Saturday, 14 March 2015

Bad News, I'm afraid...

On Thursday March 12th, 2015, I was at my computer, trying to write, when my brother called and said, "Have you heard the bad news?"
          "What?" I said. "What?"
          He said, "I've just heard - I'm afraid that Terry Pratchett has died."
          And that is bad news - for all lovers of Disc-World, for all lovers of writing.
          No more Disc-world books. No more Commander Vimes. No more Lady Sybil. No more Granny Weatherwax or Nanny Ogg.
Terry Pratchett
          It's not just Pratchett himself we have to mourn for - though we've lost an intelligent, compassionate, witty man of wide-ranging empathy and understanding, who raged against injustice and unfairness, and was able to make it a bed-rock of his writing.
          No, with Pratchett, a whole world dies - the Disc-World. From the crowded, edgy city of Ankh-Morpork, with its benevolent tyrant, its seething streets and its Unseen University of wizards, to the mountains of Lancre with its witches and pragmatic villagers, to forested Uberwald with its vampiric Countess, to the Counterweight Continent and the ancient land of Djelibaby.
          Pratchett's inventiveness couldn't be contained in one city, even one as populous and multicultural as Ankh-Morpork - he needed a whole world. And unlike most other fantasy worlds, Pratchett's was ordinary, in the best possible sense. Even his wizards, witches, werewolves, zombies, dwarfs, goblins, trolls and golems had ordinary lives to live.
          His was not a fantasy populated by warriors and mages - there were also blacksmiths, daughters-in-law, shop-keepers, policemen, psychos, farmers, journalists, con-men, fishermen, thieves... All human life was encapsulated, understood, sympathised with, made fun of.
          We have lost the Thieves' Guild and the Assassin's Guild, Captain Carrot and the ingenious but always discrete tribe of Igors.
          All these places and institutions, all these characters, showed us our own world through a slightly distorting mirror. He didn't write fantasy. He wrote reality with a twist.
          The series may well be continued by another writer, but the books can never be the same now the Arch-Wizard himself has gone...
           I shall be doing a lot of re-reading, I think...

          Of course, Master Pratchett had early-onset Alzheimer's, and had said that he wanted this country's laws to be changed, to allow people with terminal or incurable illnesses to choose when they died. Perhaps, instead of selfishly wishing for more books, we should try to be glad that he died, according to the Guardian, “with his cat sleeping on his bed [he was a famous cat-lover] surrounded by his family,” and that his decline into Alzheimer's is over.
          How I feel for his family. If I feel this sad, when I never met the man except through his writing, how much worse, how much much worse, it must be for them.

          For those who don't understand what Pratchett meant to his fans, here's a link to some of his quotes.

          And here's a link to an article in which Pratchett's friend, Neil Gaiman, contests the view that Pratchett was 'a merry elf.' He wasn't, Gaiman says, he was angry.
          This comes as no surprise to me. No one could encounter Sam Vimes and Granny Weatherwax - or Vetinari - or Death - and not realise the great fire of angry that was burning underneath them. A great deal of comedy is stoked by anger. See Mel Brooks' The Producers, for example. Much laughter is ridicule, and ridicule is an attack. Brooks himself said that one of the best weapons against thugs like the Nazis is laughter, which cuts them down to size.

          As one of the commentators, 'eastofthesun' says, below the line of Gaiman's article,
"The strength of TP's writing, to me, comes from the tension between his huge compassion and deep cynicism - two seeming opposite traits. And yes, that voice has become stronger over the years... but it's there in all his strongest characters, Vimes and Granny Weatherwax above all but also Death, Susan Sto Helit, Vetinari, Tiffany Aching...All these characters are so different, but that tension runs deep in all of them. The humour is what everyone talks about first, but the passion is what gives it power."
I've no idea who 'eastofthesun' is, but I agree entirely. Couldn't have put it better.

Goodbye, Terry Pratchett, and thank you so much.


Sue Bursztynski said...

A fine post, Susan. And says it beautifully. Yes, the great thing about his fantasy is that even the wizards are from ordinary families with ordinary lives and everyday concerns. There's that scene in Hogfather where the Wizards at Unseen University are reminiscing about their childhood Hogswatches and the fights their very normal middle or working class families had during that time. Certainly not something you see in the kind of fantasy other people write, with a lot of aristocrats and Chosen Ones. And the description of entire kingdoms that end up at war because of what someone said about Our Shirl at a wedding. He breaks it down beautifully and, by laughing at it, makes his serious points.

I'm certainly going to miss it and those memorable characters. I believe that his daughter had agreed to write on after he could no longer do it. But you're right, it just won't be the same. I suspect there will be another book, which will sell well because it's his universe, after all, and then no more.

Susan Price said...

So true, what you say, Sue. I used to love reading about his Kingdom of Lancre, where all those hard-working farmers and blacksmiths just wanted to get on with their day's work and raising their families, no matter what occult madness was going on around them - just like the majority of people in this world with its international politics and economics.
And it was a stroke of genius, I think, to put hard-headed, hones, decent Sam Vimes in the middle of stories about wizards, trolls, werewolves, elves, etc...

Joan Lennon said...

I think re-reading is a good tribute too, and he MUST have known how loved he was, but it is so sad.

Nick Green said...

I think Sir Terry proved the point all readers of quality fantasy know, which is that good fantasy IS reality and always has been, even if camouflaged in ways that the Dull of Soul cannot perceive. Similarly, he proved that great comic writing is also deadly serious and entirely sincere, and far more difficult to get right than nearly any other kind of writing. He is up there with Dickens.

Susan Price said...

You're so right, Nick. I should have clarified - when I said he wrote reality, not fantasy, I meant that he didn't write what critics of fantasy describe as 'fantasy.'

There's poor, good and best in every kind of writing - in 'literary fiction' too. The best fantasy has always been reality given a twist which makes it clearer to us - whether you talk of Pratchett, LeGuin, Wynne-Jones or Mary Nolan's Borrowers.

Nick Green said...

Exactamundo. ALL fiction is fantasy, through and through. No 24 hours of reality ever happened in a way remotely similar to how the most 'realistic' writer of fiction could describe it. To paraphrase that other comic great, Douglas Adams, 'there simply isn't a mirror big enough' to hold up to reality.
Interesting too to reflect that the very first fiction was fantasy, with gods and demons and magic. Did they see it as fantasy back then, I wonder? Or was that just their way of trying to comprehend the world?

madwippitt said...

Sad too, at his going, but happy that it was under his own steam, in his own home, with his family around and his cat there too. And Discworld and all it's marvellous characters hasn't really died, Sue ... they will be always there, springing to life every time you pick up one of the books and turn the pages. And Sir TP will be there too, speaking through them ... That's one of the joys of books.

Susan Price said...

Very true, Madwippit - and I'm revisiting Disc-World now, together with thousands of Pratchett fans worldwide. I'm in LORDS AND LADIES, with Perdita Nitt, King Verance II and the soon-to-be Queen Magrat.

And I've often wondered, Nick, how people who decry 'fantasy' manage, at the same time, to revere Midsummer Night's Dream, and Greek Myth. Do they think that Shakespeare and the Greeks (who I can't spell at this time in the morning) just 'didn't known any better' so they make allowances?

madwippitt said...

What is it about the label 'fantasy' that scares people I wonder?

Susan Price said...

Good question, MadW, and I can only take a guess at the answer. I think there are many people who think if they're not reading about what they call 'the real world' they're being soppy and childish.

But they make the mistake of thinking that spy-thrillers and Crime novels are 'realistic.' (Not that I've got anything against these genres, you understand - it's just that the demands of story-telling mean they are every bit as unrealistic as Ankh-Morpork, with its shop-keepers and pubs.)

After all, to be 'realistic' you would have to write a novel about someone getting up, going to work, working, coming home, having something to eat, watching TV and going to bed - for chapter after chapter, with the occasional bit about a night out, or a week's holiday. That's 'reality' for millions - not getting mixed up with spy-rings, or falling our with a serial-killer.

I think fantasy haters imagine 'fantasy' means something completely unrealistic, perhaps pink, sparkly and fluffy - or they think it's all Sword and Sorcery, with people saying 'thou' and 'unto' a lot.
I don't really get the antipathy to Fantasy or Science-Fiction - we don't refuse to read a novel because it's set in the world we see about us. We don't say, 'I won't read a novel with school-teachers or an aeroplane or a mobile phone in it.' We'll give it a go, if it seems well-written and interesting.