by Doctor Science
Dammit. Terry Pratchett, one of the greatest writers of my lifetime, just died. Age 66, of early-onset Alzheimer's.
AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER.— Terry Pratchett (@terryandrob) March 12, 2015
Terry took Death's arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night.— Terry Pratchett (@terryandrob) March 12, 2015
The End.— Terry Pratchett (@terryandrob) March 12, 2015
If Nobel Prizes for Literature were actually awarded for the most outstanding work in an ideal direction, and if "ideal direction" meant works of ideas, world-building, and morality, Terry Pratchett would have been a leading contender (Ursula LeGuin would be another). But that's not how the Nobels are really chosen.
pTerry* wrote fantasy -- wacky fantasy, with jokes and magic and footnotes and all mod cons -- but his central concerns were always philosophical: how should we live, both as individuals and socially? how is the universe constructed? how should we die? and what is the green wobbly bit, really?** Everything he wrote was Ha Ha Only Serious***.
I'm trying to think what I'd say to people who've never read Pratchett and are wondering where to start. Of the non-Discworld books, Good Omens is the clear choice, though I think Nation is also frakkin' brilliant. In non-Discworld for younger readers, I really love The Bromeliad, which covers most of pTerry's favorite themes in miniature, as it were.
Most of pTerry's writing was set on Discworld:
which is flat and rides on the back of four giant elephants who stand on the shell of the enormous star turtle Great A'Tuin, and which is bounded by a waterfall that cascades endlessly into space.The Discworld books don't form a single linear narrative; there's a reading order guide:
Scientists have calculated that the chance of anything so patently absurd actually existing are millions to one. But magicians have calculated that million-to-one chances crop up nine times out of ten.****
but I kind of disagree about the "starter novels". I find that Wyrd Sisters is the best single "starter", because it's got enough Hamlet & Macbeth in it to orient people who are new to the series -- and the witches are in fine form, much better than in Equal Rites. I would give someone Guards, Guards! next, then Mort -- though there's a lot to be said for writing order, which moves you around between storylines to fill up the world.
I think I'll be re-reading some of the Death novels over the next week -- Reaper Man seems like a particularly fitting choice.
In the Ramtops village where they dance the real Morris dance, for example, they believe that no-one is finally dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away -- until the clock he wound up winds down, until the wine she made has finished its ferment, until the crop they planted is harvested. The span of someone's life, they say, is only the core of their actual existence.
In the village in the Ramtops where they understand what the Morris dance is all about, they dance it just once, at dawn, on the first day of spring. They don't dance it after that, all through the summer. After all, what would be the point? What use would it be?Noli Timere Messorum.*****
But on a certain day when the nights are drawing in, the dancers leave work early and take, from attics and cupboards, the other costume, the black one, and the other bells. And they go by separate ways to a valley among the leafless trees. They don't speak. There is no music. It's very hard to imagine what kind there could be.
The bells don't ring. They're made of octiron, a magic metal. But they're not, precisely, silent bells. Silence is merely the absence of noise. They make the opposite of noise, a sort of heavily textured silence.
And in the cold afternoon, as the light drains from the sky, among the frosty leaves and in the damp air, they dance the other Morris. Because of the balance of things.
You've got to dance both, they say. Otherwise you can't dance either.
* A nickname that started on Usenet after Pyramids was published. After Good Omens came out, pTerry's friend and collaborator Neil Gaiman was often called gNeil.
** Gall bladder or immortal soul? YOU BE THE JUDGE.
*** "For further enlightenment on this subject, consult any Zen master" -- that would be the old guy with the broom.
**** quote from Mort.
***** The motto on Sir Terry's Coat of Arms: Don't Fear the Reaper.