In the past year and a half, I lost too many loved ones. Today’s news of the very untimely death of Sir Terry Pratchett, one of my all-time favorite authors, made me re-live those losses and cry for a person I barely knew. Or, did I?
My first introduction to Sir Terry’s works was nearly accidental. Back in late nineties, I — at the time an aspiring fantasy author — decided to attend an author’s event at Vroman’s bookstore in Pasadena, to see a bestselling author with my own eyes. Terry Pratchett.
Waiting for his appearance, I picked up one of his books from a stand, attracted by the promise of witches and elves. I opened it on a random page near the beginning and read one phrase: “You could bounce rocks off her pride.” Those of you familiar with Sir Terry’s Discworld series may recognize the description of young Esme Weatherwax in a passing scene from “Lords and Ladies”. I knew, then and there, that I was going to read this book. Not the best start to his works, since this is probably one of the few Discworld books that cannot be read as a stand-alone, but it was worth it.
When Terry Practhett finally appeared, I was instantly mesmerized. He electrified the room. It didn’t really matter what he said, but just listening to this man, with a great sense of humor, and an amazing command of words, felt fascinating. He told many stories, and the audience just listened, and laughed, and no one wanted to stop. He held a question and answer session at the end, and I asked him about his favorite book in the Discworld series. He seemed surprised by the question, but eventually said that while he would find it difficult to pick a book, he could name his favorite characters, ones that he can relate to the most and write effortlessly about: Captain/Commander Vimes and Granny Weatherwax. These names meant nothing to me then, but I remembered what he said, and it made perfect sense to me once I read his books. These became my favorite characters too.
That day in Vroman’s, I bought a paperback of “Lord and Ladies” and had him sign it. By now, more than fifteen years later, I own a nearly full collection of his books, all in hardcover, most of them with his signature, some of them personalized.
Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels carried me through the most difficult times in my life. They became my refuge, my guide to what writing should be like. Every new book by Terry Pratchett was a major event to me, I bought them all the moment came out and devoured them right away. I hunted for rare hardcover editions and treasured them, something I don’t typically do. I knew that I was — by far– not the only one.
About ten years after first seeing him in Pasadena, I moved to Philadelphia, and for a while, before my family could follow me, I felt lonely and out of place. And then, I heard that his upcoming tour will include a meeting with his fans at the Free Library of Philadelphia. I came, by then with a sizeable stack of hardcovers, and got them all signed. I also dared to bring a gift — a small jar of caviar, to commemorate Nanny Ogg’s dinner with Casanunda and her “fishy jam”. Terry Pratchett accepted it, even though I felt too shy to articulate adequately why I brought it to him — or, to even tell him how much I enjoyed his work. I spoke to him for all of thirty seconds, but this was the meeting that etched in my memory, one that, among other things, made me feel at home in my new city. He came again the next year, to promote “Thud”, but after that Philadelphia has been omitted from his tours. Still, every time I pass the building where I first spoke to him face-to-face, I feel warm inside.
It is unimaginable to think that he is gone, that there will be no new Discworld novels, that this incredible mind will no longer be at work on the books that brought such joy to so many. To me, his writing transcended genres, blended fantasy and classical literature — and showed to the world that all these traits could be achieved without heavy feelings, grimy details, and deep portrayal of suffering. He loved and understood people like no other, and his books will always remain with me to read and re-read.
In English, when someone dies, they say “Rest in Peace”. In Russian, people wish the deceased to remain a “Bright Memory”, or “Eternal Memory”. We also wish that the earth to him would be lighter than a fluffy bed. I wish him all these things. But even more, I wish this didn’t have to happen, I wish he could live out a normal lifespan and write more books. I knew he was very ill, but the whole thing still seems unfair. It doesn’t make sense.
Books hold a great power. The world without Terry Pratcjett will never be the same.