The Turtle still moves, but for a moment yesterday this round world stopped spinning and grew flat. Death came for Terry Pratchett, took his hand, and led him wherever humanist fantasy writers go when they leave this world. And he left us almost in the way he wanted to go, surrounded by his family, with his cat beside him. I don’t know if Thomas Tallis was playing, but I hope it was.
The last time I saw him was in passing at World Fantasy Con in Brighton, where he
was making a surprise appearance. I didn’t go to the talk, because I knew it would be too sad, but I know people who did. One of them told me afterwards, in tears, that it was “like watching a dragon dying”.
But this is too sad, fuck it. One thing PTerry wasn’t, was sad. He was angry. He was also bloody funny, at times literally roll on the floor laugh out loud until it actually hurts funny, but beneath the humor was a core of righteous indignation about the things that angered and infuriated him. Stupidity, sexism, blind faith, social injustice, cruelty, mime artists, people who don’t like cats… They all came in for a satirical Discworld-style lambasting at one time or another, and always in a way that elicited a smile or a wry laugh or, on occasion, an air punch and a muttered cry of triumph.
And when he turned his searing anger towards Alzheimer’s, as it robbed him of his memory and his ability to write and eroded his personality, inch by insidious inch, well, his wroth was indeed mighty, and powerful. A glance at any of the final few essays in “A Slip of the Keyboard”, his recent collection of non-fiction, shows just how bloody furious he is, how determined to fight back, how determined to drag this horrible, crushing disease out into the light to make people understand it and not be ashamed. Death might have been coming for Terry Pratchett, but he was going to clobber Alzheimer’s in the knackers with a staff with a knob on the end before he went.
Death was a recurring character in the Discworld, right from the beginning. Skinny chap, big horse, TALKS LIKE THIS (highly appropriate that the voice of death in the Discworld animations was Christopher Lee). And the Discworld death, that anthropomorphic personification, was never judgemental, never cruel, never benevolent. HE JUST WAS. And he was a firm fan favourite – right now there is a petition online to ask him to bring TP back.
He’ll say NO.
We’ll say “But it’s unfair! We want more! We could have had twenty more years of Discworld, twenty more years of PTerry and we feel cheated. There’s no justice…”
THERE’S NO JUSTICE. THERE’S JUST ME.
The first Pratchett I read was Wyrd Sisters, which I discovered, fortuitously, at the same time as we were studying Macbeth at school. I’m not ashamed to say that a fair amount of DiscWorld humour sneaked into my Macbeth essay, which earned me 19/20 and a red-pen note warning me to take my essays more seriously in future. Unfortunately I was already well on the path to being a fantasy writer…
The older Discworld books I own are sun-faded and held together with sellotape. If fact, looking down that long shelf, you can see the progression of age along the spines, a visual display of a long and deep connection that had ended now, suddenly, peacefully, not unexpectedly but still far too soon after, for me, twenty-four years of reading Pratchett. At a time when I was very sad, in the depths of my depression, he made me laugh, and I’ll always be grateful for that. And I know, from the outpouring of genuine grief and love on Twitter yesterday, that so many of my tribe feel the same.
Sir Terry, we’ll miss you, you old bugger. And Vimes and Granny Weatherwax and Tiffany Aching and Rincewind and the Luggage and the Librarian and Gaspode the Wonder Dog and Death and Susan and Foul ‘Ole Ron and Moist and Cherry Littlebottom and and and and…….
The Turtle still moves. It will never stop, as long as we remember…