Saturday, March 14, 2015

Vale Sir Terry

Sir Terry Pratchett - 28 April, 1948 - 12 March, 2015

The literary world lost one of it's true giants and gentlemen this week when Terry Pratchett passed away at the age of 66.

It's taken me a couple of days to recover sufficiently from the news of Terry Pratchett's death to get my head together enough to put down some thoughts.

Generally when someone famous that I was never connected with, or never met, passes, I have a moment of sadness for them and their families, but it doesn't really hit me. It was different with Sir Terry.

I never met him (my wife did, though, and that's why we have a couple of signed Discworlds, in fact he even did a little drawing of a scythe in one of them), but I kind of felt familiar with him. It may have been because from the time I first saw a Discworld book in the shops (The Colour of Magic) readers could rely on another novel by the same author at fairly regular intervals. At his height Terry Pratchett was releasing 3 books a year. Generally they were Discworld (he wrote more than 70 novels and more than 40 were related to Discworld), but he wrote and co-wrote across genres and didn't confine himself just to his most famous creation of the flat, disc shaped world that stood on the backs of 4 giant elephants, who in turn stood on the back of the great space turtle A'Tuin, as it swam endlessly through space.

What first attracted me to The Colour of Magic was Josh Kirby's chaotic art work.

The artist became synonymous with the series, and also provided artwork for other Terry Pratchett books. Unfortunately he passed away in 2001 and was replaced by Paul Kidby with the release of
The Night Watch.

Paul Kidby is still doing the covers now. The two artists are very different. Kirby's covers were cartoony chaos, and Kidby's are Discworld reproductions of other famous images. They both suit the books, but in entirely different ways.

What it said about The Colour of Magic on the back also intrigued me. A flat world that if you sailed too far you fell off the edge. Invisible dragons, an inept wizard, a clueless tourist. Funny fantasy was just becoming in vogue at the time. While I found The Colour of Magic a little uneven at times I was hooked, because Pratchett stood head and shoulders above the others, he wrote satire, the others did farce. Then there were these great ideas. Like The Luggage, a trunk made of sapient pear wood, a rare magically impregnated wood. Just that in itself made The Luggage priceless, it also meant that it wandered about the place on hundreds of little legs and had a mind of it's own, it could also defend itself. One of the author's most famous and loved characters also appeared, a scythe carrying skeleton, who spoke in capitals, the personification of Death. Although the inept Rincewind was the hero of that and other Discworld books, I always felt he played second fiddle to the other cast of characters.

It was with the third book, Equal Rites, that I knew Discworld, and it's creator, were something different from the other funny fantasies on the market at the time.

Most of the others got a character or an idea and then drove it right into the ground, to the point that it was a mercy killing when they finally moved onto something else. The first two Discworld books had Rincewind as their hero, and most of the action took place in the city of Ankh Morpork (sort of like what Charles Dickens and Robert E. Howard may have created if they'd ever worked together). Equal Rites was different, it was the first of the Witches books, and it introduced readers to characters like Granny Weatherwax and her earthy friend and fellow witch Nanny Ogg. It also took place out of Ankh Morpork.

Mort, the 4th Discworld novel, dealt with Death, who by this stage had achieved rock star status amongst fans.

Mort is actually my favourite, although I think I may be in the minority there.

From then on Terry Pratchett and Discworld went from strength to strength. He established a number of series within the one. There were the Rincewind books, and those featuring his colleagues from the Unseen University, the Witches books, the City Watch books, the Moist Lipwig books, the Death books, as well as standalones like Moving Pictures and Pyramids. He also did Maurice and His Educated Rodents for younger readers, and the Tiffany Aching books were aimed at younger readers, but are read and enjoyed by older ones just as much. I think the Nac Mac Feegle have a bit to do with it all.

Terry Pratchett's first book The Carpet People was written when he was 17 years old and it sold a few copies and then disappeared without a trace. It turned up at a few libraries and people were on enormous waiting lists to read it. The author cleaned it up and had it rereleased so that everyone could enjoy it. His publishers also republished two earlier science fiction novels very much in the Douglas Adams mould (The Dark Side of the Sun and Strata). The second of those was written in 1981 (two years before The Colour of Magic) and contains the first mention of a flat disc shaped world.

The Bromeliad trilogy, written for young readers (Diggers, Truckers and Wings), was a delightful little thing about a race of short lived Gnomes stranded on this planet.

He also wrote the Johnny books for teenagers and co-wrote Good Omens (a parody of The Omen films) with Neil Gaiman.

There's a final Tiffany Aching book due to come out later this year, but from 2016 it will be rather sad to look at the section containing Terry Pratchett in the book stores and know that there will be no more.

Terry will be missed, but he has left a legacy that will live on forever in the hearts and minds of his millions of readers.

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