As the literary world mourns Sir Terry Pratchett and thousands of his fans sign a petition to Death to bring him back, Cal Wilson shares what his words meant to her.
Sir Terry Pratchett died on Thursday aged 66, with his cat sleeping on his bed and his family around him. An author of more than 70 novels that were read by millions and translated into 37 languages, he created the sort of characters you miss the moment you finish the book.
Since I woke up to the news, I’ve been mulling over my favourites: from The Luggage (an aggressive, sentient trunk that acts as both clothing storage and bodyguard) to the Librarian (a wizard accidentally turned into an orangutan who looks after books of magic and refuses to become human again) and Granny Weatherwax: a witch so powerful she can “borrow” the minds of animals (making sure to leave her comatose body with a placard that says “I Aten’t Dead” when she does).
In 1994 I went one of his book readings in Christchurch (the New Zealand one) in a tiny room in the library. He wore his black hat and was funny and wonderful, which is all as you’d expect. Ever since that day I’ve wished that I’d told him what his writing meant to me.
Terry Pratchett was a master of wordplay and the humorous footnote. He had such a deft touch with a joke that it was as if P.G Wodehouse had danced in and rewritten Tolkien. Some of his books were written for children but I’ve read most of them and I didn’t notice. All of his novels bound along, packed full of great gags and even better insights.
If you’ve never read any of his books I urge you to, even if you’re not into “fantasy”, because in the end what he was writing about was us. He used the fantastical setting of the Discworld to satirise everything from immigration and racism to how we react to changing technology, without it ever feeling laboured.
There are few books I’ll happily re-read and pretty much all of those have the words ‘Terry Pratchett’ on the cover. I think it’s because they’re bursting with so many great lines and references; you can discover something new each time.
I own most of his books, but Good Omens, written with Neil Gaiman, is one I can never keep hold of: I’m always pressing it onto friends, insisting they’ll love it, then they pass it on to someone else and it vanishes from my sight. When I buy myself another copy I end up devouring it all over again and imploring someone else to borrow it – because it’s just so great. It’s my favourite vicious cycle.
I love the women he created: strong, funny, and brilliantly memorable. I love the way they’re not just sidekicks who do the set ups: they take centre stage and they get punchlines. There’s Nanny Ogg, a cheerful old witch with rather earthy sensibilities, Angua, the first woman (and werewolf) in the Ankh-Morpork City Watch and Susan, the immensely practical granddaughter of Death.
And Death himself, brilliant Death, another masterpiece of a character (although we’re all pretty angry with him right now). A tall, robed skeleton with a scythe, he rides a white horse called Binky and likes cats. He does his slightly baffled best to understand humans and speaks in capital letters.
When Terry Pratchett passed away his daughter Rhianna sent three last tweets from his Twitter account, (I’m sure you’ve seen them), which were both heartbreaking and apt: “AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER” followed by: “Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night.”
And then simply: “The End.”
Terry Pratchett is my favourite author and I still surprised myself with how much I cried at the news of his death. I mourn the loss of a brilliant, sparkling mind and all the books he’ll never write for us.
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.
Cal Wilson is a Kiwi who calls Australia home. Comedian, Writer, amateur Cat Lady.