Terry Pratchett: funny, heartbreaking and quietly furious

Terry Pratchett, Stefan Servos

An author and former journalist, Terry Pratchett made literature out of fantasy.

Terry Pratchett, the author of the Discworld series, finished his life with a series of tweets that encapsulated his best work: funny and heartbreaking, with just an ounce of morality.

That variety sat well his novels, informed by an early career spent as a journalist first for the Bucks Free Press and later for the Western Daily Press and the Bath Chronicle. He went on to take a job as a press officer for the the Central Electricity Generating Board – a decision that echoed the eccentricity of his books, which he started publishing around that time.

Starting with The Colour of Magic in 1983, the Discworld series took its reader to every strange nook of Pratchett’s omnivorous mind. Set on a spinning disk supported by four elephants who (naturally) stand astride a giant turtle, the novels are both satires on fantasy and mankind, and allowed the author to illuminate every aspect of life, with more than a dash of wit, humour and warmth.

But behind the wizards and witches was what fellow fantasist Neil Gaiman last year called “the fury” of Pratchett’s writing, a moral yearning for the world to be a better place. Through his books Pratchett would expound on racism, equality, academic standards (or lack thereof) and much besides, his conscience not mellowing with age.

As Gaiman wrote in the Guardian: “It is that sense of fairness that underlies Terry’s work and his writing, and it’s what drove him from school to journalism to the press office of the South Western Electricity Board to the position of being one of the best-loved and bestselling writers in the world.”

Even so, he rarely appeared to be disappointed about his lot publicly, even when diagnosed with the Alzheimer’s disease that would make his last few years some of his most productive. Protesting against the lack of British compassion in the government’s continued prohibition against assisted suicide (Pratchett preferred “assisted death”), he went so far as to film a well received documentary on the subject, Choosing to Die.

Outside of Discworld he wrote several other series, completing some 70 novels alongside short stories anthologies and other miscellany, with book sales worldwide exceeding 85m. That work ethic earnt him a rebuke from critics as something of a pulp writer, an ungenerous assessment – if one that carried an inkling of truth as he latterly retrod old ground on the Disc.

But perhaps that is the great lesson of Pratchett: to continue to strive, and to do so with a smile on your face. “It is often said that before you die your life passes before your eyes,” he once said. “It is in fact true. It’s called living.”

Image – Stefan Servos

Jimmy Nicholls

Jimmy Nicholls

Writer on Westminster, free speech, religion and so forth. Contact jimmy.nicholls@rightdishonourable.com

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