Once upon a time, there was an author named Sir Terry Pratchett.
He was a crotchety old British man, the kind with an enormous white beard and wire-rimmed glasses and a very large hat. Looking at him, you might be forgiven for thinking he looked rather like a twenty-first century Santa Claus; he certainly had that twinkle in his eye, that peculiar and unquenchable spirit that you associate with, in the midst of a world that is so often dark and cold and unamusing, something very bright and mischievous and good.
He was, presumably, not always so. There must have been a time when he was not so crotchety, or not so old, or not so bright. There must have been, even, a time when he was not an author.
But the story begins: Once upon a time there was an author named Sir Terry Pratchett. And so it does not matter, really, that the story was not always true.
All that matters is that the story gets told.
Terry Pratchett wrote fantasy. This is the sort of sentence that is often closely followed by a but: “he wrote fantasy, but it was a parody of fantasy”; “he wrote fantasy, but it was for adults”; “he wrote fantasy, but it wasn’t really fantasy, it couldn’t have been, because I’m clever and deep and important, I’m a serious person, and if what he wrote was fantasy, I wouldn’t be able to love it the way that I do.”
But Terry Pratchett did write fantasy — and it was real fantasy, proper fantasy, fantasy with witches and wizards and dragons and elves. And the witches weren’t quite the ones you remembered from your childhood, more cleverness and common sense than sparkles and spells; and the wizards were cowards, and the dragons were silly, and the elves were not small and twee but wicked and dangerous. And there were not just enchanted forests but cities, dirty and ugly and filled with policemen and politicians and thieves and sausage salesmen; and there were not just werewolves and vampires, but monsters, too.
People loved what Terry Pratchett wrote. This is part of the story, too. They loved it, and so he rose to fame and fortune, as all good heroes should; they loved it despite the fact that it was fantasy, or even because of it. They loved his books, and bought copies by the millions, and demanded he write more.
He did. He always did. There was a new Terry Pratchett book almost every year, and there were many, many years.
The way stories are supposed to end is that the hero lives happily ever after.
This is a lie, this ending. It is a kind lie, and a necessary lie, but it is a lie nonetheless. It is a way to stop the story without stopping it; it is a way to prevent the reader from asking, and then what?, while promising that the heroes did, indeed, get up the next day, that the world continued to turn towards morning, that life and love went on as they always had and they always will.
It is a way of promising more stories without providing more stories. It is a way of tricking you into thinking that the fact that there will be no more stories is all right.
It is not all right that there will be no more stories.
Terry Pratchett wrote fantasy.
He wrote about worlds where people ask themselves whether it is right to obey orders or protect those around them; he wrote about worlds where change is difficult, and hatred is easy, and war seems inevitable, and courage is a double-edged sword; he wrote about worlds where things are often dark, and sometimes hopeless, and it is always, always worthwhile to laugh.
There is a passage, in one of his books:
“All right,” said Susan. “I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need… fantasies to make life bearable.”
REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.
“Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—”
YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.
“So we can believe the big ones?”
YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.
“They’re not the same at all!”
YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET—Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME… SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.
“Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point—”
“MY POINT EXACTLY.”
Once upon a time, there was an author named Sir Terry Pratchett. He wrote books where Death was wise, and kind, which is how you knew they were fantasy.
Stories are meant to end by telling us that the hero lived happily ever after. And this is a lie.
But you have to start out learning to believe the little lies; and this is as good a place as any.
So here are some lies:
Sir Terry Pratchett was an author, and a good one, and he lived happily ever after. And we will live on, and remember him forever. And Death will be kind, because we will say he is, and the world will turn towards morning, as it always has, and there will be more stories, because we will write them. And they will be clever, and funny, and as true as we can make them; and they will be important — the most important things in the world — as they have always, always been.
And we will stay human; and we will miss him, because he made being human easier, for a very short while.