I was surprised by my own mild reaction when I woke today and saw the first of many subtle tweets about Terry, though I guessed immediately what they meant. I was surprised by just how many of those tweets were also some flavor of subtle or mild or restrained. I didn’t see many all-caps primal screams or 140-character duets for Emoji and exclamation point.
Of course, I peer out at the universe through a knothole as tiny as anyone else’s and the plural of “Twitter stream anecdote” is surely not “data,” nor even a distant relation to data, nor even a part-time and barely convincing cosplay of data.
And yet I think there’s something natural and inevitable about this quiet reaction. It’s not merely that we’ve all known for some time that Terry had to be passing soon, that we’ve been forced to think about it, that he had the chance to say so much about it.
When some people die, they leave the rest of us with a sense that they’ve packed their words and warmth and hauled them along like luggage for the trip, that we can never hear from them again. Terry gave us so much of himself, though, so damned MUCH– seventy books, just for starters, and a world and its inhabitants that might as well be a religion for millions. A good religion, a useful religion. The sort where there’s always a little golden light flickering behind one of the church windows at any hour of the night, so you know there’s someone there to talk to you about anything, and they won’t have locked the doors. They won’t even have put locks on the doors. Some asshole suggested putting locks on the doors once, many years ago, and everyone else in the church carried that person out of town and threw them into a pond. That’s a Terry Pratchett sort of church. That’s a Terry Pratchett book. And he walled us in with them. He stacked them high all around us, and they’re all him, they’re all still here, and they’re going to be here so very long after you and I and everyone else reading this have gone off for a last walk WITH THE ONLY PERSON IN THE UNIVERSE WHO SPEAKS NATURALLY IN ALL CAPS AND WE DON’T REALLY MIND AT ALL, IT’S JUST THE WAY THINGS HAVE TO BE.
Terry Pratchett can die, and fuck everything for that sentence. Fuck those four words. I am feeling the cracks starting to appear in me now. I’ve lost the mildness and quiet I had this morning. But here’s the point. Terry Pratchett can die, but he can never go away.
Any hapless twit with sufficient fortitude of ass and typing fingers can leave a pile of books to the world, but too many of those books will be disconnected and unrevealing. Too many of those writers will leave nothing but layers of affect and encipherment between themselves and the reader. Terry didn’t leave us anything (despite the obvious depth and subtlety of his work) that needs Bletchley Park to decode. Terry wrote himself… Terry’s books are Terry. They are full of his everything. All his keen wonderment, all his flaying sarcasm, all his brimming love for the cracked vessels we are as individuals and as a whole.
Sixty-six is a good span of years, but Terry Pratchett was walking proof that we can have a world and a society where sixty-six is too young to go, too impossibly unfairly fucking young by far. All around us, people are trying to destroy the very possibility of that world. Some of them work with machine guns and some of them work with balance sheets, but Terry Pratchett was visible evidence that they all have to be mocked and scorned and hunted and fought. There can’t be Terry Pratchetts in the world they intend for the rest of us, which is proof enough that their world is a pile of shit.
So even though there are things now rolling down my cheeks as I write this, I think my initial reaction was inevitable. What he gave us was just so big, so rich, and so real. It’s hard to feel a chill when none of the warmth has vanished.
You’re not really going anywhere, you know.