A legend lost: Terry Pratchett dies at 66

A man with a scar over his right eye glared at me from the bookshelf.

It was an odd sight in the downtown Toronto bookstore, but something made me walk over, carefully, to see what he was up to amid the colourful, dragon-filled covers in the fantasy section.

“I’m Commander Samuel Vimes,” he growled, giving me a sideways glance and a nod to the badge on his chest. “But Commander Vimes will do.”

“It’s Koom Valley Day,” he said, as he put a book back on the shelf with a thud. He took out a hand-wrapped cigar and muttered another “Koom Valley” under his breath.

According to Commander Vimes, a battle took place there long, long ago between the Dwarves and Trolls. And the anniversary always manages to rekindle old hatreds and blood feuds.

It’s not a simple matter of building barricades or starting a committee to resolve this kind of ancient racial tension, and Fred Colon could feel something in his waters, which is a bad thing, he said.

He gave me a sharp glance as if to ask, “Well, what are you standing there for?” He stuck a book in my hand and lit his cigar. “It’s a good read, especially the parts with Where’s My Cow,” Vimes said.

I stood there transfixed looking upon his scarred visage, but there was an air of destiny. “I’ve got to run,” he said taking off. It was near to 6 p.m..

On that day in my first year of university, I discovered the works of Terry Pratchett.

And today this wonderful author has died at 66.

***

Terry Pratchett began writing in his early teens and was first published when he was 15. His interest in writing would take him into journalism where he’d work for Bucks Free Press writing children’s fiction.

During an interview while working as a journalist, he would meet Peter Bander van Duren who ran a small publishing company. They would publish Pratchett’s first book, The Carpet People, in 1971.

In 1983, The Colour of Magic was published by Colin Smythe and would soon be turned into a six-part serial by BBC Radio. At the time, Pratchett was working at the Central Electricity Generation Board as a press officers, but in 1987 would give that up to work on his writing full time.

More than 70 books later, Pratchett is known as one of the UK’s most-read authors and has created a lively following for his universe of humans, trolls, dwarves, and Nobbys.

Thud! being among the first books I've read in the series.

Thud! being among the first books I’ve read in the series.

In 2007, Terry Pratchett was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, but would continue to write.

He would face the disease publicly with his wife, Lyn, and daughter, Rhianna, by his side. His writing sustained him, Larry Finlay of his publishing company, Transworld, told the BBC. He would bring awareness to the disease and its effects.

“It would appear to me that me getting up and saying ‘I’ve got Alzheimer’s’, it did shake people,” Pratchett said when he was knighted in 2009.  “The thing about Alzheimer’s is there are few families that haven’t been touched by the disease. People come up to me and talk about it and burst into tears; there’s far more awareness about it and that was really what I hoped was going to happen.”

Today, he died in his home surrounded by family and friends, and with his cat on his bed.

In a series of messages sent out over Twitter, the Discworld author was given a Discworld send off: “AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER,” said Death who always speaks in capital letters. “Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night. The end.”

Pratchett’s writing is an inspiration to a generation of readers and writers. Taking on tough themes, Discworld and its inhabitants became much more than humans, dwarves, trolls, and whatever the heck Nobby is supposed to be. Through hijinks and adventure, they helped bring a fantasy-oriented perspective to our world’s struggles with equality, gender, and race issues.

Every book he wrote was a tome that needed to be unravelled. The pages would sometimes turn almost too quickly and you’d have to leave the book on a coffee table to pace yourself.With Thud!, I was in the middle of Samuel Vimes’s tale, but was able to jump right into Discworld without feeling out of my depth.

Terry Pratchett will be remembered as one of the most influential writers of this century and will always be close to readers who love tales spun with both wit and wisdom.

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