Reading material for a life-threatening illness..?
Terry Pratchett’s Reaper Man – a tale about Death getting cheesed off with death and putting his talent with a scythe to use as a farm-hand named Bill Door – wouldn’t seem an obvious choice to cheer up someone fearing death.
Nonetheless, when I was ailing in Southend Hospital – in 2004 – with brain ‘tumours’, fearing to sleep lest I not wake, that’s the Discworld book that my partner elected to bring. (We’re no longer together. Nothing to do with book choices.)
However, if you believe you’re facing imminent demise, it is cheering to imagine the anthropomorphic personification of Death as a tall, be-cloaked skellington with galaxies for eyes, the voice of Christopher Lee, and a penchant for kittens. After all, no one that champions cats can be all bad.
I had two books to entertain me in my quiet side room (the ones they put you in when the outlook doesn’t look too jolly. ‘Try not to worry…’) A book on meditation, and Reaper Man. Each morning, upon waking, I’d feel ok for all of a minute, then fog and dizziness would descend (I was to discover this was due to intoxication from too high a dose of anti-epileptics) rapidly followed by the arrival of my new friends Panic and Sense-of-Impending-Doom. In an effort to attain calm, I’d open the meditation book and talk myself through the breathing exercises. Inevitably, Panic’s presence would persist as the words swam across the page. And so I’d reach for Bill Door instead. His entertaining antics, along with that of the wizards grappling with undead shopping carts, were an engaging distraction. Death, it transpired, is a great comfort.
Happily, I didn’t die after all. The tumours turned out to be nothing more than a few worm larvae that had got a tad lost and, unfortunately for everyone concerned, perished within my grey matter. To quote the late Sir Terry, they were something of an embuggerance, but no great threat.
During my period of convalescence I was delighted to receive an email about a conversation with Sir Terry Pratchett taking place at the Critereon Theatre. Ticket prices were a mere £5 AND there would be an opportunity to get books signed afterwards. Given how it had helped me through the most traumatic experience of my life, I took along my dog-eared copy of Reaper Man. For the occasion, boyfriend bought a shiny new hardback copy of Going Postal – the latest Discworld offering and the world’s introduction to Moist Von Lipwig. (I’m happy to report that I got custody when we went our separate ways. Of the book, that is, not of Moist.)
Terry Pratchett was ever a delight to watch in conversation – witty, erudite, riveting and with choice words to say about inaccurate use of Awesome, his loathing of multiple exclamation marks (also featured in Reaper Man; Five exclamation marks, the sure sign of an insane mind) and his proclivity for the ellipsis. But, the highlight of the outing was the opportunity to come face-to-face with the great man.
The queue was kept moving thanks to a crisp, professional woman who ensured everyone had but five seconds to get their books signed and move on. (To be fair, it was rather a long queue and everyone probably wanted to be home before the birds began to sing.) There was, however, time for Sir Terry to bless a handful of roleplaying dice bought along by the Discworld disciple ahead of us. And then…we were before him.
I tumbled out my words. ‘thankyousomuchforyourfantasticstories (breathe) theyhelpedmecopewithabraininjuryrecently‘
‘oh but thank you’ replied my hero ‘your buying my books helped me recover from my heart surgery‘. A couple of swift and treasured signatures, and that was that.
Over the years, I took every opportunity that I could afford and was available for to see Sir Terry speak. I like to dabble with writing myself, every now and then (not often enough), and one couldn’t hope for better inspiration. (Although Neil Gaiman is nearly as good.) More recently, I listened to him at the launch of Dodger at the atmospheric Ely cathedral. There was a sweepstake for a photo opportunity with the dapper top-hatted Sir Terry. I looked on in envy as my friend went up for her turn (doing my best ‘oh but I’m so glad it was you what won the Oscar!’ face.) And most recently; a conversation with Steven Baxter at the London School of Economics about the Long Earth – a return to Sir Terry’s origins as a writer of Sci Fi and a bloomin exciting read.
Like so many millions who have enjoyed the Discworld and other offerings for decades; I was devastated to read the news of his death on 12 March 2015. Heartbroken to read the final three tweets on the TerryandRob page and the page of his daughter Rhianna. It was comforting to read that Sir Terry Pratchett died at home, with his family, and with the cat on his bed.
Everyone knows that, for great Magicians, Death turns up in person. I like to think Death had a satisfactory conversation with RoundWorld’s Master of Magic before ushering him on to whatever happens next. Maybe a game of chess. Almost certainly he’d have paused to give the cat a tickle under the chin. Death likes a cat.
So long Sir Terry Pratchett. Thank you for bringing Great A’Tuin to life. Thank you for painting such realistic and lovable characters – Gaspode! Ventinari! Vimes! Nanny Ogg and her bawdy songs! Rincewind and the wizards! The LIBRARIAN! Cohen, with his love of shoft toilet paper and good dentishtry! The Wee Free Men! – to name but a few of my favourites (DEATH is a given, of course.)
Thank you for bringing so much magic and happiness to so many for so many years.
I pledge to continue to introduce people to the magic of the Discworld, to open imaginations and encourage contemplation of the impossible.
Because somewhere, it almost certainly is turtles. All the way down.