“DON’T THINK OF THIS AS DYING. JUST THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH.” – Death, Good Omens
Yesterday, eight years after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Sir Terry Pratchett, one of the funniest and smartest authors of fantasy fiction, died at his home surrounded by his family, his cat sleeping beside him on the bed. The outpouring of tributes for Sir Terry in the last twenty-four hours only serves as a reminder that this man, this wonderfully compassionate and often hilarious man, was regarded so highly amongst both his fans and the literary community.
When Pratchett was diagnosed with posterior cortical atrophy, a rare variant of Alzheimer’s disease affecting vision, back in 2007, he didn’t simply accept it; he went on to become one of the leading campaigners for greater research funding, as well as making a personal donation of $1 million to Alzheimer’s Research UK. Subsequently, he became a patron for the organisation, making countless media appearances to highlight the need for further investment in dementia research.
Pratchett, a hero of mine since the first time I picked up a copy of The Colour of Magic as a teenager, was knighted for services to literature in 2009, around the same time he publically declared his wish to die by assisted suicide before his disease rendered him unable to make such a crucial decision. And yet, despite all of this, Pratchett continued to campaign, to raise money, and to write like he had never written before.
In the last ten years, much to the delight of his fans, Pratchett’s output has been outstanding, with half a dozen Discworld novels and The Long Earth series of books co-authored by Stephen Baxter all seeing release, all written after the terrible diagnosis that would have mentally crippled most people. This was a man on a mission, a man who referred to his disease as an ‘embuggeration’, as if it were nothing more than an annoying ingrown toenail or a knuckle wart.
When he could have retired, relaxed a little, Pratchett did the complete opposite. He became an advocate for the right to die; the 2011 one-off documentary Choosing to Die was one of the most heartwrenching and yet enriching hour-long programmes ever broadcast. Like Terry, these were people taking control of their own destiny while they still retained the ability to do so. And if that wasn’t enough, Pratchett continued to raise awareness for the plight of the orang-utans, his love for which stemmed from one of his most beloved Discworld characters, The Librarian.
Though I never had the pleasure of meeting Sir Terry, I grew up with him, I accompanied his characters through many adventures, some of which were hilarious while others were starkly poignant. He wasn’t just a comedy novelist; his work, though often satirical, had a purpose. The Discworld series was peppered with morals that could quite easily be translated and utilised in our own very real, less entertaining world. Pratchett had a clever way of exploring race, class, and society, alluding to current events when necessary, without you even realising he was doing it. Nine times out of ten you were too busy rolling around on the floor to even notice these subtle truths.
When the news of his death broke yesterday, I have no trouble admitting that it hit me pretty hard. And yet remember, I have never been in the man’s presence. There are millions of fans across the world right now in mourning, even though Pratchett himself wouldn’t want it that way.
A line of dialogue from Reaper Man suggests that, “No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away.” With that in mind, I think it’s safe to say that Sir Terry Pratchett will live on forever.