Thursday, 12 March 2015

The Late Great Sir Terry Pratchett

Fantasy novelist, humorist, and satirist Sir Terry Pratchett died today at the age of 66. He was best known for his "Discworld" series. In 2007 he was diagnosed with a rare form of early onset Alzheimer's disease,  posterior cortical atrophy (PCA). The cause of Sir Terry's death was a chest infection combined with the effects of Alzheimer's disease.

Terence David John Pratchett was born on April 28 1948 in the village of Penn, which is located near Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire. It was his grandmother who interested him in the works of H. G. Wells, Richard Crompton, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. As a lad he also developed an interest in science fiction, as well as astronomy. He attended  High Wycombe Technical High School in Buckinghamshire. His first short story,"The Hades Business", was published in the school paper when he was 13. He left school at age 17 to go to work for the Bucks Free Press in High Wycombe. He later worked for the Western Daily Press and the Bath Chronicle.

It was in 1971 that his first book, The Carpet People, was published. It was followed by The Dark Side of the Sun in 1976 and Strata in 1981. It was in 1983 that the first novel in the "Discworld" series, The Colour of Magic, was published. That same year he went to work for the Central Electricity Generating Board as a press officer. The first three Discworld novels (after The Colour of Magic, The Light Fantastic was published in 1986 and Equal Rites in 1987) proved successful enough that he was able to leave the Central Electricity Generating Board to take up writing full time. Ultimately the "Discworld" series and Sir Terry's other works would prove so popular that he became the most widely read British author until he was overtaken by J. K. Rowling. In the end forty "Discworld" novels would be published during Sir Terry Pratchett's lifetime with a final novel, The Shepherd's Crown, to be published this September.

Sir Terry Pratchett also wrote several works outside of his "Discworld" series. In 1989 the first book in the "Nome Trilogy", Truckers, was published. It was followed by Diggers and Wings in 1990. In 1992 he published the first book in the "Johnny Maxwell" trilogy, Only You Can Save Mankind. It was followed by Johnny and the Dead in 1993 and Johnny and the Bomb in 1996. With Stephen Baxter he wrote the "Long Earth" series, consisting of the books The Long Earth (2012), The Long War (2012), and The Long Mars (2014), with the book The Long Utopia to be published this June. He co-wrote the novel Good Omens with Neil Gaiman, which was published in 1990. He also wrote the books Nation (published in 2008) and Dodger (published in 2012).

Books in Sir Terry Pratchett's "Discworld" series have been adapted to television. Hogfather was adapted in 2006, followed by adaptations of  The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic in 2008, and Going Postal in 2010.  Wyrd Sisters and Soul Music were adapted as cel animation series in 1996. Truckers was adapted as a stop motion animation series in 1992. .Johnny and the Dead was adapted as series in 1995.A number of the "Discworld" books have been adapted as radio plays, and Steve Jackson games came out with a "Discworld" supplements for their Generic Universal RolePlaying System (GURPS). They were written by Sir Terry Pratchett and Phil Masters.

Sir Terry continued his childhood interest in astronomy and had his own observatory in his back garden. He was also interested in computers and was among the first authors to be active on the Internet. He was  fascinated by natural science as well. He was  trustee for the Orangutan Foundation UK. Following his diagnosis he played a large role in raising awareness for Alzheimer's disease.

Sir Terry was knighted by Her Majesty the Queen on February 18 2009 at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace. He took the accolade with his usual humour, saying afterwards, "You can't ask a fantasy writer not to want a knighthood. You know, for two pins I'd get myself a horse and a sword."

When The Colour of Magic was first published in 1983 the fantasy genre was largely dominated by imitators of either J. R. R. Tolkien or Robert E. Howard. In contrast the "Discworld" series was starkly original, liberally borrowing from the long history of fantasy literature while at the same time presenting readers with a world that was new and different from any in the genre before. With the "Discworld" series Sir Terry parodied many of the conventions of the genre, spoofing J. R. R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, and other classic fantasy writers. He was also able to use the series as a means to address contemporary issues in a way previous fantasy books had not. In the end Sir Terry Pratchett's blend of fantasy, humour, parody, and satire would become popular with audiences well beyond those who usually read fantasy. A very good case can be made that the "Discworld" series paved the way for such more recent fantasy writers such as J. K. Rowling and Eoin Colfer.

If news of Sir Terry Pratchett's death has been met with an outpouring of grief as only a few authors are, however, it was not simply because he was a great author. To his fans he was always very approachable and he always made time for them. Those who had the opportunity to meet him always spoke of his warmth and kindness. As might be expected he was known for his humour, which could be self deprecating at times. He was known to wear a t-shirt to conventions which read, "“Tolkien’s dead, JK Rowling said 'No,' Philip Pullman couldn’t make it. Hi. I’m Terry Pratchett.” In the end, however, Sir Terry was a substitute for no one. He was a most singular individual, a talented writer who remained approachable to his fans and always cared about them. If Sir Terry Pratchett is mourned by so many, it is perhaps because he was not simply a talented author, but a true gentleman as well.

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