Miskatonic University Press

Terry Pratchett biography

literature terry.pratchett

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been rereading all of the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett (except for a few at the start, which I don’t think bear it). And as I also mentioned, I’ve been listening to Desert Island Discworld. I’ve now listened to all the episodes, even for books I didn’t really like the first time.

Book cover
Book cover

Thanks to the podcast (see episode 4.03) I found out about The Magic of Terry Pratchett: A Biography by Marc Burrows, which came out last year.

Burrows has done excellent work here. Pratchett was outgoing and friendly to fans, and was active in Usenet and at conventions and such, but nevertheless was a fairly private fellow. When he did talk about his personal life, he often recycled anecdotes, which got polished over time until they were sometimes more entertaining than the actual truth of the story. Burrows digs into Pratchett’s full history, including childhood and early years at newspapers, and puts together a thorough picture of his life.

One thing that really comes through is how hard Pratchett worked. He put in long hours when he was a newspaper reporter and editor, and then in PR at an electrical utility where he started writing Discworld books in the evenings. They quickly became so successful he could write full time, and then his bibliography explodes. There were years he put out five books. When he got Alzheimer’s his productivity eventually slowed, but he also began public activity about Alzheimer’s and then assisted suicide. He’s another of those admirable people who don’t give up.

Apparently there will be an authorized biography that will use Pratchett’s personal papers, which will be well worth reading. Burrows is always on the outside, without access to anything private and no help from his daughter (or wife, who is barely mentioned). Nevertheless, it is a complete biography, insightful and well-written (except for the footnotes, which are overused) and will be of interest to any Pratchett readers and Discworld fans.

After reading it my next Discworld book was Thud!, which was a disappointment. The recent books have been excellent, especially Night Watch and the introduction of Tiffany Aching and Moist von Lipwig, but this had a bunch of wrong notes in it. The whole idea of the Summoning Dark taking over Vimes just isn’t right, the jokes in the scene where Angua (a werewolf) and Sally (a vampire) are naked (after transforming back from being a wolf and about 150 bats respectively) are embarrassing, and the way Vimes rails against the use of magic but then gets the wizards to help him get to Koom Valley quickly is part of a confused ending. From now on Pratchett was working with the embuggerance, as he called his Alzheimer’s, and knowing more about that now that I’ve read the biography, that will influence my rereading.