Thursday, March 12, 2015

In Memoriam: Sir Terry Pratchett.

It is hard to sum up the exact sensation I felt, earlier today, when I happened upon Rhianna Pratchett's tweet that read quite simply: "The End."

I think first, there was this brief electric moment of dread. Please, no, not today, not this year. It is utterly childish to add on, Not ever, but isn't that what we always feel, in the moments when we have a good book sprawled over our knees or its talented creator before us with a twinkle in their eye and a hand extended for a shake.

It's particularly hard to swallow, on days like these, that everything is so brief and fleeting and dishearteningly finite.

And now, a fount of wisdom and whimsy has been stopped up for good. And all we can think is, What a great, great loss. Because that is what it is.


Unlike many of my friends also mourning today, I was not quite raised on Discworld or Sir Terry Pratchett's works in general. At least in my elementary and early middle school years. Not quite, in that I didn't read the novels in their entirety with the same voracity I devoured those of Diana Wynne Jones or C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien or Lloyd Alexander.

But his name was still part of my childhood vernacular, because somehow, he was always peeking out from my reading material. I chuckled over excerpts of The Amazing Maurice and His Amazing Educated Rodents when they happened to be published in Muse magazine. At one point, I was introduced to Tiffany Aching and instantly adored her - but never got around to finding the series in my library.

You always feel these regrets quite strongly - "How many years did I waste not understanding those inside jokes and fandom nudges?" - when you're older and finally open a novel in a bookstore somewhere or at the library on a slow day when you don't have a list to occupy you with other titles (me, a lot of times - trust me)...and you feel as though you've met a friend that people have been trying to steer your way for years.

And when you tell them, they just smile smugly and say, "I knew you two would like each other."

My friend Katie Locke said that she felt as though she'd lost a grandparent today. I feel that, so much, so deeply. I feel as though we've lost a kind, talented soul who knew what we needed on our down days and how to tickle a smile out of us when we thought we didn't know how to any more.

"Stories of imagination tend to upset those without one."

- Sir Terry Pratchett

My first official Discworld title - or maybe it wasn't, but it's the one that sticks out the most clearly in my head, particularly today - was Monstrous Regiment. I read it about two summers ago, and though I had a few false starts, I really made headway on my birthday.

It's one of those titles that will permanently have imagery associated with it that doesn't necessarily belong to the book: being jostled about in the backseat of the car, the sunlight illuminating certain phrases and shadow overtaking others, the smell of the salty air as we drove closer to the ocean and the smile on my face that had nothing to do with turning a year older and everything to do with Polly Perks and vampires that are certainly nothing else but Discworld vampires and Shakespearean disguises.

I finished it about three days after that. And then I flipped back through and read the ending, just for the sake of it.

You can't help but decide to firmly like an author when he unashamedly writes strong female protagonists and slides in some tongue-in-cheek commentary about life and death and bravery and politics.

I have to confess: I was almost tempted to dislike Discworld on the sole basis that my best friend (bless her always) was always after me to read the series proper.

She's earned smug rights for the rest of her life, I think.

Because I plunged right in after that and never looked back.

I think I probably read the first Tiffany Aching before Monstrous Regiment, thinking properly on it. You can't help but adore Tiffany - and wonder if you ought to have some practice with a frying pan, too. Just in case. I've been trying to press it on every YA reader I know, particularly the girls. Especially after today, I think they will get tired of hearing about it.

So, I've been here before: the lump in my throat, the helpless tears in my eyes. Every year, we lose a good soul or two. Every year, we're assured that there are plenty of good souls left in the world to tide us over - but not like those that left us, not really. My list of Discworld titles has never looked so small or shrinking or conquerable as they do today.

If there is anything to smile over today, it is the fact that we had a Sir Terry Pratchett. I've seen friends tearing up for the new readers that will eagerly tumble into the world of Carrot and Vimes and Susan and realize, with a heart-lurching pause one day, that there are no more to come from that pen.

But there will still be Discworld for them to enjoy, and tell others to enjoy, and the fact that we are already considering what titles to introduce to children and sharing our favorite moments and quotes and little quips is such a legacy, to me.

So, Godspeed, sir. Thank you for the warmth and reassurance your books gave me on days when I had little else in the way of strength or mental ease. Thank you for the laughter and the loved characters.

You are already missed.


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