If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past few days, it’s that we all remember our first Pratchetts.
Mine was The Colour of Magic, back when I was ten or eleven-ish and the only thing I knew about the Discworld was that a writer I liked online had mentioned it. That was more than half my life and more than thirty books ago, and it feels it; I feel about Terry Pratchett’s books the same way I feel about the internet, namely, A) very strongly, and B) I’m not sure who I would be, writing-wise, humor-wise, and just human-being-wise, without them.1
Sir Terry Pratchett passed away on Thursday, March 12 at age 66, after a long struggle with a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer’s, and also after writing about a million books2 and making a lot of people in the world fall terribly in love with the inside of his head. I knew this last bit before he died, but the hours I spent refreshing twitter while crying quietly really made it stick, I think. There were so many tributes to Sir Terry, from all directions—so many people who, like me, had become so entangled with the wit and humor and passion and depth and intelligence and anger and whimsy of his books and his mind that we had to stop everything we were doing and grieve. Nobody else in my office had read any Pratchett, but on the internet I wasn’t alone.
We all remember our first Pratchetts. The Colour of Magic is the first published Discworld book, and it begins with a turtle: Great A’Tuin, swimming slowly and unfathomably through the vastness of space and carrying four elephants on its back.4
The elephants, in turn, carry a strange, funny, flat world on their backs, which is curiously similar to our world in the same way that, say, a big round thing is when you squash it flat: a lot of the same things are there, but in slightly different shapes.
The Colour of Magic isn’t one of my favorite Discworld books; I think the Discworld and all of its inhabitants—and, probably, Sir Terry’s writing—grew and developed and sprouted even more exciting quirks and nuances as the series went along. It’s been 32 years since The Colour of Magic was published, after all. Over the years, I’ve attached myself more desperately to winking, ribald Nanny Ogg and good-but-not-nice Granny Weatherwax; to Susan and her furious determination, and the world’s kindest Death; to Sam Vimes and his commitment to truth, justice, and a hard-boiled egg.
Even my less-favorite Pratchetts, though, are full of warmth, silliness, pointed observations, and incredibly clever writing, as are his non-Discworld books that I’ve read. Dodger, for example, is one of my favorite new YA novels (thieves former thieves! London history! Intrigue! Dickens references!), and Good Omens, co-written by Neil Gaiman, is the only story about the anti-christ or the apocalypse I will ever need.
His books were a constant in my life, but in hindsight, Thursday’s loss wasn’t as sudden as it felt. I knew Sir Terry had been sick for a long time; he’d been campaigning for the right to assisted death, to choose how and when he died and meet it peacefully instead of letting his disease make all the decisions. You can read an excerpt from one of his lectures on the subject in the Guardian, here. You can also read an article Neil Gaiman wrote a year ago about the anger and sense of fairness that drove his long-time friend, here. (You may cry.)
I’m glad that he’s not in pain. And while I’m sad that his stories have come to an end, truthfully, I didn’t expect any new books after 2008 or so. Every book that came out after that—and the knowledge that one will be coming out this September—was like a surprise gift. And I really do believe what Sir Terry wrote in Reaper Man:
“In the Ramtop village where they dance the real Morris dance, for example, they believe that no-one is finally dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away—until the clock he wound up winds down, until the wine she made has finished its ferment, until the crop they planted is harvested. The span of someone’s life, they say, is only the core of their actual existence.”
But the brilliant, funny, angry mind that created so many of my favorite places and oldest friends—one of my world’s constants for twelve years—is gone, and even though I only met him once and he left so many incredible ripples in the world, I’ll still miss him.
//Images from Paul Kidby, Randall Munroe, and twitter.
2. This is hyperbole. But only a little bit.3
3. To the surprise of some of my friends, I haven’t actually finished the Discworld series, much less the entire Pratchett oeuvre. The problem is, of course, that once I’ve finished them, there won’t be any more.