Julia and I rode around this weekend maintaining the balance between being inspiring and insipid, optimistic and pollyannaesque, we were assisted in our quest by listening to Stephen Briggs read Terry Pratchett’s novel Snuff.
Sir “Terry” Pratchett was a prolific humorist, who wrote mainly fantasy novels, especially about a Disc-world, which is a flat world held up by four elephants who are riding on a giant turtle’s back that is swimming through space. Although he also wrote for children, Sir Terry’s work offers adults ethics, wisdom, deep appreciation, and a poetic and philosophical perspective with a masterful comic wit. His book Snuff uses Goblins to personify the petty evils of racism and slavery. He champions women’s dignity and rights in Monstrous Regiment. He upholds the best of what it is to be human without the use of a soapbox, but with witches, blue tiny men with kilts and an array of more memorable characters than Dickens.
He published his first story at the age of 13, left school at 17 and became a journalist until his Disc-world fame allowed him to write full time. In his Who’s Who entry, he credited his education to Beaconsfield Public Library, where he read H.G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle and the like.
Towards the end of his life he developed Alzheimer’s disease, which he characterized as an “embuggerance”. He advised folks to “keep things cheerful”. Of himself he said, “We are taking it fairly philosophically down here and possibly with a mild optimism.” When he thought the condition was going to get much worse, he spoke out for assisted suicide, although he didn’t like the term; he was for going out with dignity.
Going out with dignity rather than suffering slowly is certainly something I support. And yet, he wanted to pull the curtain in 2009 and the book we just finished reading was published in 2011. Sir Terry, knighted in 2009, passed naturally last month on March 12. His last novel will be out in September and what it holds for us I feel was certainly worth him holding on for. His readers and I are grateful for his dedication, which brings a laughing light into the complexity of living.
May your week be something worth reading aloud when you come back to it in your mind.
“The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it.”
“He will be much missed, but what a legacy of wit and good cheer he leaves us!”
Ursula Le Guin
“He wasn’t imagining an alternative universe; he was reimagining ours. His fantasies sit alongside – and are the equals of – those of Rabelais, Voltaire, Swift, Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas Adams. He’s surely our most quotable writer after Shakespeare and Wilde. Granny Weatherwax’s definition of sin – “When you treat people as things” – is all you need to know about ethics.
Whereas all my beloved P G Wodehouses and Philip Pullmans are neatly arranged on the bookshelves, my Pratchetts are strewn under the beds, in the bathrooms, the glove compartments. They have shopping lists, takeaway orders and Scrabble scores scribbled on the fly leaves. They were part of life.”
Frank Cottrell Boyce
“Of all the writers I’ve read, Pratchett felt the most human. There was more truth in a single one of his humble satires than in a hundred volumes of poignant drama. Unlike most comedians—who use their humor like a weapon, always out for blood—Terry didn’t cut or bludgeon. He was far too clever for that. Instead, he’d slide down onto the bar stool beside us, drape his arm around us, and say something ridiculous, brilliant, and hilarious. Suddenly, the world would be a brighter place.
It wasn’t that he held back, or wasn’t—at times—biting. It’s just that he seemed to elevate every topic he touched, even when attacking it. He’d knock the pride and selfishness right out from underneath us, then—remarkably—we’d find ourselves able to stand without such things.
And we stood all the taller for it.
Sir Terry, you have my sincere thanks. I don’t think that, despite your many accolades, the world knows what it had in you.”
“The world has lost its bravest of knights.”
“Fantasy is an exercise bicycle for the mind. It might not take you anywhere, but it tones up the muscles that can. “
“The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to the presence of those who think they’ve found it.” –Terry Pratchett