Today the world is mourning the loss of a literary superstar and I and many, many others are mourning the loss of a dear friend. And knowing that it was coming, since he was diagnosed with an early-onset form of Alzheimer’s eight years ago, turns out to be not much comfort at all.
As I started to write this I found myself getting angry, for all sorts of reasons, not least that 66 is way too young for anyone to die, let alone someone who’s brought so much pleasure to so many people. Terry wasn’t just a brilliant writer; he was far more than that: a man of enormous brain and insatiable curiosity, and Britain’s best and most effective satirist. But last night most of the newsreaders were reporting ‘the death of the fantasy writer Sir Terry Pratchett’ and I found myself getting cross at that too: why he wasn’t he just ‘the writer’? Yes, he wrote fantasy and SF, but so have Salman Rushdie and Kazuo Ishiguro and Margaret Atwood and Ursula K. Le Guin and untold numbers of wonderful, literary authors. And then I started getting mad all over again because now he never will win the Booker or any of the major literary awards, which is an appalling lack of recognition of such an astonishing talent. He did at last win the Carnegie Medal, for The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, and if you haven’t ever read his speech, treat yourselves. You’ll find it here.
Terry says it better than I can.
But whilst most of the Establishment might have been a bit sniffy about a mere fantasy writer – and a funny one at that – Warwick University stepped up to the plate, making him an Honorary Doctor of Letters – or Hon DLitt – in part because of the cunning way he introduced his huge audience to some key modern science concepts, ‘disguising them as entertainment,’ as he said.
And he sold 80 million books around the world, which is no small feat. In fact, he’s the second best-selling author in Britain, beaten only by JK Rowling. However, I should point out that he was (and may still be) the most shop-lifted author in the UK too, so I reckon that makes him the most read writer by a long shot.
At least he left some 70 books, 40-odd (some very odd) of which are Discworld novels. But that’s just not enough.
Everyone’s using a quote from Good Omens, the book he wrote with Neil Gaiman, where Death says, DON’T THINK OF IT AS DYING. JUST THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH. I’m not alone in wishing he’d waited until after the rush.
Mwah, mwah, Terry.