"‘No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away…" (Terry Pratchett, Reaper Man, 1991)
One thing that’s always intrigued me is the way we make a big deal over a celebrity after s/he has died. “Oh, s/he was such an inspiration!” or “I love X about him/her!” and I always wondered: “Why didn’t you post this last week? Last month? Last year? When there was a chance that person could see the influence s/he made on the world?” If I influenced a person, I’d much rather know about it, rather than it being announced after I died.
And then Terry Pratchett died yesterday, and I became a hypocrite. You see, Terry Pratchett is probably the only ‘celebrity’ that has ever really meant anything to me. The only celebrity whose passing I would genuinely mourn. And he’s been dying for a long time (eight years). And I’ve known that. In fact, I drafted a post about it last month… and never posted it. That’s right. I’ve had this post, about how much influence Pratchett had on me and the world, and I didn’t post it when I wanted to. And now it’s too late, because he’s gone, and it becomes just another tribute that he’ll never have the chance to read.
Today, half of my tears are for his death, and half of them are for my tardiness. I’m sorry, Sir Pratchett, that I never told you how much you meant to me.
Drafted Feb. 3, 2015:
Today I got a surprise from past-Me; a small box from Amazon. It was Terry Pratchett’s latest book, a collection of short stories called Dragons at Crumbling Castle: And Other Tales, that I’d pre-ordered months ago and then forgotten. Well, of course I opened it, and despite my vow to wait on the last Discworld book*, I read the first story.
(*You see, Sir Terry Pratchett was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease many years ago, and that means that his writing has slowed down significantly. That means that one day—maybe one day soon—he’ll be gone, and there will be no more new Pratchett books. That means that there will be a time when I read one of his books for the first time, and it’ll be my last-ever chance to do that. And call me foolish, but I want to savor that moment, to be aware of it. So his last Discworld book Raising Steam is still sitting on my shelf, untouched. But this collection—short stories he wrote as a teenager, bound together in an effort to please his fans—didn’t count towards that Ceremony, I figured. So I read the first chapter.)
I quickly realized that while these weren’t earth-shattering, they were still fun stories. Stories that I’d like to share with my oldest son who, since starting Kindergarten in the fall, has become as voracious a reader as his mother. These are cute stories with morals and knights and dragons and humor.
Pretty much everything I’d come to expect from Terry Pratchett.
You see, I’m something of a Pratchett Expert. I first read his books as a tween (only we didn’t call that age “tweens” back then), and have read them multiple times since then. His Discworld books have become something of a Sacred Text for me. Sure, they’re fantasy, and not even high fantasy… but they’re much more than that. They’re satire and spoof and sociology and hilarious. They’re about the way we interact with each other and our world and events, and they’re chock-full of clever, pithy, oh-so-quotable sayings (ask me about Vimes’ “Boots Theory of Socioeconomic Unfairness” sometime).
So yes: Terry Pratchett’s books have influenced the way I think about the world, and about people around me. Terry Pratchett’s books have taught me how to find myself, and how to develop my own beliefs.
Terry Pratchett’s books have shaped me into the person I am today.
So you see, Terry Pratchett’s books really are something of Sacred Texts to me.
I’ve read them for years and years. I’ve lived my life by them.
I’ve quoted them and trusted them when I needed guidance.
I’ve relied on their advice.
They’ve made me me.
And that’s remarkable, considering that the plots themselves are made up of dwarves and trolls and bitter cops and snarky witches (although Granny’s never been my favorite) and an orangutan librarian. While the plots are fun, it’s the writing that makes the books remarkable, and Pratchett’s clever way of viewing the world around him (this is why his books don’t translate well to movies).
So very soon, I’ll be able to introduce my son to that world. I’ll start simple, with this collection of short stories. The plots will be fun, and readable, and probably not as good as Pratchett's later work. But they’ll be enough to interest him. And maybe in a few years, I’ll take my son into my library, and I’ll point to the three solid shelves of Pratchett books, and I’ll describe the plots, and help him choose which one to start with. It’ll be a big moment for me; introducing my son to something that I love and something that’s had so much of an effect on me.
And because he’s my mini-me, I fully expect them to shape his life the way they shaped mine.
And I’ll be proud if they do.
So there it is. There’s the post I wrote last month about how much of an influence Terry Pratchett (or his books, at least) has had on my life. And I feel so guilty that I never posted it, although I know it’s unlikely he would have ever read it.
Now he’s gone, and even though we were all expecting it, it’s still hard to accept. I’ve cried more genuine tears over the last day than I expected to. I never even knew the man… but he shaped me in ways he probably never imagined. So yeah, I’ve been crying, but at least those tears aren’t selfish. Eight years ago, when his diagnosis was announced, that’s when I—and other fans—mourned the end of the Discworld books (he’s been wrapping up and winding down in the books since then). We’ve known for a while that his writing career was finishing up… so these tears... these tears are just for him.
Because I know that his books are still there on my shelf. I know that I can still read them—not that I need to, because I have most of them memorized. I know that I’m still the same person that they helped make me. I can still read them.
But last night, after I finished my latest novel, I stood in front of my book shelf, and picked up Pratchett book after Pratchett book. And put them back. I guess I’m not ready to dive back into the Discworld just yet.
Knowing that he’s not there.
Thank you, Sir Pratchett, for your legacy. I will do my best to share it--even if it's only with my children--so that your ripples continue on.
3/17/2015 12:24:04 am
I totally understand this post. I used to write fan mail to hockey players when I was a kid. I still want to sometimes, when someone does something that blows my mind (and I mean that in a human kindness way, not because of hockey skills).
3/17/2015 01:46:09 am
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