Obituaries are funny things. Little segments bookending a notable life with a few funny observations and facts that are immediately apparent to anyone who might know enough about the subject to want to read them. Often they start off with meaningless factoids, like the subject’s age (66) or the cause of death (natural causes).
But these things have always seemed insufficient. The tragedy of death isn’t that the person died, but that they stopped living, and those are not the same. Death, of course, isn’t cruel. He’s just very very good at his job.
The tragedy of Pratchett’s death isn’t that he and DEATH finally went to walk together, it’s that we must now walk without him.
If you haven’t read any of his works (though I cannot understand why not, after 30 years of consistent rave reviews, bestsellers, and a knighthood) I certainly urge you to go and do so at the earliest opportunity. I’m afraid I’m a fan, and so might be biased in my recommendation.
In fairness, it’s rare to find a reader who isn’t some form of fan.
His writing style was that of a warm chair at a fire, if moments like that could write. Though often described as comical, his books were often demonstrations of the true power of comedy as a force for good, breaking the window to the soul with the brick of wit and scampering with your fears. The brilliance with which he blended humor, one-line gags and intelligent, well devised plots was perhaps unique in the writing world today. While good writers make you want to be a reader, Pratchett was a great writer. He made you want to write too.
Perhaps most importantly, he wrote about community. While the loner anti-hero becomes an increasingly common trope, Pratchett chose instead to write about people trying to be good, trying to do right together. Though never afraid to deal with the darker parts of the human experience, his writing shows an undimmed optimism for humanity. How he managed to cram so much awareness, so much seriousness and so much thoughtful societal deconstruction into a world as flat as a disc balanced on four elephants as they travel through space on the back of a giant turtle might well be his greatest act of magic.
I’m reminded of a scene in his third novel, Equal Rites, in which an Incredibly powerful wizard creates, with great effort, a tiny model of the disc on which they live to amuse a small child. Pratchett did that and more with only a pen.
Towards the end, he battled both Alzheimer’s (which he referred to publicly as the “embuggerance”) and the law in pursuit of his “choice to die peacefully with medical help”. I mention this because it was a matter than was important to Pratchett, and though he died naturally, I do not believe he would want it to be forgotten. That he did this while continuing to write and publish is a testament to his incredible strength of will.
I cannot speak to the tragedy felt by his friends, his colleagues and his family. I cannot do justice to their loss. What I can say is that literature has lost one of its greatest masters since a bunch of monkeys got together and decided they needed some way to tell each other where the good fruit was.
Of course, it bears remembering that, in his own words “a man is not dead while his name is spoken”. Knowing the power of his books, he may outlast us all.
He is survived by his wife Lyn and his daughter, Rhianna.