Death of a Universe

“As the message drained away Vimes stared at the opposite wall, in which the door now opened, after a cursory knock, to reveal the steward bearing that which is guaranteed to frighten away all nightmares, to wit, a cup of hot tea.*
* The sound of the gentle rattle of china cup on china saucer drives away all demons, a little-known fact.”

Sir Terry Pratchett departed this mortal realm a day or so ago.

I’ve added the quote above, from “Snuff”, one of his Discworld books, to excuse myself for writing this piece on my tea blog. But I would cheerfully have proceeded to do so anyway.

In 2008 we made the decision to change telecommunications providers. And as a result, spent 8 weeks without the internet at home. Now, I know you might think I should have a book deal as a result, talking about how immeasurably better my life was and how I grew closer to God or whatever, but it’s not the case. We has just sold a business, and we were looking for our next project. And as a result, I grew closer to two library shelves.

Here’s how it works. One hour’s free internet at McDonalds Reynella whilst nursing a peppermint tea at around 7am. If needs be, move on to McDonalds Noarlunga for another hour afterwards. head home for breakfast. Do stuff. Head down to the library mid afternoon for an hour’s free internet there, then if I really must, McDonald Seaford is the go in the evening.

I remember one Saturday when the library was closed sitting up against the wall using their wi-fi. I really had become a wi-fi freeloader.

At the library, the wi-fi had a habit of dropping out for 10 or 15 minutes, so what do you do? You browse, grab a book here or there. And I grabbed two books that were to set off a chain reaction: Robert Rankin’s “Raiders of The Lost Car Park” and Terry Pratchet’s “Wyrd Sisters”. So I didn’t find God. At least I don’t think so.

On nights such as these the gods, as has already been pointed out, play games other than chess with the fates of mortals and the thrones of kings. It is important to remember that they always cheat, right up to the end…” (Wyrd Sisters)

I can attest to having read all of Rankins books, and all of Pratchett’s Discworld series. And I doubt that any two writers have affected me more.

Not since my late teens when I fell under the spell of Philip K. Dick did I find myself so desperate to read more and more of an author (or two). All three in a class of their own, and the styles of all three I have plundered time and time again.

Whilst Dick tells me that the 50s and 60s (when he did most of his best work) were part of a different world, and Rankin talks of an underworld and a lost Victorian world, Pratchett created the most perfectly necessary world ever: Discworld.

Each and every Discworld novel is a masterpiece. It is written to hold a mirror up to our own lives, to use exaggeration and sarcasm. It brilliantly conceals all manner of truths in incredible fun. As an example, “Going Postal”. In it, the main character invents postage stamps and stamp collecting. It’s such a riot that you don’t realise it makes incredibly valid points about economics and the fact that currency (and stamps) are basically a construct of collective agreement with no intrinsic worth.

In 2007, Terry Pratchett was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, in one of the cruellest tricks ever played on humanity. He spent his last few years campaigning for research into dementia and also championing the right to die.

Mister Teatime had a truly brilliant mind, but it was brilliant like a fractured mirror, all marvellous facets and rainbows but, ultimately, also something that was broken. (Hogfather)

There are many characters that turn up again and again in Discworld books: Commander Vimes of the Nightwatch; the scheming Patrician; the wizard Rincewind; the Hogfather (basically Father Christmas as a pig), too many to name. All of them are recognisable, from the lowly returning characters such as dodgy merchant Dibbler to the very Gods of Creation themselves.

A few days ago, he got to meet his greatest creation. For me, and for many others I suspect, his best recurring character is Death.

Many people die in these books and Death is always there to collect them.

Death is a fascinating character. He never gets why people are unhappy to see him. After all, he’s not responsible for the fact they died, he’s just there to shepherd them to the next stage, according to their beliefs.

He asks questions of the people he meets . He wants to learn and grow. He has a granddaughter called Susan. He does his job. He is a brilliant personification of a non-person, a humanifying of our fear of all-too-human process.
In the books, when death speaks, he speaks all in capital letters. Pratchett Fans know and love those capital letters. When the Tweet announcing his death broke, every fan’s heart stopped. We all understood this:


Incredibly poignant. And yet we should remember that all his books are. When they are being silly, inventive, wild, fanciful, silly again, romantic, mystical, they are always underscored by poignancy. Discworld truly was, and is, a mirror that we should all glance into.

As a hack writer of this unimportant blog, I would never have taken the chances I have without his example. And importance is not important, the process is. The taking of the chance. I can’t think of another human activity where we really do stand on the shoulders of giants.

So thank you, Sir Terry Pratchett.

And of course, we all know who must have the final word.


6 thoughts on “Death of a Universe

  1. You know, I’m not a fan, but I’ve been handed copies of his books over the years & told, ‘You’ve gotta read this stuff…’ As if by drug-addled ne’er do wells, the legion of Pratchett devotees hallow his name & keep insisting my life’s just not quite the same without him (a See what I did there?)

    I must say, I respected his valiant work trying to secure Brits right to die. Often read about his ‘never say die’ attitude on the subject, as it were, and he seemed a man of principle.

    Not only is your tribute to him touching, but I think you negate the quality of your writing in a way that makes me want to reach through the screen & shake you. When Mildew died, I was devastated & I get the feeling this is similar for you.

    I’m truly sorry for you & all the other blubbering fools of Pratchett fans. Doesn’t mean I’m going to read the bloody stuff. Well, not yet anyway.

  2. I must confess that I’ve read only half of a Terry Pratchett book. “Good Omens” was a co-authorship with Neil Gaiman, so I only count his half. Many friends of mine were into his stuff throughout my high school years. I just never caught on.

    That said, I do relate to relying on a few mainstay authors with reliable output. Mike Resnick is mine. Once he goes, I don’t know if I’ll read at all.

  3. Don’t know the writers mentioned but I would imagine @peter does. @lahikmajoe‘s point about not giving yourself enough credit for your own style is a good one, but it is interesting that you mention who inspired you. But Ken, clearly Pratchett fans are not all fools at all, since counting @thedevotea among them proves you wrong.

  4. Robert–
    I just discovered the Association of Tea Bloggers FB page and your post was the first I saw. When I read the word “Vimes” I knew I was among friends. I have been a huge fan of Sir PTerry since my British pen pal told me I needed to read “The Colour of Magic.” As fate would have it I was at a book shop last Thursday buying a copy of “Raising Steam” when the bookseller told me that Terry had passed away–not big news here in the ‘States. Sir Terry was an amazing writer and, by all accounts, and amazing person. He will be missed. Thanks for your eloquent post!

  5. He will not be a small god, because he will be remembered by many. (inspired by his small gods book)

    Nice memoriam.

    For those who don’t feel like reading his books but who still wants to get a glimpse of his work there are a few nice TV-adaptations on DVD. For example the aforementioned ‘Going Postal’, ‘Wyrd Systers’ (animation) and ‘Hogfather’ are nice. Not at the level of his books, but still nice.

  6. I never read any of his books (but I played a computer RPG inspired by his work) but I didn’t know he had died.

    Nice tribute.

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