GeekPlanetOnline’s Editor-in-chief, Matt Dillon, is a man of many passions - although most of them involve a joystick. In this semi-regular column, he shares his thoughts on life, love and the pursuit of video games (and occasionally other things).
Twenty years ago, as we sat discussing our favourite series of books, my grandfather said something which took me aback. “You know, boy,” he said, “I do hope that I die before Terry Pratchett.” When I asked him why he said: “Because I’d hate to be alive knowing that there will be no more Terry Pratchett books.” As a seventeen year old I couldn’t really understand where this sentiment came from; two decades later, as an adult, I understand it only too well. Alzheimer’s Disease didn’t just rob the Pratchett family of a loving father and wonderful husband; it robbed the world of one of its brightest, sharpest minds and its greatest satirist. It robbed the world of its kindest, gentlest genius.
Sadly, my grandfather got his wish, dying far too young from throat cancer fifteen years after he gave up smoking. Death, as Pratchett himself wrote, wasn’t evil, he was just terribly good at his job. In retrospect I’m grateful that he passed before Sir Terry announced that he was unwell; I don’t think my grandfather – a man who prided himself on his critical faculties and ability to think – could have endured seeing his literary hero suffering from a degenerative brain disease. It would have broken his heart, and my grandfather had suffered enough in life to deserve being spared that pain. The rest of us were not so fortunate.
When the news broke that Terry had passed away I, like so many other fans, was devastated. With one notable exception, that being Freddie Mercury, I have never been deeply emotionally affected by celebrity deaths, but this time I cried. I cried for hours. I felt genuine bereavement, no different to the passing of a relative, and even now I have trouble coming to terms with it. Over the last two years, I have often pondered why that is, and I’ve realised that it’s because Terry Pratchett and his work are inextricably linked, both emotionally and spiritually, to the relationship I had with my grandfather, which was perhaps the most important of my life.
I first became a Pratchett fan in my early adolescence, after spotting a copy of Sourcery on my father’s tiny bookshelf and becoming entranced by its ridiculously busy and colourful Josh Kirby cover. To my surprise, my dad not only agreed to let me read it – he was notoriously protective of his books when I was a child – but he insisted, pressing it into my hands with uncharacteristic enthusiasm. Once I began reading I was hooked, and when I discovered an expansive Pratchett collection in my secondary school library I was in heaven, hiding from the bullies and the torment every lunchtime, devouring book after book with rapacious appetite. After Sourcery came Equal Rites, then (after somebody else had finally returned them to the library) – The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic. For the first time since Roald Dahl, I had found an author who respected my intellect and who wanted to tug at all of the loose threads in reality.
My grandfather, on the other hand, had a far less auspicious start. A voracious reader, particularly when it came to SF, classic fantasy and the works of Patrick O’Brien, he and I talked quite often about books, so naturally, I wanted to recommend my new favourite writer. It broke my heart when he told me that he had tried reading Pratchett’s work several times and had never got on with it. I tried for years to get him to change his mind, but to no avail; I just couldn’t understand how a man of such dry wit and unbridled intelligence would not get on with the glorious punnery, biting satire and outright cleverness of the Discworld series. And then, as I hit my mid-teens, one of the most important moments of my life occurred; my grandfather apologised to me, and told me that he had been wrong. Moved to give Pratchett another try since his work was clearly so important to me, Grandad had picked up one of his books and had realised that he had confused Terry Pratchett with Terry Brooks. This was the first time an adult had ever apologised to me, and the first time one had – albeit quite late! – accepted one of my recommendations. I felt twenty feet tall, my self-esteem shooting through the roof, and from that moment on we would both race to finish each new Discworld novel so that we discuss it in depth the next time that we saw one another. I had always loved my grandfather but now Terry Pratchett was the glue that bound us even more tightly together, something which would endure until the day he passed away.
When Terry passed, it was like losing the last living piece of the man I loved most in the world; a part that I had never thought I’d have to say goodbye to. I’m not certain that I’ll ever stop grieving for this dual loss; the man who made it okay to say how stupid and unfair the world sometimes was, and the man who sheltered me whenever the world was stupid and unfair. My love for each is tied unreservedly with my love for the other – two people that the world is poorer without.
GNU TERRY PRATCHETT
GNU TERRY PRATCHETT