“‘DON’T THINK OF IT AS DYING,’ said Death. ‘JUST THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH.'”
– Good Omens
Most parents stop reading aloud to their children once the little ones are old enough to read books on their own. My mom didn’t, though. She kept going until both my brother and I were in our early teens because we all liked it so much. One of my favorite homeschooling memories from middle school is the time Mom read The Wee Free Men aloud to us.
It was my introduction to Terry Pratchett’s books, and I was hooked. I loved the character of Tiffany Aching, a brainy, no-nonsense teenage witch who arms herself with a frying pan. I’d never even heard of Pratchett before that, but I immediately loved his style of writing, and my brother and I demanded another story.
So Mom read the sequel, A Hat Full of Sky.
And then The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents.
And then in the years afterward, I read a few more of his books. There was Wintersmith, yet another installment in the Tiffany Aching miniseries, and the wonderfully bizarre Johnny Maxwell series – Only You can Save Mankind, Johnny and the Dead, and Johnny and the Bomb. Even if I didn’t always fully understand those three books – they’re about parallel universes, and time traveling, and loads of other weird things – I adored them anyway.
Last summer, Pratchett canceled his appearance at a convention due to his struggles with Alzheimer’s disease. I heard the news and thought, “I need to read more of his books. I need to catch up before he stops writing altogether.”
But I’m slow, and easily distracted, and ended up reading a grand total of two more Terry Pratchett books: The Color of Magic – the first in his immensely long Discworld series – and Good Omens, which he co-wrote with Neil Gaiman. (And I couldn’t believe I’d waited so long to read that novel! Oh my gosh, I laughed my way through it.)
Terry Pratchett died this past Thursday. I’d wondered if that might happen soon, especially after Neil Gaiman wrote about his friend’s illness last year, but I was also in denial about it. I mean, he’s one of my favorite authors. Tolkien, Martin, Dahl, Pratchett – those are the four fantasy authors I most admire. You don’t want to think about one of your favorites dying.
So, yeah. I cried that day. I don’t normally cry about that sort of thing, but I cried when I read Pratchett’s obituary that morning. And then I cried that afternoon. And a little bit on Friday. Because I’m very attached to my favorite authors, evidently. And because a brilliant, inventive, witty, dark, amazing man died this week.
And then after a while it dawned on me that my failure to accomplish last summer’s project had actually worked out in my favor: I still have so, so many of his books left to read. Some of my friends have read all or nearly all of Pratchett’s books. I haven’t. I’ve only read nine, and the man wrote over seventy.
Terry Pratchett may be gone, but his stories are still here. I’m still sad, but I’ve stopped crying. (For now? I think?) Because… hey, his words are still here, and there’s so many I still have left to read. Nation and an omnibus edition of the Bromeliad trilogy still sit unread on my shelves, and then there’s all the Pratchett books I can find at the library.
Terry Pratchett died this week, but I can crack open his books and it’ll all still be there: His humor, and his wacky characters, and his social commentary, and everything else. Aziraphale and the Nac Mac Feegles and Rincewind the wizard.
Words are a way of living beyond death, and I know what I’ll be doing this summer vacation: Reading more Discworld novels. Pratchett’s still here, just in a different form now. And still telling me new stories. I’m still a little bit sad, but I’m also excited, because there are SO MANY BOOKS left to read. Monstrous Regiment and Guards! Guards! and Hogfather. Going Postal. Mort. I’m looking forward to reading the fourth Tiffany Aching book, I Shall Wear Midnight, and the final book, The Shepherd’s Crown, is due to be published posthumously this fall. I can’t wait.
Thank you for your writing, Sir Terry Pratchett. THANK YOU.