Sir Terry Pratchett was probably my favourite writer. I actually wept when I heard he had died in March this year – and, for all that his demise was expected, the loss of such creative genius and sparklingly alive humour has been hard to contemplate.
I have all his novels – and each one has been read several times. I have a particular fondness, and fellow feeling, for the witches – and have always said that I want to be Granny Weatherwax (or Nanny Ogg!) when I grow up!
Let me start by saying that I bought two copies of Pratchett’s final book – out of respect, out of a sense of an important literary era passing and, I think, as a way of saying an emotional farewell to a great man. Let me add that I am glad I did buy, and quickly consume, the copy I am keeping – devouring its 300 odd pages in an afternoon.
But, for all that it was a lovely story, and contained clear traces of Terry Pratchett’s style, it made for sad reading (and not just because of the death of the author himself). It is haunting, a grey ghost of the sharp, scathing, hilarious Discworld spirit. He has lost the characters. I mean by this that he knew (possibly with help) WHO they were, but the memory of what delineated them, drove them, made them funny, had gone – and, because they were products of HIS mind, no one else could retrieve, flesh and clothe them.
Thus, although Granny Weatherwax’s death was a mournful event in the human sense, it wasn’t sad within the world of the novel because she was no longer recognisable as a character (a tragic metaphor for Terry Pratchett himself, I rather fear) – and DEATH (another absolute favourite of mine) had become Mr.Death, a verbose and smaller-capital-lettered version of the gnomic, cat-loving original.
For me, too much of the spark has gone for it to be a strictly enjoyable read. The gaps have been patched with too much dialogue in places, often overly sentimental, from characters whose words and thoughts simply do not fit the people they once were: Mustrum Ridcully, for example, or Magrat Garlick (now Queen of Lancre). Tiny echoes of their original fire are, at times, swamped by a treacly sentiment.
Now, one could make the point – and it would be a fair one, in a sense – that, in real life, people evolve constantly and their characters are not set in stone. However, Pratchett’s books have never been a study in psychological verity in this way – and his colourful and endearing creations (humans, trolls, dwarfs, goblins and so forth) have packed a punch precisely because their natures are so well-drawn and vividly painted. The Bursar, to give but one example, IS the Bursar – end of!
Discworld, for all the positives inherent in Tiffany Aching’s storyline, is a lost and dead world, the elephants metaphorically collapsed, Great A’Tuin swimming away into a cosmic ocean of forgetfulness. It is a world devoid of its magic (for all that elves and magical events occur aplenty), verbal dexterity and sardonic intelligence.
It is, of course, an amazing achievement that Pratchett managed to write the book at all, when one considers how advanced his form of Alzheimer’s was – and that is a testament to HIS indomitable will and spirit, and the support he had from family and helpers.
As a first novel, and had one not already known the characters, it would have been a very good start – but, for me, it does not entirely work, is, at times, little but a mournful echo of a once-vibrant tune.
Would Terry Pratchett himself mind my, at times negative, words? I like to think that he would not because surely a sign of great respect for a fellow writer is rigorous honesty, no matter how much you venerate him or her.
I respected him hugely and the world of books is a poorer, thinner place for his passing. I am glad that the this final book was published because, with Esme Weatherwax now in the ground, it is, in a very real sense, a long lament for Terry’s own moving on, accompanied by DEATH, along those black sands.
He was a one-off. So was his Discworld. We will not see their like again.