In early 2015, we lost one of the world’s great storytellers. Sir Terry Pratchett, eight years after being diagnosed with an Alzheimatic embuggerance, passed away peacefully at the age of 66. I’m not going to rehash my reviews of his works here or try to come up with the ultimate best quote list that has been attempted so many times before. Instead, this is a personal story.
By the time I entered college as a freshman in 2005, the English Club had long fizzled out, but an upperclassman named Courtney started kicking the kindling around, trying to light it up before she tossed her cap in the air that coming May. The first few “brainstorming” club meetings looked bleak. In fact, only me and this kid named Joe showed up. Joe was a year older than me but also a freshman.
After only meeting once or twice, he sent me this Facebook message:
Joe: I actually try Facebook. Despite all of my many misgivings about the whole thing. And I put in my favorite books. I see that Terry Pratchett is in my profile as a link. I click and holy shit, there are other people on campus who read it! And one of them is you! Another reason your taste kicks my ass to the moon and back. Plus I just saw Serenity again. *grin*
And the rest of the conversation went as follows the next day (Joe’s 20th birthday):
Jaime: I do love Terry Pratchett. I hear he got sick recently and had to cancel the rest of his tour. I went to see Serenity again this weekend in Madison, but they pulled it from the theatre! *gasp!*
Joe: I’m reading Thud! right now, but it’s slow going with all my classes. But yeah, Serenity has been relegated to the Riv screening room here. Sure the theater is ghetto as all get out, but it has personality. Personality I tell ya!
Jaime: I’ve honestly only read half of The Thief of Time, Monsterous Regiment, Lords and Ladies, and I’ve flipped through The Truth, though I do own a few other Discworld novels plus the Art of Discworld, which I really enjoy. I don’t read as much as I should, but I simply don’t have the time. I haven’t actually been to the Riv yet.
Joe: I’ve pretty much read every Discworld book there is, and also own the Art of Discworld (awesome stuff there). It’s hard to find time to read up here, for sure.
By 2005, there were about 34 Discworld books published. I’ve always been a slow reader and the idea that someone approximately my age had read all of them blew my mind (little did I realize how much down time he’d had in his life). I, too, was determined to also read all of the Discworld books. Let me be clear, I wasn’t in competition with him. It was more that I looked up to his determination and follow-through. So I read Discworld after Discworld novel, trying to catch up. Meanwhile, Courtney had gotten the English Club off the ground. The best part of English Club was the semi-annual sporting event: English majors vs. English professors. Sometimes it was kickball or wiffle ball. Once, it was even croquet. Here’s a photo of the English Club celebrating a victory of our first kickball match against the professors. That’s our club adviser Sharon on the ground, admitting defeat. I’m on the far left, and Joe is in the white sweatshirt.
Anyway, later that year, Joe was hospitalized with a relapse of leukemia. The English Club pitched in to buy him the boxed set of Narnia. As we waited for Joe to get better and return to school, English Club had book drives with rock bands, a monthly open mic night that I hosted, and at some point my decision to not run for office was vetoed and I got named Vice President. That summer, English Club took a break as everyone went home for vacation. During my absence from school and my friends, I heard that Joe had passed away. There are lots of reasons that I miss Joe, but Discworld was sort of our thing, and as strange as it sounds, one of my first reactions was anger at myself for not having caught up to him. If only I’d read faster, we could have enjoyed some time comparing notes.
To give you some idea of who Joe was, there was no on-campus visitation of somber people in black clothes shaking hands of his family members. Instead, his family rented out the Riv (the old timey cinema that Joe had said had personality) and we were all handed coconut halves at the door. We went in and watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a final request from Joe.
So, what does Terry Pratchett mean? Well, he means something different to everybody. For me, he reminds me of my friend. I hope that you will share with the world what Sir Terry means to you on your blog or here in comments.
“No one is finally dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away–until the clock he wound up winds down, until the wine she made has finished its ferment, until the crop they planted is harvested. The span of someone’s life, they say, is only the core of their actual existence.”
—Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett