Sunday, 6 September 2015

A museum and a tribute to a fine man and entertainer

He went out in style, Terry Pratchett. After announcing his early onset Alzheimer’s in 2007, he spent his last eight years fighting the disease, both through contributions to the search for a cure or by publicising the nature and effects of the disease, and by refusing to let it throw him off his work as a chronicler of the Discworld (that flat world, carried on the backs of four elephants, riding in turn through the cosmos on the shell of the great turtle A’tuin.)

Technically, Pratchett died on 12 March this year. To me, though, he only really went after carrying out his final piece of magic, on 27 August, when I woke up to find his last novel, The Shepherd’s Crown, had blossomed on my Kindle overnight. A touch of pure Discworld witchcraft, that, or perhaps wizardry, the wizards being the ones that went for science and technology, while the witches concentrated on far more practical matters (a recurring theme in The Shepherd’s Crown is the witch’s duty of clipping the preternaturally tough toenails of old men.)

Pratchett developed some extraordinary characters: Vetinari, the Patrician of Ankh Morpork, Captain, later Commander, Vimes of the watch in that great city, Corporal, later Captain, Carrot of the same august body.

Three of his finest have to be the witches Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and the one he presented to us last, Tiffany Aching. All his characters have many fine qualities, but I don’t think it unfair to say that Tiffany is the most delightful. In The Shepherd’s Crown we say goodbye to her, to Granny Weatherwax and to Nanny Ogg, and that closing door brought home to me that I would at last have to say goodbye to Pratchett too.

Previous novels of his I’ve read with the warm sense that it was “the latest.” For this one, I had to cope with the bitter feeling that it was “the last.”

Today, my wife Danielle and I went down to Luton’s Wardown Park because, in the Museum there, a performance was going to be given by Nakisha Esnard (never heard of her? I think you might in the future: combining poetry and music, dynamically, wittily and powerfully).

But the museum also brought me face to face with Terry Pratchett again. It is running an exhibition of works by Paul Kidby, who illustrated many Pratchett novels.

Checkmort: Kidby after Bergman in a tribute to Pratchett
Another great Pratchett character is Death – well, many others have used the character, not least Ingmar Bergman in The Seventh Seal, a fact of which Kidby is clearly aware – but Pratchett gave him a special twist (“Death comes to us all. When he came to Mort, he offered him a job.”). Kidby neatly expresses the sense of the game we lost against Death when Pratchett went, in a Bergmanesque and prescient picture, painted four years ago.
But I was also delighted to find Tiffany again, having only just said goodbye to her. There she was, with her pointy hat, the essential badge of the witch, the brim inhabited by Nac Mac Feegles, her ubiquitous companions and protectors.

Tiffany with her badge of office, the pointy hat
And a detachment of Nac Mac Feegles
It was good to see you, Tiffany. And Pratchett, indeed. Even Death, come to that, though I can’t help feeling a certain resentment at him for stopping the flow of these beguiling tales.

Pratchett’s Death would have given us something richer than Pratchett’s death.

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