In the wake of Terry Pratchett’s death, programmers have paid homage to his work by ensuring that he will ‘live on in the clacks’. In a nod to a concept from his novel Going Postal, a small line of code has been created for fans to subtly embed into their websites to ensure that Pratchett’s name and legacy will continue.
It’s a nice gesture; well-considered, fitting, but in all honesty, unnecessary. Pratchett was always going to live on in the writing of all those he influenced.
That’s a corny line, and one that he himself would most likely have tempered with a footnote and a pun[i]. However, Pratchett was very important to me; possibly even more important than my fear of genuinely demonstrating emotion on the internet.
If imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery, then teenage me would have been the steamroller to Terry Pratchett’s somewhat plagiarised tarmac. In the ten years since I first picked up The Fifth Elephant, my work has been littered with Pratchettisms to varying degrees.
It started with the odd footnote here and there, a slight smattering of bold, a liberal application of italics and then evolved in to full-blown quotations with very tenuous relevance. For the first four years of university my email signature, with no context given, was, ‘He could think in italics. Such people need watching. Preferably from a safe distance.’ My MSN handle swung from song lyrics ripped directly from Deathcab for Cutie to quotes from Night Watch, and 100% of my knowledge of economics comes from a small paragraph in Men at Arms, which explains the ability for wealth to breed further wealth very neatly via footwear.
Last Friday I awoke to the news that Terry Pratchett had died. I spent the morning crying. I was an hour late to work.
This is a man I knew only via his work. I never met him or saw him speak, and I’ve watched very few of his interviews. I don’t even like all of his novels; I’ve tried to read the Rincewind books countless times, only to sheepishly return them to the library two extensions later.
For the uninitiated, Pratchett was a prolific author who was most well known for the Discworld series, a collection of 40 books which hold up a murky mirror to our own society despite being populated by werewolves, dwarves, vampires, and trolls. The series tackles everything from war and the invention of the internet, to the importance of newspapers and the advent of film; all told through a fantasy lens with an almost non-stop stream of eccentric humour.
The Discworld books also have myriad focuses and varied protagonists; they are pretty much the ultimate in ‘different strokes for different folks’. If you’re into wizards and whatever it is that happens in the Rincewind books[ii], then there is a whole thread in the Discworld series just for you. Want witches? They’re there. If you want a police procedural with a twist, the Commander Vimes focussed stories are where you want to head. Pratchett even has a set of books around Death, who speaks in all caps and actually isn’t all that bad. There is something in the Discworld series for pretty much everyone, with the exception of those who hate laughter and love misery.
I discovered the Discworld books at the time I most needed them; in high school when we were starting to be shoehorned into the subjects that would determine our eventual careers. It felt like there were only about five options. Life was static, predictable, and orderly. Pratchett’s books were not.
Prior to picking up my first Pratchett novel, writing had been merely grammatically-correct words on a page. In contrast, his pages were filled with creative use of fonts, capitalisations, and formatting. Characters existed in his stories in a way they normally don’t in literature, and can’t in film. It’s hard to explain.
His techniques started seeping into my own work; my blog was rampant with quotes and overused italics, and, more questionably, my enthusiasm for living in a guild-organised dictatorship was greater than it should have been.
When I eventually found myself in one of the five orderly university courses school had told me about, my blog slowed down as I started to become what I thought I should be[iii]. Study took the place of friends, of hobbies, and all my previous interests. The only things I wrote were assignments. If a film came out during this period, unless it was Harry Potter, I was unlikely to see it. My reading was safely limited to books I had already read, as everything else felt too taxing. The only exception was the Discworld series, which I continued to tear through[iv].
I read Going Postal to stop myself from acting out the title in real life. The seemingly endless stream of novels that followed helped me stay tapped into a world outside my study bubble, until I eventually realised that the real Thief of Time was my degree, and moved on to other pursuits.
This week, I tried to buy a copy of Night Watch to give to a friend. The bookstore was sold out. As someone who gets most of their books from second-hand stores, I’ve slowly learned to stop looking for Pratchett’s work there. In ten years I’ve only ever found one used copy; people tend to hang on to them for good.
I don’t have the words needed to describe how significant Terry Pratchett was in my life, so, like teenage me, I’ll use his instead.
“THAT’S MORTALS FOR YOU, Death continued. THEY’VE ONLY GOT A FEW YEARS IN THIS WORLD AND THEY SPEND THEM ALL IN MAKING THINGS COMPLICATED FOR THEMSELVES. FASCINATING.”
– Terry Pratchett, Mort
[i] Though what the use of people scribbling their thoughts onto their feet would be in this situation remains a mystery.
[ii] He has luggage with legs and that is about as far as I got.
[iii] A bespectacled conduit for textbooks to pass through.
[iv] Like Going Postal’s Stanley, through a fresh bag of pins.