I lost a friend last month. It may seem deceptive and overly dramatic to write that about someone who, admittedly, I never met and only once saw in the flesh but it feels true.
I’ve left a little time before writing about Sir Terry Pratchett. There was so much written about him so soon after his passing and I felt that I had little to add. I genuinely had a lump in my throat when I heard the news; and hence my opening declaration.
Consider our friends. Over the years, our true friends are the ones to whom we turn for support and comfort in times of need. I can still remember reading “Wyrd Sisters” whilst feeling ill and alone in my first year at university and being so cheered that I ended up feeling grateful for the opportunity that being ill had afforded me. I still turn to his books now when I’m poorly, or shattered. The humour, the compassion are salves to my soul.
Our friends know us. Pratchett’s characters are our dear friends and the supporting casts of our lives writ large. His ear for dialogue, his grasp of the inner dilemmas that plague us, his wry appreciation of the absurdity of life – he knew us all.
Our friends know how to make us laugh. Strictly for the fans – remember the description of Windle Poons’ wheelchair? A series of wry chuckles, mounting to the giggles ended with me reading:”There was a huge, oilskin hood that could be erected in a matter of hours to protect its occupant from showers, storms and, probably, meteor strikes and falling buildings…” and laughing so much on a train to Cambridge once that I feared my fellow passengers might attempt a medical intervention.
Our friends can always teach us something, always know how to make us think. I’ve just watched “Facing Extinction“, in which he revisits Borneo after eighteen years to see how attempts to save the orang-utan are going. If I have to say ‘spoiler alert’ before telling you that the news is less than stellar, you really need to get your head above the parapet more often. Of course, I knew about the plight of the orang-utan, and so many other endangered species and about the effect that the scale of palm oil production is having on the world. My wise friend, though, had a gift for making these things more real to me.
Our true friends can always make us smile, we always look forward to the next time they’ll walk into our lives. I read the last Discworld novel last week, a bittersweet experience, and I know that although I can and will re-read so much of his work, that there will be no more and it makes me sad. I wanted to avoid writing a variation on his obituary, and going on about him being more than “just” a genre writer but I have to add this: if you’ve not tried reading one of his novels, do give it a go. Yes, if you’re unfamiliar with the tropes of fantasy fiction then some of the humour will be lost on you but the warmth and the wit will still shine through. “Guards! Guards!” is laced with so many great gags from so many genres and still, at its heart, a tightly-plotted mystery that you could hate The Hobbit (I do) and still love it. And take a look at the damage that’s being done to the rain forests, look into the eyes of an orang-utan and ask yourself if we couldn’t all do a little more to keep alive those things in the world that are truly magical.
Rest in peace, Sir Terry.