Award-winning British fantasy author Terry Pratchett, creator of more than 70 books, including volumes in the long-running Discworld series, died on March 12 at his home following complications from a chest infection. He was 66.
Pratchett spoke openly about his battle with posterior cortical atrophy (PCA), a rare form of Alzheimer’s disease with which he had been diagnosed in 2007, and for which he helped raise awareness and money. He continued writing as long as possible, and in 2012 when he lost his ability to type, he used voice-recognition software and technology to complete recent books as Raising Steam (Doubleday, 2013), Turtle Recall: The Discworld Companion, and So Far (William Morrow, 2014).
Pratchett was born in Beaconsfield, England on April 28, 1948. From a very early age, he had a passion for reading and fantasy, often citing The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame as a childhood favorite. He took to writing at a young age as well, and by high school was publishing stories in his school magazine. At 15 he sold his first story to Science Fantasy, and by 17 he was working as a newspaper journalist. That was the same year he penned his debut novel, a fantasy for children called The Carpet People, which was initially published in the U.K. in 1971. A revised edition was published in the U.S. by Clarion in 2013.
Though he was building a steady body of writing work, Pratchett’s career really took off with the publication of The Color of Magic (Gerrards Gross, England/St. Martin’s, U.S., 1983), the first of his Discworld books set in what is described as a flat world that rests on the shoulders of four massive elephants who are atop a giant tortoise that travels through space. In 2001, he won the Carnegie Medal for his first Discworld novel intended for young readers, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents (HarperCollins). His other books for young people include the Discworld-centered trilogy begun with The Wee Free Men (HarperCollins, 2003) starring nine-year-old Tiffany Aching, who travels to Fairyland to rescue her kidnapped baby brother. Tiffany returns as a young woman in a fourth title, I Shall Wear Midnight (Harper, 2011). Pratchett's YA novel Nation – an alternative history set in 1860 – was named a Michael L. Printz Honor Book in 2009. Pratchett’s The Bromeliad trilogy for kids includes Truckers, Diggers, and Wings (published by Doubleday in 1989 and 1990 and reprinted by HarperCollins in 2004) and features four-inch-tall gnomes who have crashed to Earth from a distant planet and try to make a new home in a department store.
Critics often praised Pratchett’s work for its humor and sharp satire, and his books were translated into more than 30 languages. In 1998 he received an OBE for “services to literature” and in 2009 he was knighted.
Anne Hoppe, Pratchett’s longtime children’s book editor in the U.S., first at HarperCollins Children’s Books, and then Clarion Books, offered this tribute. “It would be misleading to say Terry was one in a million. He was one in 7.3 billion: there has never been and there never will be anyone else like him on this planet. Genius, humorist, moralist, activist, husband, father, friend—what he most wanted to be remembered as is a 'writer.' Terry loved to write; he lived for it. And his books will live, treasured by readers—some looking for entertainment, some for enlightenment, but all laughing and thinking as they turn the pages—for generations to come. His novels are immortal, but I would have given my life for his if only it had been possible to do so. Working with him was my highest honor and my deepest joy.”
Jennifer Brehl, senior v-p, executive editor, and director of editorial development at Morrow and Harper Voyager, who has edited Pratchett's U.S. adult books for the past 16 years, shared this remembrance. "He was a superb writer, a loyal friend, and a keen observer of the human condition. He had an amazing ability to speak the truth, no matter how inconvenient it was. Those who dismissed his work as “funny fantasy” missed the mark entirely. I daresay if more people would take the time to read Terry Pratchett novels, the world would be a better place. Or at least more of us would be smiling. "