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On Terry and Me

Disclaimer: No knitting content this time. But this is important to me.

On Thursday night, I cried.

I had just opened the homepage of our local newspaper to get one last look at what was new before I went to bed, when I saw a picture of Terry Pratchett on the first page. “Discworld-Author Terry Pratchett Dead”.

I stared and thought: ›Oh no.‹ And when I read the twitter messages, the tears started to flow.

I didn’t know about Terry Pratchett and his books until 2000 – “The Fifth Elephant” had just been published, I think. I was writing for our school magazine then and one of my “colleagues” managed to contact Terry Pratchett via E-mail. I read the interview with interest and decided that I’d give Pratchett a try. I went to the local library and checked out Witches Abroad.

The First and Last Book read

My first and last-read book by Terry

Now, I’d love to say something along the lines of: “From this moment, I was hooked and bought every single one of his books and that was the beginning of a wonderful friendship” – but I want to be honest here. The problem with Pratchett’s books (the only problem, that is) is this: You have to read them in English. Most of the jokes are funny because they are puns. Or homophones. Since these cannot be translated into German*, the books made me smile – yes – but I was wondering what made them so outstanding. Remember: I was 14, and I had been learning English for three years only so far, and reading English books in the original was still way too hard.

I loved the characters, though. Nanny Ogg quickly became one of my favourites and as I read Reaper Man, Death became another one. Equal Rites, Small Gods, Mort and Guards! Guards!, followed, then came The Hogfather. Until now, my favourite books are about the witches, the Feegles, Death and the Night Watch.

I cannot remember my first English Discworld novel. But I remember my reaction very well: While the German translations had made me smile and sometimes grin, the originals now managed to have me in stitches. There have been so many articles now on what is so brilliant about Terry Pratchett’s books (of course, the Discworld novels are only part of his whole work), and many have voiced it much better than I could do that – so I can only tell you what makes them outstanding for me.

They are wise. They are funny. They are benign, and yet there is an irony in them whose sharpness is equal to Dickens’. They are clever and witty, and most of all: They are true. What you learn about character, about motives, the ways of the world, about people while having a good laugh is amazing.
They are also very well written and feature characters who are real – you love them and they annoy you and they become real friends and companions. When you read the dialogues, you hear the conversation and if you are a bit unlucky, you can also smell the Ankh.

I put a love letter between the pages of Reaper Man when I was 16 years old and lend the book to my boyfriend at that time. The Wintersmith kept me company in 2008 when I went to Cornwall for six weeks, and the book immediately started a conversation with the girls sitting next to me before I had read ten pages. I remember sitting on a lawn on campus during summer time, talking with a friend about literature and being told: “Man, you have to read Carpe Juggulum! That’s one of the best Discworld novels ever!”. I finished I Shall Wear Midnight late at night and was moved to tears by the Author’s Afterword and I was howling with laughter over some passages in Night Watch. Two years ago, while I was on holiday with Philipp, I took Unseen Academicals with me and was crying with laughter about the poem “Oi! To his Deaf Mistress”.

I own DVDs of the broadcasts of Soul Music and Wyrd Sisters and was over the moon with joy when I could get my hands on the movies Hogfather, Going Postal and The Colour of Magic. While watching The Colour of Magic, I knit my very first pair of socks.

Last summer, while I was taking part in the summer tournament of “Nerd Wars”, my team “1 More Page” was discussing Pratchett and his books during one round, because it had been announced that he had to cancel his appareance at Dragon Con due to his health issues. I made Socks for Nanny Ogg afterwards.

Sunny Feet 04

On Friday, the day after I had heard the news, I took out Reaper Man and started to read it to Philipp. And while I was reading and he was laughing and I was remembering how it was when I read the book for the very first time, there was a melancholy in the words that hadn’t been there before.

There are so many places on discworld I haven’t visited, so many characters I have yet to meet. It pains me that now I have all the time in the world to check them out, because there won’t be any more books to come. It seems so unfair that such a wise, talented man had to be plagued by that damn illness and had to go on so early while so many villains remain. That’s not how it is in the stories.

My only consolation is the thought that he probably did still know where he was going. Because, as he had put it in I Shall Wear Midnight:

“It is important that we know where we come from, because if you do not know where you come from, then you don’t know where you are, and if you don’t know where you are, then you don’t know where you’re going. And if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re probably going wrong.”

Goodbye, Sir Terry. I’ll miss you.

My Discworldnovel collection

*I remember one incident in which there had to be a lengthy footnote by the translator why the dialogue: “What is your name?” – “Quoth”, said the raven. – “Quoth the raven?” was funny (with longish explanations about this being an allusion to Poe’s poem “Nevermore”) … Which left me like: “Oh, now I get it. Haha.”

7 thoughts on “On Terry and Me

  1. Oh ja, ich unterschreibe jedes Wort. Wobei ich die deutschen Übersetzungen für ziemlich gelungen halte, im Gegensatz zu anderen Buchübersetzungen. Game of thrones auf Deutsch ist viel schwerer erträglich.

    • Das stimmt – gemessen an anderen Übersetzungen sind die deutschen Versionen der Romane sehr anständig. Ich glaube, es hängt immer stark vom Buch ab (je nachdem wieviel linguistischer Humor dabei ist) – “Ho Ho Ho!” war auf Deutsch beispielsweise sehr gut und auch “Total verhext” ist wirklich schön. (Die Johnny-Trilogie kann man auch sehr, sehr gut auf Deutsch lesen).

      Was Game of Thrones angeht – Philipp hat sich damals auf mein Anraten hin die englischen Bücher gekauft. Ich finde es schlicht unverschämt, Bücher mehr oder willkürlich zu splitten und dann für ca. 15,-€ PRO STÜCK einzeln zu verkaufen. Heyne (ist doch Heyne, oder?) verdient sich natürlich eine goldene Nase, aber … nö. Philipp kommt ja immer noch nicht über “Then Graufreud” hinweg und was die “Night’s Watch” angeht, muss ich ihm auch Recht geben: “Er nimmt das Schwarz” ist erstens für mich irgendwie kein vollständiger Satz und zweitens klingt es doch sehr stark nach Abendkleid … 😉

  2. I have never read a Terry Prachett, but I think I will have to now. I have a feeling that my son will especially love his books. Why is it that the best of us are often taken too soon? You have many lovely memories tied up with this books.

    • Yes, go and read some of the books! Your son might enjoy the Feegle series with Tiffany Aching; it’s about a young girl who is going to be a witch (check it out on amazon, I can’t really explain it – but it’s awesome). Another great series which isn’t set on Discworld, but “here”, is the Johnny Trilogy: “Only you can safe mankind” (I love that one), “Johnny and the Dead” and “Johnny and the Bomb” – very wise and also funny.

      One of my favourite books is indeed “Hogfather” (the Discworld equivalent to Father Christmas/Santa), but “Witches Abroad” is also very, very amazing. And “Unseen Academicals” is simply hilarious – I still have to read “Carpe Juggulum”. The good thing about the Discworld novels (in my humble opinion) is that you can “chose” between different “main characters” or “mini series”: I, for example, am not that fond of Rincewind (a wizard who owns a hat with the word “wizzard” on it), but others love him dearly and many start with “The Colour of Magic”.
      Pratchett also collaborated with Neil Gaiman at least once – in the book “Good Omens”, the plot evolves around Doomsday. 😉

      I really loved those books. I have other authors I love as well, and much of them are older – but Pratchett’s works are somehow tied with more emotional memories.

  3. I read Pratchett’s books during senior classes, and “Alles Sense” (sorry, I just know the german titles) was the first on – how great! “Total verhext” and “Voll im Bilde”, too. There were some more, but I must admit, someday it bored me, somehow. To me it appeared to be the same gags, just repeating. I tried it again, some years ago, but Pratchett did not make me lough anymore. Acutally too bad…
    Well, nevertheless learning about Pratchett’s death made me very sad, too. A really great author, with such a stunning imagination! I hope he had not to suffer too much…

    • It depends on the books – there definitely were some I didn’t enjoy as much, at least in the German translation (funnily, “Voll im Bilde” was one of them). “Einfach göttlich”/”small Gods”) was difficult for me as well, “Eric” and “Pyramids”, too.
      I am probably admitting a sacrilege here, but I for my part didn’t wet my pants laughing while reading Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker through Galaxy” series. For me, they are a bit too chaotic – maybe I was too young when I read them at first.

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