Terry Pratchett has died at the age of 66 of natural causes. But who was the real Terry Pratchett?
Beloeved Discworld author Terry Pratchett passed away on March 12, 2015, at the age of 66. Known for a clever wit and satirical take on life in his written work, Pratchett’s death is sure to sadden millions of fans.
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Confirmation of death came via the writer’s official Facebook with the message: “It is with immeasurable sadness that we announce that author Sir Terry Pratchett has died. The world has lost one of its brightest, sharpest minds. Rest in peace Sir Terry Pratchett.”
In 2007, the author announced a diagnosis of early on-set Alzheimer’s called posterior cortical atrophy. Still ever present, he filmed Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die, a documentary what it was like to live with disease, and obtaining permission to decide when to end his own life. He also publicly gave £494,000 to the Alzheimer Research Trust to help find a cure.
The BBC reports at the time that he wasn’t willing to let the disease destroy the core of what defined him, either. “I intend to scream and harangue while there is time.”
Describing the feeling as the effects took, he admitted the strange loss of everyday functions. “I've given up my driving licence because I didn't feel confident driving. And if I've got something inside out, it's a little bit puzzling getting it the right way round again.”
But it’s hard to silence a writer, too. “The curious thing is that writing goes on, although the typing doesn't.” The mind is an amazing tool and brilliant minds rarely quiet beyond the body’s demands. He continued to write, his final book released last summer—7 years after diagnosis.
Over 70 books bear his name and millions of inspired readers are his legacy.
The English author received an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth II in 1998. And eleven years later, the Queen knighted him for work in literature, giving way to Sir Terrance David John “Terry” Pratchett.
While he may have been a Sir, the same humor and dry wit never stopped him from communicating with fans. And his own geekery. In 2009, he declared David Tennant the best doctor. He never quite took himself seriously as an author. Instead the former journalist seemed to love to impart wisdom through humor and empathy.
BBC noted even though he tirelessly advocated for assisted suicide, Larry Finlay, of publisher Transworld, said Pratchett died of natural causes “with his cat sleeping on his bed.” Loved ones surrounded him, a touchstone in a quietly disappearing world. Fellow author Phillip Pullman described the certainty of Terry’s humanity as “nothing spiteful, nothing bitter or sarcastic in his humour.”
Disputing the “jolly affability,” Neil Gaiman points out that the driving force of writing was “Terry’s underlying sense of what is fair and what is not. It is that sense of fairness that underlies Terry’s work and his writing.” After 30 years of constant collaboration and friendship, the author may just know a thing or two. The Guardian piece opened up the world of Pratchett, seen only by those closest.
“Terry’s authorial voice is always Terry’s: genial, informed, sensible, drily amused,” but that was not the totality of the person—only a fragment in a complex human with a keen sense of responsibility and strong, personal ethics.
Gaiman put it far more succinctly. “Anger is the engine that drives him, but it is the greatness of spirit that deploys that anger on the side of the angels, or better yet for all of us, the orangutans.” Jolly doesn’t necessary mean happy. Palatable can’t be mistaken for complete honesty.
In Small Gods, a Discworld novel, the unassuming, slightly cheeky line “gravity is a bit hard to shake off” sets up a story of a tortoise learning to fly in the face of a hungry eagle “participating in a very crude form of natural selection” and who loved to “torment the tortoises.”
Hidden in the buried language of gravity is a little bit of human observation, too. Pratchett notes how life is not easily shaken off, humans are faced with unending complications, and in order to soar one must work against a system by outwitting the tormentor. Be it mind, body, or act by another creature.
Seems like a pretty good lesson.
Simply put, Terry Pratchett loved life and displayed the appreciation in all his work. Especially the bits that spoke of social justice, of humanity, and the anger driving for change.
In Equal Rites, Esk learns “if you ignore the rules people will, half the time, quietly rewrite them so they don't apply to you.” The message, the meaning, is clear outside of the book’s title. Pratchett rewrote his fictional and real worlds by not letting fear of death rule and advocating for assisted suicide when life would no longer be about quality living and only emptily existing in society’s vacuum.
Break the rules and create your own. The world will learn to bend with you.
Discworld stretches across 40 books and an entire universe, connected through vignettes and stories. And through the mythology and development of characters, reader’s minds learned how different the fantasy world could truly be. And what the real world had the potential to be beyond the fantastical, focusing on the idea of what lays beyond the surface.
His writing style was less Tolkien and more irreverent, a cutting slash of wit and keen perception. Consider his words to the 2008 medical conference where he donated the money: “Personally, I'd eat the arse out of a dead mole if it offered a fighting chance.” Terry Pratchett wasn’t willing to give up, and he continued to write books as the disease progressed.
But why? “I just enjoy the damn books.”
He describes his view of writing and what it personally accomplishes in a video released by Harper Books. “I’m happy when I write. And it always seems to me to be slightly worrying that you’re getting paid to do something you actually would like to do anyway. But that’s how it goes.” Nothing was going to hold him back, not even nature.
Collaborating with Gaiman in the highly-popular Good Omens, the two used a finely-edged facetiousness to see what the world would be like if the son of Satan did walk the Earth and who would be the one to keep the world from falling apart. Humor zips through the work, but as with all things Terry: don’t be fooled by only the wit.
Around Christmas time last year, Gaiman wrote a piece for the BBC what it’s like to write with Pratchett. Gaiman began the story, 5,000 word piece on the life of the Antichrist. When his friend asked to buy or work together, the answer was obvious. Hard but fun work was key for the team.
“We would throw characters in, hand them off when we got stuck. We finished the book and decided we would only tell people a little about the writing process - we would tell them that Agnes Nutter was Terry's, and the Four Horsemen (and the Other Four Motorcyclists) were mine.”
And if you wonder why Crowley seems a bit familiar: “Terry had borrowed all the things about me that he thought were amusing, like my tendency back then to wear sunglasses even when it wasn't sunny, and given them, along with a vintage Bentley, to Crawleigh, who had now become Crowley.”
BBC aired a radio series of the book since the movie never quite happened. But Prachett was able to hear the words aloud, to hear his world brought to life.
Earlier in the day daughter Rhianna responded to the news on Twitter, speaking about who he was. “Many thanks for all the kind words about my dad. Those last few tweets were sent with shaking hands and tear-filled eyes.”
AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER.— Terry Pratchett (@terryandrob) March 12, 2015
Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night.— Terry Pratchett (@terryandrob) March 12, 2015
The End.— Terry Pratchett (@terryandrob) March 12, 2015
Rest in peace, Terry Pratchett. Your legacy and humanity will continue to guide the future into a better world.
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Sources: BBC News, Facebook, The Guardian, PJSM Prints, Twitter