AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER.
Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night.
The above was posted last Thursday on Terry Pratchett’s Twitter account. Sir Terry had finally been taken by the Alzheimer’s disease he had so tirelessly campaigned to raise awareness of in his last years despite his steady decline. His final interaction in life imagined to be with the most iconic character of his Discworld Series, an anthropomorphic personification of Death, was a fitting and touching sendoff.
I don’t usually write about popular figures not directly involved in the film industry, but I had to make an exception for Pratchett as he was without doubt my favourite author of all time. Few, if any people in this world have gifted me with as much joy with their work. The long-running Discworld series has been an important part of over half my life, and has fed my imagination, my love of reading, of the fantasy genre, and of satire. The Discworld novels might not be epic, “high” fantasty like THE LORD OF THE RINGS or GAME OF THRONES complete with imposing family trees and dense appendices, but they’re a very perceptive, affectionate and playful deconstruction of such works and their ilk. Anyone who dismisses the fantasy genre as irrelevant, for kids who never grew up, has clearly never read one of Pratchett’s novels. His books might be set in Ankh-Morpork or elsewhere on the Disc (which sits on the back of four elephants which in turn stand on the shell of a giant turtle), but they are always about the here and now, whether discussing new technologies, society and culture or life itself in Pratchett’s wry and witty manner.
Pratchett was always a talented writer, but what I loved about him was that he wasn’t afraid to change his style, even completely re-write some of his characters as his body of work grew. He certainly became a better writer as his career progressed, and never did he retread old ground. You can jump into Discworld at any point as the stories tend to be pretty self-contained, but there’s in-jokes and character development aplenty if you want to work your way through the complete narrative arcs of groups of characters like the Witches, or the City Watch, or Death & Family.
Pratchett’s work has yet to make it to the big screen, but given his prolific production of novels (even in his later years) and the variety of genres he’s dipped into, I don’t really understand the reason for this. We’ve had three OK TV adaptations (the best of which was probably GOING POSTAL) and while they all looked good enough, I’m not convinced that Pratchett’s humour translated all that well into live-action, and nothing more notable has been produced since. Terry Gilliam and Sam Raimi have expressed interest in directing projects based on Pratchett’s books, but they never seemed to gain much traction, which is probably for the best because their distinctive styles might have eclipsed Pratchett’s own. You’d have thought at least Disney or DreamWorks would see the potential in the Tiffany Aching/Nac Mac Feegle stories as a series of family animated movies in the vein of HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON?
If a filmed Discworld ever emerged, I have my dream casting in mind for my favourite characters (Mark Rylance for Vimes, Eileen Atkins for Granny Weatherwax, Maisie Williams for Tiffany Aching and David Tennant for Rincewind, if you’re asking) but perhaps my ideal Discworld should remain in my mind and on Pratchett’s page to enjoy forever. SSP