Monday, 15 June 2015

Terry Pratchett: Neither gone nor forgotten

Hello. My name's Luke Kemp, or at least that's what my parents tell me. Through what I can only presume is a series of mistakes similar to those leading to Mr Bean vandalising Whistler's Mother, I have been allowed to contribute a story to this upcoming anthology. Remember, 100% of profits go to Alzheimer's Research UK – so if you buy less than three copies, you are a bad person.
I'm extremely fortunate, in that I have thus far not had somebody I love suffer Alzheimer's Disease (at least, not officially diagnosed). Statistically however I almost certainly will in the future. Perhaps that somebody will even be me. It already feels wonderful to know that I will, in however large or small a way, be a part of something that contributes funding towards understanding this condition which steals so much of what makes us visibly human. I immediately confess that I do not know enough about Alzheimer's to talk at length about it without feeling like a fraud. Sir Terry Pratchett and his work, though? Like any fan, I am arrogant enough to have opinions. More accurately, Opinions, with a capital 'pretend I know what I'm talking about'. And here they are.
I remember, a year or two ago, idly looking through a list of Terry Pratchett books and being shocked to discover that I had read virtually all of them. More specifically I was surprised to find that I had read every single Discworld novel released up to that point. I haven't read every single one in sequence (like a great many other people – right?), but I have read them all at least once at some point. Discworld books just sort of drifted into my life; but once they were there, they weren't so much a part of the furniture as the steel beams that stopped the walls from falling down in my imaginary library. Finding a Discworld book I didn't own and not buying it was unthinkable.
It's not fair (or accurate) to reduce Pratchett's work to one series of books, even if they are his best known and most numerous. For example, Good Omens – co-written with Neil Gaiman – is one of the greatest books ever, and everybody should be forced to read it at least once. The Long Earth books, another collaboration (this time with Stephen Baxter), are also absolutely brilliant and very, very different from his most popular solo outings. Sir Terry himself went on record, more than once, as saying that he believed Nation to be the best book he'd ever written or would ever write. It is indeed an amazing book. Nation has imagination tinged with pain; rage flavoured with fear; despair sprinkled with love. On another level it can be considered an atheistic anthem, and – intentionally or otherwise – can be used to put all of his other work into context to some extent. Nonetheless, it is the Discworld which is Pratchett's greatest achievement.
Note that I say it is the Discworld which is his greatest achievement. Not a particular Discworld book, or the Discworld series; the Discworld itself. In every single book, on every single page, it is a real world in a real universe populated by real people. Okay, so sometimes the people are made of stone or turn into animals or are older than the human mind can conceive, but the reader never doubts that they exist. This is because – by every definition but the one they teach in schools – they do exist.
I miss Rincewind. I admire Harry King, but I'd want to stay on the right side of him (not too close, though). I'd love to have a tour of Unseen University, so long as I was never more than three paces away from something sturdy to hide behind. I've walked countless miles along the surface of the Discworld, sitting somewhere comfy for every step. It's a real place that's better than reality; it can give you untold pleasure, but is incapable of giving you pain.
Sir Terry Pratchett the frail human being has passed away. Terry Pratchett the author is immortal. He talks to thousands – perhaps millions – of people every day, in more countries than you or I could name in twenty minutes without an Atlas. He tells people that, hey, it's not so bad. He makes people laugh. He makes people cry. He teaches people things they never knew they wanted to know. He takes people on mesmerising journeys through fantastical lands, lands that he created. He tells people that maybe – just maybe – they, too, can send heartwarming ripples across the world with nothing more than a human mind and a keyboard.

Terry Pratchett isn't dead. He's just reached the point where people have finally stopped asking him to sign things.