Leader: Facing Death (and Binky)

Death, as portrayed in the 2006 TV adaptation on Sky.
Death, as portrayed in the 2006 TV adaptation on Sky.

There are some who dismiss the work of Terry Pratchett as silly fantasy – and, in a sense, it is. His gift has always been in treating the big subjects with the lightest touch and in smuggling huge banks of wisdom past unsuspecting, giggling readers.

Pratchett has known for some years that there is little time for writing left: his diagnosis with a rare form of Alzheimer’s in 2007 seemed a particularly cruel punishment for someone so adept with words. Yet, with typical verve (this is a man who owns a sword made from meteorites), he began to campaign for dignity in dying and the right to end his life at a time of his choosing. “I intend, before the endgame looms, to die sitting in a chair in my own garden with a glass of brandy in my hand and Thomas Tallis on the iPod,” he wrote in the Mail on Sunday. “Oh, and since this is England, I had better add, ‘If wet, in the library.’ Who could say that this is bad?”

In pursuing this admirable campaign, Pratchett has shown great courage: for who, knowing that their death was on a tighter schedule than other people’s, would want to be constantly reminded of that fact? Then again, as a writer, he has always been comfortable with confronting mortality: Death – a skeleton in a robe, riding a horse called Binky – has been a character in most of the Discworld novels.

Until that endgame approaches, Pratchett is determined to write as much as he can, in whatever way he can. In his interview with Laurie Penny on page 26, he says that he can no longer type and so dictates his books. He also reveals that his daughter, Rhianna, already a respected writer, will carry on the Discworld series after he has to say goodbye to it. That will be a truly sad day, both for Pratchett’s family and for his millions of readers, but it is typical of his wisdom, warmth and humanity that he has made what one of his characters might call “practical arrangements” for the world he has created to live on after his death.

Read Laurie Penny's interview with Terry Pratchett and Helen Lewis on the politics of his work.