sir Terry, though… there could only ever be one. The world couldn’t deal with two minds like that at once.
Vale, Sir Terry Pratchett. You’ll always be on my bookshelf. Is it too sappy to say you’ll always be in my heart? Probably. I said it anyway. Sir Terry taught me to speak the truth.
– – –
“I meant,” said Ipslore bitterly, “what is there in this world that makes living worthwhile?”
Death thought about it.
CATS, he said finally. CATS ARE NICE.