Much-loved literary genius and all-round good egg Sir Terry Pratchett died on Thursday. Gabby Hutchinson-Crouch pays her respects and says a huge thank you for the Discworld series.
I was 13 or 14 when I first fell into the Discworld. I had a friend at school who was as in to sci-fi and fantasy as I was – a naughty little secret we shared because, as teenage girls, we kept getting told that we weren’t supposed to enjoy that sort of thing.
I lent her my Hitchhiker’s Guide cassettes and she lent me her copy of Mort. I immediately fell in love. Primarily, I fell in love with Death. I fell in love with the idea of the Grim Reaper portrayed as someone kind, someone funny, someone who gets lonely and who cares for cats and orphans.
And how does the skull-faced sod repay me? By doing his job and making me very sad this week.
Over the years I discovered different inhabitants of the colossal, intertwining world on the back of four elephants standing on a turtle swimming serenely through space. The witches in the tiny mountain kingdom of Lancre, the Hammer Horror residents of Uberwald, the Patrician and the Watch trying to control the chaos that is the great city of Ankh Morpork.
I saw Gytha Ogg as the greatest role model ever (especially after getting to play her in a student production of Maskerade: a role that involved walking on stage with a beer bottle up one bloomer leg and a pork pie up the other) and developed a crush on Sam Vimes that may well never fade.
I still have many of the books left to read, as and when they take my fancy: I was actually reading Raising Steam on the train the day I heard that Death, with his voice like tombstones and his horse called Binky, had taken Terry Pratchett away.
What I love about the Discworld series now as an adult isn’t just the escapism, it’s the way that Pratchett uses that side-step away from our reality in order to satirise it. As well as fond pastiches of opera, Shakespeare, the movies and so on, the Discworld books deal with wider human issues such as poverty, corruption, oppression, racism, sexism, religious fanaticism, war, persecution and even slavery. What’s more, they do so intelligently with humour and hope.
Though each book largely stands alone I do believe that there is one overarching story thread to the whole series, which is this: how would a fantasy world based around magic and filled with dwarves, trolls, witches, zombies, vampires and a Librarian who can only say “Ook” deal with a social revolution?
There is no one leader in this revolution; instead there are dozens of heroes and heroines who create specific changes and each change builds up to the next. Each step the characters take towards better social equality and understanding reverberates across the Disc and affects the heroes of stories to come.
Pratchett created a world that was always changing, – like our own – and those changes could have continued for as long as he was able to carry on. They did, in fact.
I found myself hugely saddened by Pratchett’s death. Selfishly I’m mourning not for him, but for me. I’m mourning because since childhood I’ve been able to dip in and out of a world that felt infinite. Now, suddenly, it’s become a finite thing. No more Discworld books will be written or, if they are, they won’t be Terry Pratchett’s books and they won’t be the same. I was given so much by that rich world, but I was left wanting to know that there will always be more.
I know of quite a few people who’ve never read any Discworld books before and have been prompted to give the series a go by the outpouring of fondness following the death of Pratchett. The vastness of the series can be off-putting, especially since the first books aren’t necessarily the best place to start (a lot of people, myself included, find the first Discworld protagonist Rincewind difficult to warm to). A consensus I’ve found amongst fans is that both Mort and Guards! Guards! are ideal books to help you take your first steps into this fantastical, funny and utterly enjoyable world.
A Just Giving page donating to The Research Institute for the Care of Older People (RICE) has been set up in Terry Pratchett’s memory. You can donate here.4293 Views
Gabby Hutchinson Crouch is a comedy writer, mum & nerd. She writes for BBC Radio Comedy and Huffington Post UK, and once saw Dawn French coming out of a toilet.