I remember finding out about the suicide of Kurt Cobain. I was with my brother in 13th Ave Music, our local indie record store (anyone remember those?), and it was written up on the whiteboard where the new releases were usually written. For those of us that were into his music, it was an unexpected shock; we were young and alive, and the man who had sung all our songs, so new and vital in a way that only is possible when you first hear something that speaks to you, somehow, he wasn't.
It was a strange thing to be sad for the death of a man you had never met. It felt personal, but not; it felt devastating, but not. A real voice, an original talent, was stilled, and all the songs that might have spoken to us would never be written. It has happened to me since then, Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut and so on.
Sir Terry Pratchett died recently. and I have been thinking of him a lot since then. It is a strange thing to be sad for the death of a man you have never met, but even still...
It made me think of the relationship between an author and a reader. I realized that the reason I was sad was not related to him as a person, though by all accounts I have ever read, he was as exceptional and brilliant and kind a person as his books would lead you to believe (which is not always the case; I have read accounts of people meeting their favorite writers and walking away disillusioned and wanting a shower).
My sadness, however, had nothing to do with Terry Pratchett as a man. It stemmed mostly from my own selfish loss. What he had provided for me as a reader was gone.
There is an assumed relationship we have with our writers; we somehow think we know things about them because we have read their words and stories. But that isn't the truth. Judging from how little we know about the people we sleep next to every night, assuming we know anything about a person from the stories they have written is just damn silly. Someone like Vonnegut, from his writing, we can probably assume a few things of his general worldview, his thoughts about people and war and willful stupidity. Probably we can do some of that with Pratchett as well, at least to some extent, divine his thoughts about science and politics and religion and discrimination, but most of that comes from us, not him. We lay ourselves over the things we read. The images that spring from a writer's words are from our own head; the words are just the catalyst. The voices in which the characters speak are our own, and as indescribable as colors. We have to speak of these things in the negative. We only know what they aren't.
Readers everywhere have lost a lot, but I think it is a selfish loss, a loss of all the voices stilled, of all the images unseen. We will miss what he did for us.
I will miss Vimes, Carrot, Granny Weatherwax, Vetinari, Tiffany Aching, Angua, Nobby, Colon, Death, Rincewind, Ridcully, the Dean, Moist Von Lipwig, The Luggage, Nanny Ogg, Foul ol' Ron, CMOT Dibbler, and all the rest, because they are all static now, captured in time, mosquitoes in amber. As he wrote, we got the sense that between the books, life went on on the Discworld, people just carried on and lived their lives as all of us do. No doubt we will get the usual post-mortem nonsense, the unfinished stuff and the b-side stuff that always follows, and certainly there are people that can keep it wobbling on for a while, but for all practical purposes, life on the Discworld as we have known it for the last thirty years or so has stilled.
We will never get to see the inevitable confrontation between Carrot and Vimes, Carrot taking on the role of king, and Vimes having to stand against him, tearing the watch in half, ripping the city in two.
Even great A'tuin, the World Turtle, has stopped his endless swim through space and time, frozen. The Discworld, world, and mirror of worlds, has stopped spinning for us.
A genuine, original voice has been quieted, a bright spark in a dumb, dark world has gone out, leaving us here listening to echoes.
I still listen to Nirvana; Cobain's music is still damn good even after all these years. I will still read Vonnegut and Adams and Pratchett. All that is different now is that I don't have any new Kilgore Trout stories, any new trips through the galaxy with Arthur Dent, and all the Small Gods be damned, now I will have no new Discworld stories to look forward to, either.
As readers, we have no right to grief. That should be reserved for Lyn, and Rob, and Rhianna, and Neil, and all the others that knew him as a man, not as a source of entertainment. We only get to grieve, briefly, the loss of all the stories and magic and wonder that his work provided. A selfish and self-indulgent grief.
And the show goes on.
If you have anything to add, or feel compelled to tell me my opinions are dumb, please take a moment to comment.
If, for whatever reason, you can't or won't comment here, you can also reach me on Twitter @RDPullins or via email: dissent (dot) within (at) gmail (dot) com.