Tuesday, September 21, 2021

My hero / Terry Pratchett by Helen Lewis

Terry Pratchett

My hero: 

Terry Pratchett by Helen Lewis

‘I feel part of a tight-knit community of nerds who have only just begun to miss him’ : a fan pays tribute to the author who died yesterday

Friday 13 March 2015


o subject was too big for Terry Pratchett, who died on Thursday – once he’d found a way to make it ridiculous. He took on capitalism, religion, sexism, war, death and why you should never buy food from a man with a tray in the street. His books wore their learning lightly, sweeping the reader along on a river of bad puns, self-deprecating footnotes and weird scenarios constructed with impeccable internal logic. Over the course of more than 40 novels, his Discworld series evolved into something much richer and darker than perhaps even he initially expected. Fittingly for someone who spent his final years talking about the need for reform in assisted dying legislation, Pratchett’s best-loved character was Death, an imposing skeleton – who rode a white horse called Binky and spoke IN SMALL CAPS. It was in the persona of Death that Pratchett’s Twitter account announced: “AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER.”

For me, though, the best character in the Discworld is Samuel Vimes, the descendant of a regicidal ancestor, who ends up as commander of the Watch in the chaotic city of Ankh-Morpork. Because Vimes hates authority, the city’s machiavellian ruler, the Patrician, keeps giving him more just to annoy him. At one point, he wades into a war and tries to arrest both sides for “breach of the peace”. Here was Pratchett’s own view of humanity: we are endlessly fallible, but usually worth saving.

His fans have known since his 2007 Alzheimer’s diagnosis that Pratchett would not make old bones, but his death is still a shock. The books have never been turned into blockbuster movies, so they still feel like a cult secret – despite sales of more than 80m for the Discworld series alone – and I feel part of a tight-knit community of nerds who have only just begun to miss him. It is some consolation that he died as he lived, demonstrating his humane worldview and corkscrew wit. “DON’T THINK OF THIS AS DYING,” says Death in Good Omens. “JUST THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH.”


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