In Praise of Pratchett

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OF COURSE, SINCE YOU BELIEVE IN REINCARNATION said Death to Bjorn Hammerlock [the recently murdered dwarf in Terry Pratchett’s Men at Arms], YOU WILL BE BJORN AGAIN.
He waited.
WAS THERE ANYTHING AMUSING IN THE STATEMENT I JUST MADE? IT WAS A PUNE OR PLAY ON WORDS. I’VE BEEN TOLD I SHOULD TRY AND MAKE THE OCCASION A LITTLE MORE ENJOYABLE.
‘Bjorn again?’
YES.
‘I’ll think about it.’
THANK YOU.

Death turns up a lot in Terry Pratchett’s books. He’s one of his most popular characters, a seven-foot-high skeleton with burning blue eyes who speaks in CAPITALS. He is as terrifying as one would expect – except that he has a real horse called Binky (the skeleton ones kept falling apart), loves curry, can’t play chess and has a deep compassion for all the living things whose lives he terminates. I find it a curiously comforting image.

Death personifies for Pratchett a lot of the themes he thinks are important: the strangeness of the universe and Man’s place in it; the human capacity for self-deception; the fact that few things are exactly as they seem and that it is vital to think for yourself.

It’s no secret that Pratchett himself has early-onset Alzheimer’s. For a man of his devotion to words, sparkling wit, breadth of erudition and memory, it seems particularly cruel. He has already donated $1 million to research, but as his recent television documentary showed, he is also a fervent proponent of assisted suicide. ‘My life, my death, my choice,’ he says. It’s not an issue that has yet been covered in his books, but maybe it’s only a matter of time. However, it is not his courage and wisdom in life I want to praise, but those qualities in his work.

Pratchett writes fantasy novels. Many people whose judgement I respect just don’t get him, finding the plots ludicrous and the humour childish. Many more are possibly put off by the lurid covers, heaving with dwarves, dragons, vampires, gobli

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About the contributor

Amanda Theunissen is a journalist and television producer who tries to follow Terry Pratchett’s rule and reads to overflowing.

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