Terry Pratchett – a man who made my life better – and still does

Terry Pratchett

I started reading Terry Pratchett in 1990 and I’ve never stopped. By then he’d published eight Discworld books which I had completely ignored because of the garish covers. I was put off by the style. Pratchett knew style was important, in “Lords and Ladies” he wrote, “If cats looked like frogs we’d realize what nasty, cruel little bastards they are. Style. That’s what people remember.” Fortunately, someone bought me “Colour Of Magic” and “Light Fantastic” for Christmas (I still don’t know if they thought I was childish enough for the books or they knew the books were adult enough for me). It turned out that books were original and witty and packed with one-liners that took the piss out of people who did things like judging books by their covers.

The following year, I consumed the next six books, meeting Granny Weatherwax and Sam Vimes for the first time and becoming totally hooked. With the fervor of a new convert, I tried, often unsuccessfully, to hook everyone else:

“Yes I know the covers are awful but that’s part of the joke.”
“Yes there are witches in pointy hats who ride broomsticks but they use ‘headology’ instead of magic. It’s actually very clever.”
“No, it’s not like ‘Lord Of The Rings’, it’s witty and insightful and politically subversive and… oh do you have to leave already?”

After a while I calmed down and realized that there were people who “got” Terry Pratchett, like software engineers and consultants and people who had subscriptions to “2000 AD” and kept every copy in an acid-free sleeve, and then there were all the other people who were so wrapped up in reality that they never took the time to look at it and laugh.

A hardback copy of the latest Terry Pratchett book became my regular and much-anticipated Christmas gift. As the years passed, the books became much more than entertainment to me. They led me to understand that I was not alone in my views on God and Death (atheist and I’ll deal with it when it gets here), social justice and personal responsibility (someone should stop them doing that. Damn does that mean I have to do it?), and rich versus poor (the rich will always win but we should never make it easy).

Pratchett gave me characters that I could admire and root for.

Tiffany Aching who taught me that growing up takes courage but should be done anyway and showed me how to use First Sight to see what’s really there, rather than what I’d hoped to find.

Granny Weatherwax who showed me the power of Headology to use people’s expectations to get them to do the unexpected.

Sam Vimes who showed me just how far absolute bloody-mindedness will carry you when the big battalions are on the other bugger’s side.

When I heard that Terry Pratchett was dead, I piled up his books, a very BIG pile, and remembered the pleasure and the stimulating thoughts they’d brought me.

All of them mean something to me but the ones that mean the most are:


Terry Pratchett collage

“I Shall Wear Midnight” the final Tiffany Aching book which made my heart ache.

“Night Watch” which reminded me why the struggle against abusive power, no matter how doomed, is essential to human dignity.

“Small Gods” with gods kept in existence only by the prayers of the faithful, which is the most plausible explanation of gods I’ve ever heard.

“Going Postal” which reminded me of every difficult change I’ve ever tried to drive through an organization and gave me hope that change might be possible.

I think that Terry Pratchett’s books are a little like mirrors, we see in them what we bring to them. They are also a lot like magic; wild, unpredictable and life-changing.

Terry Pratchett is dead. He won’t write any more books. I feel I will be the poorer for that.

Terry Pratchett understood that books are a way in which we talk with the dead. I never met him when he was alive but I feel I talked with him often, when his books were inside my head. I will continue to talk with him now that he’s dead.

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