People live. People die. And we deal regularly with the deaths of public figures. Authors, performers, composers, artists, they are as mortal as the rest of us. But sometime one of those deaths hits us harder than the others.
Terry Pratchett has been one of my favorite authors since I discovered his work in the late 1980s. His interweaving of humor with fantasy caught my eye in The Color of Magic (the first book in his Discworld series), and continued throughout most of his other 70+ books. I introduced both of my kids to his books, and they both became ardent fans. Heather, now 27, owns more Pratchett books than anyone else I know, and Gwen, now 22 and polishing up a fantasy novel of her own, is the one who called me this morning with the sad news of Sir Terry’s death.
There are many talented writers out there, and many versatile writers. There are not so many that are both. Pratchett wrote both alone and with co-authors. He wrote for both adult and teen audiences. He wrote mostly sword & sorcery, but also science fiction, historical fiction, various unclassifiable fiction, and non-fiction. And he wrote them all well. Dodger is classified as a YA novel, but I consider it one of the best pieces of historical fiction I’ve read. Good Omens brings the dark side of Neil Gaiman together with Pratchett’s humor and whimsy to be the funniest book ever written about the apocalypse.
And Pratchett’s talent was recognized and awarded. In 2005, his books represented over 3% of all hardback fiction sales in the U.K. Let that sink in for a moment. That’s a lot of books! Only J.K. Rowling beat him that year. He was knighted in 2009.
Forget the statistics for a moment, though. Pratchett’s death hit me hard because I loved his books and I could identify with his characters. He showed that you can be funny while still putting out impeccably researched and skillfully written novels. When I think of him, I think of the wonderful discussions I’ve had with my children about his books. I think of the times I’ve set down a Pratchett book because I just had to think about it for a little bit. And it hit me hard because he was suffering from something horrible: Alzheimer’s.
This man had a brilliant mind, and he was inflicted with a disease that was destroying that mind. I can’t imagine having to deal with a loss of memory and cognitive function, and it pains me to see it happen to someone like Pratchett. He donated a large amount of money to Alzheimer’s research in the hopes that he could help others, but it was far too late to help himself.
Farewell, Sir Terry! You were an inspiration, and I will greatly miss the rush to put new Pratchett books on the shelves at my bookstore — and snag an extra one for myself!