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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Sir Terry Pratchett has died

by John MacBeath Watkins

Sir Terry Pratchett, my favorite living author since I discovered him about a quarter century ago, has died, surrounded by his family and with his cat asleep on the bed with him.

I had hoped he'd live as long as P.G. Wodehouse and be as productive into his 90s, but earlier today his Twitter account carried the words of one of his most famous characters, Death:

"AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER."

 Death always spoke in capital letters in Pratchett's Discworld novels, a flat world riding on the backs of four huge elephants riding on the back of a giant turtle. His books were funny and wise. He understood that the best ideas are often so simple, most people don't notice them, like, don't treat people like things, and first sight -- accurately seeing what's in front of you -- is more important than second sight, and rarer.

As a bookseller, I'm a devotee of one of his theories, that since knowledge = power, and power = energy, energy = matter, when you put enough knowledge together in the form of lots of books, what you have is a sort of genteel black hole, an entry into another kind of space.

You might think someone with such wild ideas would have an idiosyncratic writing style, but Pratchett, a former journalist, had a writing style that didn't get in the way of the story, a thing remarkably difficult to achieve.

I saw him speak several times at events set up by the University Bookstore. He was gentle, funny, and humble. One of my friends at the U bookstore was involved in Pratchett's last appearance here, when he was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. My friend, Brad Craft, was worried that things would go horribly wrong, but Sir Terry's fans were gentle and loving. He had created a world much like himself, and attracted people who delighted in visiting it.

Pratchett shared with Wodehouse the unusual talent to leave me feeling better about life when I'd read one of his books. There is a saying in Hollywood, that death is easy, comedy is hard; yet we don't regard comedy writers as being great writers, preferring writers who deal in tragedy. Pratchett's books are a step above most of the "serious" novels produced during his career.

By the way, Neil Gaiman, who wrote Good Omens with Sir Terry, says that it was anger at unfairness that drove Pratchett to write so well and so much.

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