So, I had a post all queued up and ready to publish about my approach to young adult graphic novel collection development. I’m proud of that post, and it’ll go up later next week, but it’s no longer time for that, because Terry Pratchett died today.
When I was fourteen I had an ill-advised and short relationship with a senior in my high school sci-fi/fantasy club that was mostly based on him teaching me (badly) how to play Magic: the Gathering and holding hands at the movie theater. Luckily, it didn’t last very long and didn’t leave me with any emotional scarring. What it DID leave me with, as he was the first person to introduce me to the books, was a world-altering appreciation for the words of Terry Pratchett.
The ex-boyfriend insisted that I read them “in order,” which lasted about as long as it took me to read The Color of Magic, The Light Fantastic, and Mort – at which point I immediately needed to read every book that Death made an appearance in. I picked up Feet of Clay because I liked the cover, and knew instantly that Commander Samuel Vimes was going to be a cornerstone character to me for the rest of my life (ditto Granny Ogg, and Tiffany Aching after I read The Wee Free Men for a class on YA literature).
It is impossible for me to quantify the impact that Terry Pratchett’s work has had on my life. What he did with language, with humor, with story and characters has informed everything I’ve written for the last nearly-fourteen years of my life. His collaboration with Neil Gaiman, Good Omens, is the apocalypse story I compare all other four horsemen stories to, now and for the rest of time. Sam Vimes, with his implacable sense of duty, caustic sense of humor, and steely steadfastness and pragmatism is who I aspire to be; Tiffany, delighting in her self-discovery, learning to fix the mistakes she makes, and never being embarrassed or ashamed by her missteps or progress is who I am now (after a lot of personal work, during which I was mostly Mort – well-intentioned but short-sighted and fumbling).
Pratchett had a singular way of writing characters that demonstrated a vast knowledge of human nature, and all of its myriad variations. Even the people (and dwarfs, and trolls, and werewolves, and orangutans, and psychopomps) we were supposed to root for could be mean, weak, cowardly, self-destructive, or a million other negative things – but we loved them anyway, because they were real. We loved Esme Weatherwax when she couldn’t get out of her own head, and we loved Rincewind when he was running as fast as he could to save his own skin, and we loved Death when he was being coldly rational; we could love them because in addition to all those things, they were fiercely loyal, viciously funny, members of a team and protectors of a magical world.
I will never be able to adequately express the way these books moved into my brain and changed my life. While books never die, and I will be able to revisit Carrot and Angua, the Lancre witches and the Librarian, the Patrician and his guild leaders and the wide, filthy, wonderful, horrifying cityscape of Ankh-Morpork whenever I want, I regret that there will never be new adventures for me to explore. I am saddened by the loss of possibility and the loss of magic that we face today.
I never met Terry Pratchett, so I can’t speak to his character and I won’t try. Instead, I’ll leave you with my thoughts, and link you to these retrospectives by people who did know him and can memorialize him personally in a way that I can’t.
I hope Death greeted you fondly, Sir Pratchett.
Terry Pratchett Dies: Twitter Pays Tribute (The Telegraph)