Terry Pratchett, author the Discworld series and various assorted other novels, has passed away at the age of 66 from a chest infection. One of the most successful and prolific contemporary British authors, Pratchett wrote over 50 novels in his career.
I first started reading Pratchett’s work when I was in high school. I’d already seen from some other authors that fantasy could be written comically. Pratchett showed me that comic fantasy could be written for grown-ups… and more impressively, that comic writing could also be serious at the same time.
His novels dealt with loss and growth, death and religion and politics, personal values and societal change, and everything else that life encompasses. And it was always insightful, and always funny. The Discworld series spans over 40 novels. He once wrote that he would never knowingly write “the last Discworld novel.” He didn’t need to. If he tired of one part of the Disc, he could just turn to another. With the character of Rincewind, star of the first novel in the series, he parodied standard fantasy adventure novels. With Granny Weatherwax, he took on fairy tales — applying a solid weight of common sense and morality to them. With Sam Vimes and the Watch, he had mysteries and crime stories to explore. If there was an idea he wanted to explore that didn’t suit any of his existing characters and settings, he just created a new one. It was a big world, it could hold it. A few of the novels were ostensibly aimed at young adults, most were not targeted at anybody in particular, and all could be read by teenager and adult alike with enjoyment.
Like most authors whose works deal in philosophy, it was his own view being expressed. But it was handled in a way that made it friendly; if one disagreed, the novel was still enjoyable. Often, differing views were given a fair shake. Pratchett was an atheist — a “secular humanist” as he sometimes described himself — and his novel Small Gods is centered around the topic of religion. Atheists and believers alike have praised the novel, which depicts both the hazards of organized religion and what most modern believers feel it ought to be.
The last Discworld novel shall be The Shepherd’s Crown, the fifth in the sort-of young adult Tiffany Aching sub-series, which will be published in autumn 2015.
One of the most commonly recurring characters in the Discworld novels was that of Death himself. Initially, he was much like any standard Grim Reaper in fiction: dark, threatening, and fearsome. But with the fourth novel, Mort, Pratchett started to show another side to Death. He had been interacting with humanity so long, he had started to take an interest in it. Gradually, a softer side to Death developed, one always fascinated by humanity’s way of looking at the world, and one kindly to those who were kind to others.
“Lord, what can the harvest hope for, if not for the care of the reaper man?”
One hopes that, as Terry Pratchett passed, the Death that greeted him bore a resemblance to the one of Pratchett’s work.