Death is a major character in British fantasy author Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. Appearing in almost all of the many, many Discworld novels, death no mere figure of terror or fright. It can be witty, gentle, even merciful.
It’s this death that I hope Pratchett encountered as he lost his battle with dementia Thursday at his home near Salisbury, England.
Pratchett wrote a wide variety of books, more than 70 in all, but he’s best remembered for his series of 40 or so books about Discworld, a fantasy realm that is balanced on the backs of four elephants standing on the back of a great turtle in space. That should give you a taste of the absurd, playful, witty nature of the books, which were told in a style that managed to be both humane and pragmatic, moving and hilarious at the same time.
Discworld, being so much more than a standard generic fantasy or fantasy parody setting, allowed Pratchett to explore and parody various sub-genres while working within the fantasy genre. My favorite by far were the mystery-flavored novels featuring Sam Vimes, Commander of the City Watch of Ankh-Morpork, Discworld’s biggest and rowdiest city. Pratchett also tackled politics, social issues, religion and more through the books.
Another personal favorite, outside of Discworld, is Pratchett’s collaboration with Neil Gaiman, “Good Omens,” which tells the tale of the funniest apocalypse ever.
Pratchett was much-beloved for his contributions to fantasy. His novels have sold 85 million copies worldwide and in 2009 he received a knighthood for his services to literature, making him officially “Sir Terry Pratchett.” He received numerous awards, Discworld conventions have been started and his works have been adapted for computer games, theatre, radio and television.
Pratchett was diagnosed with posterior cortical atrophy in 2007, a degenerative brain disease that might be a form of Alzheimer’s. He described his condition, with usual wit, as an “embuggerance,” made a large contribution to Alzheimer’s research and filmed a television show about his experiences with the disease for the BBC. He also continued writing books, although as his disease progressed he had to switch to dictating them to speech recognition software and an assistant. His final novel, The Shepherd’s Crown, will be published later this year.
Pratchett considered assisted suicide, even appeared in a BBC documentary about it, but doesn’t appear to have gone through with it. His death Thursday was reported as coming from a severe chest infection and complications from his brain disease.
Just after Pratchett died, his daughter Rhianna sent three tweets on his Twitter account, speaking in the style of Pratchett’s personification of death. They’re a fitting end to a tale cut a little bit too short.
“AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER,” the first tweet said.
“Terry took death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night,” read the second tweet.
And the last said only, “The End.”