I’m not sure I do mourn Sir Terry Pratchett

For what made him Sir Pterry was, I think, already gone.

Sir Terry Pratchett, who has died aged 66, was Britain’s best-selling novelist of the 1990s. His immaculately written, wildly imaginative brand of comic fantasy breathed new life into a largely forgotten form of humorous writing and enabled him to connect with readers not usually attracted to the science fiction and fantasy genres.

A truly great writer. The Truth is the best newspaper satire since Scoop (and is possibly better) and Making Money gets the economics so right it’s actually painful. Maurice is such a good retelling of the Pied Piper of Hamelin that I was shouting with joy at some parts of it.

However, it’s very definitely true that the last few books really were not up to standard. As someone who currently writes for a living (without that style, of course, without that competence even) I can tell you that typing something, seeing it come out on the screeen, is very different indeed from dictating something. The way that the jokes, the connections, link themselves is very different when you’ve got those words in front of you. And that was very much part of the joy of Sir Pterry’s writing. The complexity of the linkages within the story and the jokes.

His degenerative brain disease meant that the last few (I’m not sure quite marked the gap but Making Steam you can see what the book could have been but wasn’t, in a way that Unseen Academicals was) were dictated. And it’s very noticeable that they’re just not layered into that complexity.

Hmm, here we have evidence of why I’m not a great writer because I’m not explaining it all that well, am I?

The passing of Terry Pratchett is of course sad, as is the passing of anyone before “their time”. The passing of Sir Pterry happened, I am afraid to say, a few years back.

I have had so much joy in reading those books (and suffered bitter pangs of jealousy at not being able to do it, too) that I am entirely delighted to say that my life has been made better by his existence.

Vale, but the passing happened before the death.

42 thoughts on “I’m not sure I do mourn Sir Terry Pratchett”

  1. My son adores the books but I have always looked at them and thought they are for teenagers. Maybe I will have a go now.

  2. Some years ago, Terry was touring the east midlands bookshops signing books. My teenaged sons, avid Pratchett groupies, spent hours, and a bottle of my rum, concocting a banana daiquiri, which was duly put in a thermos with plenty of ice and taken off to the event. While waiting in the queue to see the great man, they mentioned to the stewards that they had an offering for Terry. Word was passed up the chain. Word was passed back down the chain and my sons were duly ushered in to see Pratchett in his pomp. It is much to his credit that Terry drank their offering without a murmur and thanked them for their efforts. The signed book has pride of place in the family bookcase.

  3. Tim, in your own way and in this genre (dare we call knock ’em out blogs a genre?) you are a great writer. That’s why I’m here.

  4. I made a deliberate choice NOT to read the last few books, after buying every new edition for years.

    Glad (and also sorry, so very much sorrier than I could express) to hear that proved to be a wise choice.

  5. I’ve read a fair few of his books and thought they were quite good. But not as good as they’re generally made out to be. The characters get a bit tiresome after a while, and the humour is never quite funny enough. I thought Pyramids was really good, though. But generally what strikes me when reading them is the dogged determination he has to keep churning out the same average-quality material over and over.

  6. @Cal

    Oh for God’s sake. This is an opportunity for people to express their sadness at his death and their joy at his life and work. Let us have a bit of time, eh?

  7. I have only read the first 5.5 of his Discworld books: loved the first two (which I am told are quite different from the rest), enjoyed the next 3, but tried several times to finish Wyrd Sisters without success. I’ll probably push on through because I am reliably informed some of his best comes later, and I do really enjoy most of his stuff.

    I think what people forget is even the very best writers have dips in form. Even The Lord of the Rings contains some highly questionable parts, and greats like Chandler, Hammett, and Wodehouse wrote stuff which wasn’t on a par with their normal lofty standards. I’m sure somewhere there is a Mozart concerto which sounds like a row of dustbins being kicked down a flight of stairs.

    Regarding Pratchett, I am glad that he produced so many books: we’re not left wondering what other greats he might have written, we probably got his lifetime’s work before he passed.


    It’s funny how everyone has a different interpretation of Peak Discworld. I’d say 6 through 8, and it started going downhill as early as #10. I never made it past 12.

  9. I’m not sure I’d disagree with that idea of peak Discworld. with a proviso though: some of the later stuff was smply great novels which happened to take place in Discworld.

  10. It is a sad loss, but I agree that at least some of the later books were rather variable. I’ve always thought that the best crafted were “Thief of time” and “Hogfather”. “Unseen Academicals” was, just IMHO perhaps the worst.

    If nothing else, Pratchett’s personification of Death will, as it were, live on.

  11. bloke (not) in spain

    When I got my hands on the latest Pratchett, I’d read it quickly for the story. Then immediately again, to pick up on the bits missed first time around. By the eighth re-reading, with the story firmly committed to memory, it’s writing one starts to enjoy. And, from then on, it just gets better & better.

  12. The three things that have made me laugh most when I read them, out loud and uncontrollably, were Wodehouse’s scene where Baxter the secretary thinks he has found a corpse, Theodore’s account of the Corfu opera in Durrell, and Sir Terry’s “I can do next Tuesday” from Wyrd Sisters.

    The awkward thing was that I was on an aeroplane when I read Terry’s.

  13. Granny Weatherwax, Sam Vines, Rincewind, the Luggage, the Librarian, Death, Carrott, Nobby Nobbs, the Patrician, Cohen the Barbarian, Om … the list of stand-out characters goes and on.

    Sir Terry’s inventiveness was genuinely awesome – I can still remember a little side comment about a dyslexic wizard who cursed someone so that everything he touched turned to Glod. Glod happened to be the name of a dwarf in the next village.

  14. >Oh for God’s sake. This is an opportunity for people to express their sadness at his death and their joy at his life and work. Let us have a bit of time, eh?

    I’m not stopping you from doing that. But sometimes reputations get over-burnished immediately after a death, so I’m just providing a bit of balance (it’s a blog, after all, not his personal memorial service).

    Still, a good man and the world would be poorer without his work.

  15. The three things that have made me laugh most when I read them, out loud and uncontrollably, were Wodehouse’s scene

    I’ve lost count of how many Wodehouse scenes make me laugh out loud. Pratchett runs him close, though.

  16. His form was always variable: the first two were only really good till they paled into insignificance when he wrote most of the rest, Soul Music and Reaper Man weren’t very good, Unseen Academicals was awful, but the rest was one of the greatest bodies of work in the English language. Small Gods may be one of the best things ever written about religion. What’s odd is that the Alzheimer’s certainly degraded his writing abilities when it came to Discworld, but not in general: Dodger is simply superb, and had my mother and mother-in-law, neither of them Pratchett fans, chatting for ages about how damn good it was. Nation was excellent, too. I think that Discworld had become such an enormously complex world to write about that even a man capable of writing Dodger couldn’t handle it any more.

    Raising Steam was interesting. Very different to the other books in that it stood back and drew the big picture, without getting as involved in the day-to-day details of the story. I think Pratchett had realised that it was the details he couldn’t do so well any more, so played to his remaining strength. It also very clearly read as the last one. The last few paragraphs made it clear that he wasn’t going to write another. I was very sad then.

    Never met him, but I did once see Iain Banks give a talk and Q&A, and he joked about how frustrating it was knowing Pratchett: he’d call him on the phone to discuss some half-formed idea and, every time, Terry would ramble on for several paragraphs about the details of the same idea which he’d already had but fleshed out with far more detail than Iain had managed.

    One of my favourite laugh-out-loud moments was the Auditors trying to cope with having human bodies in Thief Of Time.

    “Cheese? What is cheese?”
    “It is rotted bovine lactation.”

    Cal, if you can’t see it, that’s your loss, not his inability. Average-quality material? With jokes in four languages, including Latin?

  17. Great man, and a sad day. I haven’t read any for ages truth be told (somehow once the internet arrived I basically abandoned reading fiction altogether). His works have given pleasure to millions. A very sad loss.

    I have to admit though that the only Discworld character I never liked reading about was Rincewind. I think my favourites were probably the City Watch. And Small Gods is superb.

  18. I think it was Small Gods that I really liked, rather than Pyramids (it’s a long time since I read any Pratchett). The one that was about religion, anyway.

  19. Sir Terry made no pretence about his dislike of soccer, recounting with some pride how he never reported on Saturady afternoon football. I wonder if he wrote “Unseen’ as some sort of challenge?

  20. I haven’t read any of his books but keep thinking I ought to.

    I haven’t read anything by J K Rowling either but think I’d rather not.

  21. Rowling’s are childrens’ books. Pratchett had that rare talent of writing books that can be read by persons of any age. The only demographic is “people who like a good read”.

  22. In fact, I can’t think of a single book which wouldn’t be improved by the addition of a talking, intelligent, cynical small dog. Imagine the bother which could have been avoided if one was in the koran, for example.

  23. AndyC, if you’re thinking of reading some JK Rowling for the first time, can I suggest that you read some Diana Wynne Jones first? Charmed Life and The Lives of Christopher Chant beat Harry Potter all hollow, and her other books are as good.

  24. I will certainly miss his writing, though I think Nightwatch and Feet of Clay take some beating. It helps if you can get around the allusions in some of the names, so you get the oblique reference to ‘Men in Black’ with the History Monks of Oi Dong, ‘no such valley’, the ‘men in saffron’

  25. @Cal

    Too true. Scrappy Doo was an abomination. What was it supposed to be? An appeal to younger viewers? On a kids’ cartoon?

    A bit like Wesley Crusher in Star Trek Next generation. Stupid kid on a star ship.

  26. Wynne Jones is SO much better than Rowling. Also, if you fancy a school for wizards, read Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard Of Earthsea. Rowling’s very good at writing stories that translate well to special effects blockbusters, but basically a shite writer when it comes to prose, plot, etc.

    Scrappy Doo was not cynical.

    Gaspode the Wonder Dog was the dog’s name. Gaspode. Pratchett had a real gift for names. I think my favourite was Mr Seldom Bucket.

  27. Scrappy was introduced to prolong the run of Scooby Doo since ratings were falling and it faced cancellation. Mark Evanier, the man to blame for creating Scrappy Doo, has written extensively (and somewhat apologetically) about it, available on an internet near you.

  28. Talking childrens’ fantasy, I as a child really loved E Nesbitt’s stuff (The Phoenix And The Carpet, etc). The BBC had a run of massacring them for a Sunday tea time audience, with their house style of dull, stagey, careless production and inadequate budgets.

  29. @ Ian B “Scrappy was introduced to prolong the run of Scooby Doo since ratings were falling and it faced cancellation”

    How long before a cartoon nephew of Murphy makes an appearance on Murphy’s blog?

  30. My wife’s a librarian, and used to have the job of assessing new children’s books to decide whether to buy them for the library authority. She’d skim some, read others properly, and so on.

    One day she had more books on approval than she cared to read, so she passed me the first Harry Potter to read on my commute. I said not to bother with it, on the grounds that it was OK but run of the mill and there were plenty of similar or better ones out there. So she didn’t order any copies.

    A couple of years later it all took off… 😀

  31. S2,

    “Rowling’s very good at writing stories that translate well to special effects blockbusters, but basically a shite writer when it comes to prose, plot, etc.”

    I don’t even think they translate well as films. Plot, character motivation, the use of magic once (for no good reason), the terrible use in at least 4 of the stories of Deus Ex Machina (there’s foreshadowing of 1, but it’s ham-fisted). What’s the point of Ron Weasley? Other than a chess game in film 1, he’s just a liability. You could drop him and the stories would still work.

  32. Stig,

    Well, yes, hence special-effects blockbusters: the flashing lights distract from the writing. But, you know, a Quidditch match really does look great on screen. Even if the rules MAKE NO SENSE.

  33. bloke (not) in spain

    S’pose no-one’s noticed Rowling wrote kid’s books?. That rather a lot of kids implored to be bought them? That the films have made rather a lot of money? Much of it from kids wanting to watch them?
    No. Course not. We don’t do markets here, do we?

  34. So Much for Subtlety

    I mourn Terry Pratchett. I agree the author died a while ago, but the man was more than a writer. He was a husband, a father, a neighbour. Even with general degeneration, he was still a human being who loved and was loved.

    It is sad. I admit it is sad in a fake way as I did not know him and have no real connection to him. But even so.

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