Friday 13 March 2015


. . . and out of our lives.  Terry Pratchett is, as you may have heard, dead since about 3pm yesterday.    I was a fan but not a total groupie; I gave up on a couple of his Discworld books because they seemed drifting and contrived and I was too tired to continue.  But I really enjoyed Mort, the apprentice to Death, which makes me 'proper common' as sharing the taste of the majority in a BBC poll for 100 favorite books. It is appropriate that a technogeek, second only to Douglas Adams, should have had his death announced on Twitter rather than in an Obituary this morning in the Daily Telegraph. And of course the tweet had to be an in-joke in the voice of Death: "AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER."

When I worked in TCD several years ago, it was announced that Terry Pratchett was due to give a talk on “The importance of being absolutely amazed about everything”.  College students are a strong cohort in the Pratchett fan-base, but I managed to secure two tickets to the event which I gave to Dau.I who was/is a serious groupie for Him and All His Works. In her most "let's take this seriously" vein, she baked some cookies and packed them up in a personalised Discworld box before going to the gig with one of her pals.  There was to be a reception afterwards in the magnificent Long Room of the TCD Library [L], but Dau.I was anxious lest they exclude her as being a) too young b) not a student c) not a Protestant.  Her anxiety turned to panic as, at the end of his talk, everyone stood and the guest was processed down the aisle to the door at the back of the auditorium. Accordingly she stood up and teetered along the chairs behind a row of aisle-blockers to plunge to the tiles as he passed crying "Terry, I baked you cookies!" He was both disconcerted and gracious and said "That deserves a kiss", at which he placed a chaste buss on the daughter's cheek.
She was allowed into the reception afterwards and even succeeded in getting her copy of "Good Omens" signed by The Great Man [R, R].  It was indeed a teenager's night to remember. Within a few months, Neil Gaiman was in Dublin at a book-signing and she got the co-author [L, R] to counter-sign the title page.  Now that Pratchett is no longer signing anything, that book will acquire a little monetary value but it's not for sale.
Terry Pratchett is a very important writer for science and skepticism. His atheism is what gets the biggest press, as witnessed by the glee when he was reported as having second thoughts. But more important, more generally than that, he got us to question so many of our certainties by using Discworld satire to expose the folly of many of our real world beliefs.  Beliefs are what you hold when there is no evidence; with evidence they firm up into facts. Why are there four [War, Famine, Pestilence and Death] horsemen of the  Apocalypse? Because John the Evangelist liked to tidy things up into neat bundles: four Evangelists - four Gospels - four Horsemen. But you can ask, as Pratchett did, why not five? . . . and create Kaos who serves as a vehicle to explain Chaos theory, fractals and the Butterfly Effect. That makes you look up The Butterfly Effect and you're off on a wiki-coaster of finding out. You are also forced to look at other four-things and ask does it have to be that way? That question is the very core of science.
And of course we must trib him for putting Front and Centre the debate about the right to an end of life. The official motto on the 'escutcheon' he designed when he was knighted is a recognisably Pratchett mix of erudition, irony and optimism:

1 comment:

  1. nice to have a signed copy...presuming it won't find its way to the book exchange?