Sunday Bonus Post: A Few Words About Terry Pratchett.

Paul Kidby, who did much of the art for Pratchett's books, rather likes the sepia effect.

Paul Kidby, who did much of the art for Pratchett’s books, rather likes the sepia effect.

On Thursday, fantasy author and satirist Terry Pratchett passed on as a direct result of Alzheimer’s Disease, which he had been fighting for seven years. He is best known for his Discworld series of about 40 volumes. Pratchett’s first novel, “The Carpet People,” was published in 1971, and since his first Discworld novel, “The Colour of Magic,” was published in 1983, he wrote two books a year on average. more prolific writers are hard to find, and he was the United Kingdom’s best selling author of the 1990’s.

He was primarily a fantasy satirist, using the genre of fantasy to make points about the world around us and its politics. On the subject of the genre of fantasy he was pretty outspoken, defending what many intellectuals look down upon. He believed he owed “a debt to the science fiction/fantasy genre which he grew up out of” and disliked the term “magical realism” which is “like a polite way of saying you write fantasy and is more acceptable to certain people … who, on the whole, do not care that much.” He expressed annoyance that fantasy is “unregarded as a literary form” because it “is the oldest form of fiction” and he described himself as “infuriated” when novels containing science fiction or fantasy ideas were not regarded as part of those genres. He debated this issue with novelist A. S. Byatt and critic Terry Eagleton, arguing that fantasy is fundamental to the way we understand the world and is therefore an integral aspect of all fiction.

Pretty heavy philosophical thought for a man heavily regarded as a humorist. Then again, so was Aristophanes, who wrote fantasy humor in Ancient Greece. Interestingly, Pratchett is known for a distinctive writing style that included a number of characteristic hallmarks not generally associated with humor at all. One example is his use of footnotes, which usually involved a comic departure from the narrative or a commentary on the narrative, and occasionally had footnotes of their own.

Characters, place names, and titles in Pratchett’s books often contain puns, allusions and culture references. Some characters are parodies of well-known characters: for example, Pratchett’s character Cohen the Barbarian (depicted above), also called Ghengiz Cohen, is a parody of Conan the Barbarian and Genghis Khan, and his character Leonard of Quirm is a parody of Leonardo da Vinci.

I always loved the idea of Cohen the Barbarian and his aging “Silver Horde.” The idea of barbarians that were tough because they simply hadn’t died doing the missions we see in Conan comics and films, and lived to old age, made them superhumanly cunning and tough. That sort of wit was the hallmark of a great deal of Pratchett’s work.

Another hallmark of his writing was the use of capitalized dialogue without quotation marks, used to indicate the character of Death communicating telepathically into a character’s mind. Other characters or types of characters were given similarly distinctive ways of speaking, such as the auditors of reality never having quotation marks, Ankh-Morpork grocers never using punctuation correctly, and golems capitalizing each word in everything they say. All of that came together to produce a kind of “cultural diversity” for his Discworld without the need for Tolkien’s lengthy appendices and explanations, no need for additional letters and languages.

Prior to drawing the art above, I downloaded “Interesting Times” to my Kindle Fire. I’ve read it a few times before, and like much of Pratchett’s better works, I always find something new when I reread the volume. Much like Neil Gaiman, I’m upset that we won’t be getting any more books by Mr. Pratchett. Early on in “Interesting Times,” Pratchett depicts the Gods gambling with humans, until Fate and Lady Luck show up, to start a new game. Toward the end of the introduction, Pratchett includes the following quote:

“According to the philosopher Ly Tin Wheedle, chaos is found in greatest abundance wherever order is being sought. It always defeats order, because it is better organized.”

That describes my school perfectly.

Although the adventures of Cohen the Barbarian are now complete and finite, the sheer volume of Mr. Pratchett’s work leaves me rather a large amount left to read. In an odd point related to his work, hundreds of Redditt users have left the term ‘GNU Terry Pratchett’ on the /r/discworld forum and others are now leaving it in HTML and JavaScript on their own websites since the author passed away on Thursday.

This term derives from the fantasy author’s Discworld series of books and specifically the story of character John Dearheart.
When Dearheart died in one of the books, other characters ensured that his soul continued “living on in the overhead” by sending a code around their communication system known as the “clacks”.

As explained in this thread, a message would consistently appear in the clacks with a piece of code followed by a name – “GNU John Dearheart.” The “G” means the message must be sent on, “N” means the message is not logged and “U” means it must be returned when it reaches the end of the line. Pratchett’s own words in the story state: “His name is in the code, in the wind in the rigging and the shutters. Haven’t you ever heard the saying: ‘A man’s not dead while his name is still spoken’?”

Now, thanks to Redditors embedding this code into “the wind, in the rigging and the shutters” of the internet, Terry Pratchett will live on too, in a way of his own invention. That’s a nice thought.


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