Friday 13 March 2015

Terry Pratchett - a personal evaluation

The novelist Terry Pratchett died yesterday - and it seems like a good time to gather my thoughts on him.

First, I would rate him as one of my two favourite British novelists of recent decades (the other is JK Rowling in her Harry Potter series). I am very grateful for the hundreds of hours of enjoyment, stimulation and edification I have received from reading him (often aloud, as bedtime stories for my wife).

Furthermore I am equally grateful that he has been my teenage son's favourite and most important writer for the past several years - my son has read more Pratchett than me, indeed pretty much everything he wrote; and as well as the enjoyment and humour, Pratchett's moral influence on him has been, so far as I can tell, strongly for the good.

I would certainly regard Terry Pratchett as the major English fiction writer of the 1990s and 2000s, and one of permanent significance.


Yet there are significant reservations and restrictions on my personal admiration.

Pratchett's novels divide into two main categories - those with female protagonists (especially witches) and those which are satirical (getting fun from a theme like the postal system, the police, the movies etc).

It is the witches novels which I like so much - and, apart from a fondness for the wizards of Unseen University (which I can readily imagine my Discworld alter ego inhabiting) I general don't much like, and sometimes actively dislike, the satirical novels - which bring out Pratchett's faults and limitations, and lack his strengths.

For instance, I am generally unconvinced and unmoved by the supposedly sympathetic character of Sam Vimes; and have never finished any of the books in which he features strongly.

Also, the novels since Pratchett was diagnosed as suffering from dementia, the effects of which I first noticed in Wintersmith (published 2006), are not up to standard. Indeed, I find their prose style almost unrecognisable. I therefore infer that they are actually collaborations, and have been subjected to heavy editing. (I should note that my son has continued to enjoy these later books equally with the earlier.)


Pratchett's greatest virtues as a writer are, for me, the sheer fluency and inventiveness of his ideas and humour - which I consider to be superior to any other writer of any period of which I am aware; and the humane qualities he brings to his best female characters - notably Granny Weatherwax and Tiffany Aching.

His faults are a cruel cynicism and a covert fascination-with/ admiration-of ruthless violence and torture - these are what mar many of the satirical novels for me.

In some of his non-fiction, and in some comments by Pratchett's friends, it is apparent that he was driven by considerable anger, irritation and resentment; and while he could not help having these traits built-into him (and they were perhaps what made him so prolific) there is not much sense that Pratchett acknowledged these were defects, 'sins', nor that he repented them - rather, he seems rather self-righteously pound of being so often angry.


This segues onto what was undoubtedly the most significant blot on Pratchett's reputation and lifetime achievement - his strident advocacy of what he weasel-worded as the non-existent and nonsensical 'Right to Die', that is, what is more often called Assisted Suicide', but what is actually a call for the legalisation and bureaucratic-proceduralisation of Humane Murder.

This campaign revealed, or apparently revealed, lack of courage, lack of foresight and was justified by a grossly impoverished and inadequate conception of the meaning and purpose of human life.

However, Pratchett only began this campaign after the onset of dementia, and it is possible/ likely that he was being exploited for this purpose; after all, in later years, his communications were heavily censored and edited, and we only know what various amanuenses and media (who strongly favour 'euthanasia') chose to reveal and publicise. It is unlikely we would have been told of any late reservations or repentance, had they occurred.


Terry Pratchett himself - in his non-fictional writings, and speaking as a prominent secular Humanist - said that he expected death to be extinction; but those of us who know better cannot help but be curious concerning his current post-mortal situation.

Who knows what happened as Terry Prtachett approached his end? Sometimes dementia may be part of God's plan - sometimes dementia seems to bring a proud and resentful person (in his innermost soul) face to face with his own state of dependence and the futility of his pride - presents a new choice, and the choice may lead to a dawning of gratitude and humility and open-ness to the gift of grace.

Personally, I regard Pratchett as one of those atheists who 'protest too much' and secretly and guiltily believed in the reality of God (or want very much to believe), but who misunderstand and therefore hate God as they understand Him.

When Pratchett discovers the truth of the reality of God - and the nature and motivation of God; I believe he will (or has) immediately and unhesitatingly repent and accept the salvation offered by Christ.

The man who created, and imaginatively-inhabited, Granny Weatherwax and Tiffany Aching was a man fundamentally good, fundamentally a realist, fundamentally motivated by love. With his experience and abilities, I fully expect Terry Pratchett to become one of the great human benefactors, working from  the other side of mortality.



Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Any specific Pratchett books you would recommend? I've only read The Colour of Magic.

Bruce Charlton said...

I would start with Wyrd Sisters - the first of the Witches series proper; and if you like it, follow the characters through their later adventures. I am also fond of The Wee Free men and especially its sequel, A Hat Full Of Sky.

Unknown said...

Never rated him. His rise to prominence was an early sign of the same publisher backed system of "lottery winner author" that elevated the equally talentless and plagiaristic JK Rowling to dominance.

I wonder what the profusion of authors that Pratchett and Rowling borrowed so heavily from thought? In the case of Susan Cooper and Rowling it's a disgrace, in the case of Pratchett and Douglas Adams it's two members of the same dog pack biting each other.

Bruce Charlton said...

@FT- Lets just say you don't like these authors and leave it at that. The idea that this preference is because they 'borrowed' from other authors is neither here nor there - all authors borrow, steal or otherwise appropriate.If you don't happen to notice, that is just because you don't recognize the material. It is a matter of what they do with the stuff that is important.

But to say that Pratchett and Rowling are 'talentless' is simply to scream your own lack of understanding from the roof-tops.