Thursday, March 12, 2015

Tribute: Sir Terry Pratchett (1948-2015)

When I was in high school and college, there were several really good used book stores in the area. They were a haven for me – a place where I could get a lot of books for not much cash and even trade in what I had for credit.

It was on a search through the shelves of one of my favorite haunts that I happened upon a slim volume by the title of “Sourcery.” It was likely the strange spelling of the word that first caught my attention. When I pulled it from the shelf, things got even stranger. The cover featured an inexplicable picture of a sort of addled looking wizard and an orangutan. For a buck, I couldn’t resist adding it to my stack. I just had to see what it was about.

That’s how my 25-year-long love affair with Sir Terry Pratchett began.

I read the short book in one sitting, laughing out loud for nearly the whole thing. The adventures of Rincewind the “wizzard,” the orangutan Librarian patrolling his domain, the walking and sentient Luggage. It was all completely absurd, but at the same time incredibly smart and inventive. I knew immediately that I had to explore this strange Discworld more.

The next several years of my life were spent collecting a library of Pratchett’s already considerable at that point works on the Disc. (The count now stands at 41, including a final Tiffany Aching novel scheduled for release this year.)

I found a world of wild characters that I loved to read about: The Witches of Lancre; the men, women and assorted other members of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch; and of course, my personal favorite character, Death.

Almost all of the denizens of Pratchett’s Discworld were delightful in their own way, but how could you not love his version of Death? During my earliest readings of the books, I always looked forward to the brief scenes where Death appeared. Pratchett’s death is made of equal parts philosophy and snark, though the latter part is delivered, fittingly, as dry as a bag of bones.

I was thrilled when I discovered “Mort” and “Reaper Man,” which remain two of my favorite Pratchett novels – both of which revolved around Death and his strange family.

It’s no surprise, then, that Death played a big role in one of my other favorite Discworld novels, “Soul Music.” Since music is one of my other passions in life, I loved the book with all of its references and inside jokes.

But as much as I love those, one Discworld book stands above all others for me – “The Truth,” released in 2000. When you ask someone for a recommendation on Pratchett, that’s not one of the titles you’re likely to get in response. Unless you’re talking to me, that is. It’s a very personal book for me, where the zany, wacky world of the Disc collided with my own.

I spent nearly 20 years as a journalist, and I was in the heart of my career in that field when this book came out. The story of William de Worde and the Ankh-Morpork Times hit surprisingly close to home for me. Pratchett’s satire of the newspaper business was sharp and funny, mainly because it contained so much, well, truth. Even though I have quite happily bid the newspaper business goodbye, “The Truth” still holds a special place in my heart.

Like most fans, I was saddened a few years back when I learned that Sir Pterry had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It signaled to us all that the tales of the Discworld would soon come to an end. I was saddened more deeply on Thursday when I discovered that he had passed away at the age of 66, bringing a finality to that realization.

Of course, Pratchett wrote many other books, off the Disc. Many of those I enjoyed, particularly “Good Omens,” his collaboration with Neil Gaiman – two of my favorite authors together. But for myself, and many other fans, Discworld will be his lasting legacy – a series of books that brought us much joy and laughter, but also much food for thought.

Though I mourn the loss of Sir Pterry and his wit, after all of those memorable scenes of Death’s arrival, I’m sure he wrote the best one on Thursday. I'm left wondering what exactly their conversation might have been like. Now that’s something I’d like to read.

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