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We've Lost Terry Pratchett

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Books | March 12, 2015 |

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Books | March 12, 2015 |

“No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away.” -Terry Pratchett

They say that asking a real book reader their favorite author is an unanswerable question, like asking a dolphin which wave is its favorite. But while there may have been individual books better, and writers better suited for certain stories, there are always dimensions you can choose that change the outcome of such an arbitrary race. But in the sum of the parts, in all the senses of books returned to over and over, of scenes that touched me, of particular statements of truth that had never occurred to me before, of characters who lived and breathed in my mind as real people, Terry Pratchett is my favorite author.

Somehow I didn’t even find him until I was thirty, and in six months I read the entire Discworld series from start to finish. His stories were always at their best in their quiet moments, when characters took time to think. His genius was in the small talk, in the small realizations and characterizations that revealed such nuanced thought that Pratchett clearly missed a calling as a philosopher or a priest.

Just go to the wikiquote page for his Discworld series. Just the brilliant quotes taken out of context make a page as long as many first novels. His novels touched on politics and history, family and friends, life and death, heroes and villains, art and music, religion and war, and all the little hidden strings that tie these things together into the human experience.

Samuel Vimes and Granny Weatherwax are two of the greatest characters in English literature. Anyone who says otherwise in a huff of condescension about the worthlessness of silly fantasy stories likely will in the next breath be happy to tell you about how Moby Dick isn’t about a whale and that all the fart jokes don’t make Canterbury Tales any less serious.

Pratchett’s were not funny stories, though they were stories that were funny. They were not mere fantasy novels, though they had swords and dragons and the like. These were some of the deepest, most thought-provoking, and most heartbreakingly profound books about the nature of the universe and the human condition that have ever been laid to print. The best and truest art is simultaneously funny and serious, and Terry Pratchett was the patron saint of that truth.

For those who haven’t touched his work, I think the closest analogy I can think of is not the ones that are on the tips of others’ tongues. Sure, there is an echo of Neil Gaiman, a broken mirror of Tolkien, a surface resemblance to Piers Anthony and other satirical fantasy, but all those miss the heart of the mark. I think the closest comparisons to him are Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut. He wrote stories that were all showing and not telling, writing in the ink of fantasy about what makes us who we are.

He died at home, with his cat sleeping next to him and surrounded by friends and family. He was taken from us too young at age 66, by that vicious bitch early-onset Alzheimer’s. It robbed him of his ability to write several years ago, and so instead he dictated his last few books. He did not go gently into that night. Pratchett wrote once that the pictsies are like us in that they believe there is a real world and that there is heaven and hell. But the difference is that the pictsies believe that this isn’t the real world, that they already live in heaven.

The great turtle bends its head for a moment, pausing in its flight. And so too do the four elephants, pausing in their eternal circuit. For one of the lights of our world has gone out, and if it seems dimmer now through our tears, it is only because for a few years he made it shine so much brighter than before.

Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at You can email him here.

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Steven Lloyd Wilson is the sci-fi and history editor. You can email him here or follow him on Twitter.