It’s been sad weeks with Leonard “Mr. Spock” Nimoy having passed away on February 27, 2015 and now Sir Terry “Discworld” Pratchett having met Death personally on March 12, 2015. But what they left behind is more than just a memory of an interesting actor or author.
Mr. Spock in real life in other people
Even if I’ve never been a Trekkie or watched the Star Trek TV/film series with as much gusto as other sci-fi, the death of Leonard Nimoy caught me by surprise. Maybe this had to do because I hadn’t paid attention to his age and/or health condition and only recently saw him again in the new “Star Trek” movies. He was certainly an influence for some of my school friends who took the whole Star Trek idea a bit too serious sometimes by calling themselves Data, the Captain (Picard) and also Spock.
But I can’t deny that I was fascinated with Nimoy’s portrayal of the Vulcan analyst, and there’s also no doubt that Spock was one of the most influential figures in pop culture. Even though Nimoy seemed to have gotten a bit tired of his role, being torn between proudness and disappointment, what he’s left behind is simply a very long list of movies and TV shows, videogames he gave his voice to and his autobiography.
Sir Terry Pratchett in all of us
But what I’d like to talk about more is how Terry Pratchett influenced both my writing and way of looking at things/people. I actually started reading his books at school when I simply wanted to have an understanding of Discworld before playing the graphic adventures. I’ve always been an avid gamer, but also a motivated reader (take that, “videogames and movies are the death of books” people!). Despite the local bookstore clerk telling me that if one read a book of Pratchett, one would have read them all, I started with “Mort”, and after that I couldn’t stop.
The way Pratchett wrote characters and dialogue was of course highly reminiscent of the author Charles Dickens. Their goal was the same: making people aware of social injustices but also portraying people/institutions in a realistic way. Only Pratchett did it with dragons in a medieval society that despite all its magic was very much like the real world. Even if some puns weren’t always original and the plots themselves often became secondary to long dialogue and monologue scenes, the Discworld books were always a world one wanted to return to.
Discworld is more like our world
It doesn’t have to be stressed how successful the books were/are and that there are memorabilia like calendars, cook books, maps, etc.. But they weren’t simply cash-ins, as they usually conveyed the sense that one became part of Pratchett’s world. It’s impossible to name every title now, but in addition to the novels, there were also scientific books, some even so scientific with the help of mathematicians and theorists that they didn’t feel like fantasy at all. And maybe that’s why Pratchett’s legacy is so important and relevant, why his work will be remembered for a very long time, just like the best authors. They say something about the human condition, about society, making them more important than just simple tales about dragons, elves and other fantastical creatures, although they work pretty well as parodies of that genre too.
People who knew Terry’s work, understood the author and people who didn’t
I recently saw an article of the German SPIEGEL, and it didn’t mirror anything about why Pratchett was such a great author. The editor seemed to have no knowledge at all about the things he wrote about and why he did it. Sure, the cover artwork and especially the German translations of the titles are misleading, making many people (including most of the people I attended school with back in the days) think that this was just silly comedy for fantasy geeks. I wouldn’t consider myself a fantasy fan, having tried other authors and just finding the whole high fantasy a bit too much, (although Tolkien could really write, while the Witcher books seem to be a departure from the general tone these novels have), but the Discworld series hooked me like very few novels did (except Charles Dickens’ work).
The point is that Pratchett was just as misunderstood as Charles Dickens, not helped by the way characters were more like caricatures and the plotlines often being less developed. But then again, they still felt real, and the topics he dealt with, like social and political injustices, the danger of new technologies, etc. were and still are extremely important to think, write and talk about. So again, the SPIEGEL and probably many others who just just the books by their covers can’t fathom how much of a loss Terry Pratchett’s death is.
As it seems there’s a minority of people who consider him to be an odd person writing about odd things, as this statement of Transworld Publishers said on the page:
“There have been so many visitors to the Terry Pratchett website and forum since Thursday’s desperately sad news, and as a result the website has crashed. Normal service will resume as soon as possible. In the meantime, please do visit his Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/Pratchett where readers from across the world are sharing their thoughts.”
Other media outlets
It’s not all about books and merchandise though, as the Discworld saga has produced a couple of games and movies as well. Always being quite reluctant about who to give the rights to, Pratchett really cared about the world he created, and despite some storytelling and presentation problems, it can easily be said that the crossmedia output has been quite good.
Only five computer games are available (one text adventure, a text-based online RPG, and three point-and-click adventures), while film adaptations amount to just three, a 3-part TV series as well, two animated films and an animated series, all produced for TV. The quality of the latter varies somewhat, which is mainly due to the problematic presentation and cutting down the story, while the adventure games are surprisingly more enjoyable and true to the source material. Still, all are worth checking out.
I will surely write some reviews at least about the movies and games, but this won’t be anytime soon. I simply don’t want to rush things and present these articles in a cut version just, because it starts to be so “en vogue” to write about Pratchett now. Only recently being informed by a press announcement stating the older movies are still available and considered to be true masterpieces, this is simply not true.
What the past, present and future hold in L-Space and beyond
I guess there will be a lot of epitaphs and other articles by uninformed people who simply google or use Wikipedias to get their print/online space filled. Terry deserves more than that. Having read almost all his novels (in both English and German), having watched the movies, played the games, and even participated in a university stage play for “Wyrd Sisters”, I can safely say that you will get an honest opinion about all things Discworld or Pratchett.
Even if this sounds so clichéd and can be used for any important person’s death, it doesn’t mean that it’s not true: We have lost a great author, a great man, a great storyteller who could have taught use so much more about ourselves and the world we live in. Let’s cherish the past, but also look at the future, putting the ideas he presented to us to good use.
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