The world has lost a very particular something today. If you look closely, you can see that a fine coating of sparkles is no longer there. It was swept away by the departure of a man who has added a little bit of magic to a lot of people’s lives.
Image from www.dignityindying.org.uk
Sir Terry Pratchett has left us. The news spread today like a shockwave, certainly in my social circle, which is filled with people who love him and have grown up with his books. The first reaction, from most people I spoke to, was simply: No.
NO. It cannot be. After spending years, if not decades, in the company of his books, travelling his worlds and meeting his characters, nobody seems to be able to imagine a world without him yet.
Texts, emails, Facebook messages started flooding in and out. Have you heard. Very sad news. Noooooo! I can’t even… And each message, each person adding their voice to this gathering wave of mourning, brought more tears.
Meanwhile the people who aren’t familiar with the Pratchett phenomenon looked at me somewhat blankly, feeling visibly awkward about the fact that I was crying in the office about the death of an author as if I’d lost a friend or family member.
Because it is more than the death of a hugely loved author. It is the loss of a man who has given me worlds, universes, a whole different layer of reality where I have spent hours, weeks, probably moths of my life and where I’ve met creatures and characters who have become so real that I have long ago accepted, as a personal truth, that they really do exist. They are real because Terry Pratchett, with his incredible imagination and his unmatched gift of language, has not just created them but brought them to life.
Discworld, for me, is a place. It’s somewhere I can go anytime and hang out with old friends – Granny Weatherwax and the witches, Rincewind and the wizards, Sam Vimes and the City Watch, the dwarfs, the trolls, the lot of them – and after 40 books spent in their company, they really are old friends to me. Going into Discworld is as real as going on a holiday – flying out to Sardinia or to Spain, where we tend to go in the summer. True, it doesn’t involve quite so much packing and travelling (and it’s certainly improved by the absence of the Ryanair Factor), but it really is the same thing. Discworld is a real place for me; it exists without a doubt.
And that’s why Terry Pratchett means more to me than a favourite author. Great authors give us wonderful books that we read, and return to, and that we take things from and treasure forever. But never in my life have I come across any other author who has given me a whole world. So far, with him still being active and writing several books a year despite the grip of Alzheimer’s tightening on him, this world has been endless. No matter how many books I read, I thought, there will always be more. After all, I still have quite a few of his non-Discworld works to get through.
But now his death has put a border around this endless world – or maybe a rim that you might fall off if you venture to the very edge. And that breaks my heart, because now there will be an end to reading his books. Even if I take it slowly, each remaining unread book now a treasure, I will arrive at the last book written by Terry Pratchett. The sand is slipping fast through that particular hourglass on Death’s shelves.
I will miss his wisdom, his wit, his imagination and most of all his incredible understanding of what makes us human. His books are largely categorised as fantasy, but I’ve always found that they are first and foremost about humanity. Terry Pratchett wrote about human nature with the insight of a philosopher, the warmth of a father and the wit of an Englishman. I have always considered him one of the great philosophers of our time, a hero whose superpower was to see right into the soul of human beings.
I’m unbelievably sad for this amazing human being we have lost today, and so, so grateful for all the magic Terry Pratchett has given to so many people around the world. And I’m grateful that he was allowed to go to sleep surrounded by his family, with his cat snoozing on the bed (probably positioned to cause the greatest possible discomfort to everyone, as good cats do), escaping from Alzheimer’s before it had a chance to destroy his wonderful mind.
Farewell, Sir Terry. Thank you forever for giving me a world. I hope your onward journey is safe and joyful, and involves at least one pint with Death in the pub at the end of the black desert under the endless night.
Check Mort by Paul Kidby