We craft and tell stories because we’ve stood on the uncertain edge between the waking world and our imagination, between enchantment and fear. And we remember other stories that help us build our own stories, scraps of lumber and fragments of narrative we gather together to make stories for ourselves.

R.I.P. Sir Terry Pratchett

Terry PratchettSir Terry’s death is almost old news by now. Tributes and obituaries and commemorative fan art have flooded the internet, as we remember the books, the laughter, the great man himself. Words show their limits at times like these: they crack and strain, echoing each other dully, as we wonder what more there is to say—what, really, can ever be said.

Other people have praised Sir Terry—as a man, an author, and a civic figure—more and more eloquently than I can here. Other websites have detailed his life and his writings, with dates and titles all accounted for. Other readers have told anecdotes of the solace and hilarity and hope that his words gave them. I will not repeat them all. But I will say this:

Terry Pratchett understood fairy tales. He understood the folklore they grew from, and, most importantly, understood the folk themselves. He knew that flint is the heart of the chalk, that a stick and bucket dance only needs to be good enough for folk music, that strange magic works under a gibbous moon, and that all the science in the world will never stop children from wondering about ghosts.

And because he understood this, deeply, and cherished the tales strongly, he gleefully despoiled them for his own designs. He cobbled together the bits he liked best to make other bits he liked better. For Sir Terry, it seems, the folktale tradition was still very much alive—and so meant to be retold and refashioned and reordered.

The old tales as he found them were not a shrine of antiquaries, but a comfortably lived-in space. In his work there is none of a curator’s care for a venerable estate, but rather a homeowner’s ease in redecorating the kitchen.

Terry Pratchett understood that fairy tales are meant to be broken and remade in the storyteller’s image. As Italo Calvino once said, ‘The story is not beautiful if nothing is added to it.’ So to the old tales he loved and lived in, Sir Terry added rage, together with fatherly affection, masterful headology, and a fine ear for a tale well told. The world is littler, and its tales lesser, without him.

He also had a hat.


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