Terry Pratchett

Sir Terence David John Pratchett OBE (28 April 1948 – 12 March 2015) was an English humourist, satirist, and author of fantasy novels, especially comical works.[1] He is best known for his Discworld series of 41 novels.

Terry Pratchett

Pratchett at the 2012 New York Comic Con
BornTerence David John Pratchett
(1948-04-28)28 April 1948
Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, England
Died12 March 2015(2015-03-12) (aged 66)
Broad Chalke, Wiltshire, England
Notable works
Notable awards
Lyn Purves
(m. 1968)
ChildrenRhianna Pratchett

Pratchett's first novel, The Carpet People, was published in 1971. The first Discworld novel, The Colour of Magic, was published in 1983, after which Pratchett wrote an average of two books a year. The final Discworld novel, The Shepherd's Crown, was published in August 2015, five months after his death.

With more than 85 million books sold worldwide in 37 languages,[2][3] Pratchett was the UK's best-selling author of the 1990s.[4][5] He was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1998 and was knighted for services to literature in the 2009 New Year Honours.[6][7] In 2001 he won the annual Carnegie Medal for The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, the first Discworld book marketed for children.[8][9] He received the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement in 2010.[10]

In December 2007, Pratchett announced that he had been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease.[11] He later made a substantial public donation to the Alzheimer's Research Trust (now Alzheimer's Research UK, ARUK),[12] filmed a television programme chronicling his experiences with the condition for the BBC, and became a patron for ARUK.[13] Pratchett died on 12 March 2015, aged 66.[14]


Early life

Pratchett was born on 28 April 1948[15][16] in Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire, England, the only child of David (1921–2006), a mechanic, and Eileen Pratchett (1922–2010), a secretary, of Hay-on-Wye.[15][17][18] His maternal grandparents came from Ireland.[19] Pratchett attended Holtspur School, where he was bullied for his speech impediments.[18] He was bothered by the head teacher, who, he said, thought "he could tell how successful you were going to be in later life by how well you could read or write at the age of six".[18]

Pratchett's family moved to Bridgwater, Somerset, briefly in 1957. He passed his eleven plus exam in 1959, earning a place at High Wycombe Technical High School,[15][20] where he was a key member of the debating society[21] and wrote stories for the school magazine.[22] Pratchett described himself as a "non-descript" student and, in his Who's Who entry,[15] credited his education to the Beaconsfield Public Library.[23]

Pratchett's early interests included astronomy.[24] He collected Brooke Bond tea cards about space, owned a telescope[25] and wanted to be an astronomer, but lacked the necessary mathematical skills.[24] He developed an interest in science fiction[25] and attended science fiction conventions from about 1963–1964, but stopped a few years later when he got his first job as a trainee journalist at the local paper.[25] His early reading included the works of H. G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, and "every book you really ought to read", which he later regarded as "getting an education".[26]

Pratchett published his first short story, "Business Rivals", in the High Wycombe Technical School magazine in 1962. It is the tale of a man named Crucible who finds the Devil in his flat in a cloud of sulphurous smoke.[17] "The Hades Business", which was published in the school magazine when he was 13, was published commercially when he was 15.[27]

Pratchett earned five O-levels and started A-level courses in Art, English and History. His initial career choice was journalism and he left school at 17, in 1965, to start an apprenticeship with Arthur Church, the editor of the Bucks Free Press. In this position he wrote, among other things, over 80 stories for the Children's Circle section under the name Uncle Jim. Two of the stories contain characters found in his novel The Carpet People (1971).[28] While on day release from his apprenticeship, Pratchett finished his A-Level in English and took the National Council for the Training of Journalists proficiency course.[29]


In 1968, Pratchett interviewed Peter Bander van Duren, co-director of a small publishing company, Colin Smythe Ltd. Pratchett mentioned he had written a manuscript, The Carpet People.[30] Colin Smythe Ltd published the book in 1971, with illustrations by Pratchett. It received strong, although few, reviews[31] and was followed by the science fiction novels The Dark Side of the Sun (10 May 1976) and Strata (15 June 1981).

After various positions in journalism, in 1980 Pratchett became Press Officer for the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) in an area that covered four nuclear power stations. He later joked that he had demonstrated "impeccable timing" by making this career change so soon after the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Pennsylvania, US, and said he would "write a book about my experiences, if I thought anyone would believe it".[32]

The first Discworld novel, The Colour of Magic, was published in hardback by Colin Smythe Ltd in 1983. The paperback edition was published by Corgi, an imprint of Transworld, in 1985. Pratchett's popularity increased when the BBC's Woman's Hour broadcast The Colour of Magic as a serial in six parts, and later Equal Rites. Subsequently, the hardback rights were taken by the publishing house Victor Gollancz Ltd, which remained Pratchett's publisher until 1997, Colin Smythe having become Pratchett's agent. Pratchett was the first fantasy author published by Gollancz.[29]

Pratchett gave up working for the CEGB to make his living through writing in 1987, after finishing the fourth Discworld novel, Mort. His sales increased quickly and many of his books occupied top places on the best-seller list; he was the UK's best-selling author of the 1990s.[4] According to The Times, Pratchett was the top-selling and highest earning UK author in 1996.[29] Some of his books have been published by Doubleday, another Transworld imprint. In the US, Pratchett is published by HarperCollins.

According to the Bookseller's Pocket Yearbook (2005), in 2003 Pratchett's UK sales amounted to 3.4% of the fiction market by hardback sales and 3.8% by value, putting him in second place behind J. K. Rowling (6% and 5.6%, respectively), while in the paperback sales list Pratchett came 5th with 1.2% and 1.3% by value (behind James Patterson (1.9% and 1.7%), Alexander McCall Smith, John Grisham, and J. R. R. Tolkien).[33] He has UK sales of more than 2.5 million copies a year.[34] His 2011 Discworld novel Snuff became the third-fastest-selling hardback adult-readership novel since records began in the UK, selling 55,000 copies in the first three days.[35]

Alzheimer's disease

In August 2007, Pratchett was misdiagnosed as having had a minor stroke a few years before, which doctors believed had damaged the right side of his brain.[36][37][38] In December 2007, he announced that he had been newly diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease, which had been responsible for the "stroke".[38] He had a rare form of posterior cortical atrophy (PCA),[36][37] a disease in which areas at the back of the brain begin to shrink and shrivel.[12]

Describing the diagnosis as an "embuggerance" in a radio interview, Pratchett appealed to people to "keep things cheerful" and proclaimed that "we are taking it fairly philosophically down here and possibly with a mild optimism."[39] He stated he felt he had time for "at least a few more books yet", and added that while he understood the impulse to ask "is there anything I can do?", in this case he would only entertain such offers from "very high-end experts in brain chemistry."[39] Discussing his diagnosis at the Bath Literature Festival in early 2008, Pratchett revealed that by then he found it too difficult to write dedications when signing books.[40] In his later years, Pratchett wrote by dictating to his assistant, Rob Wilkins, or by using speech recognition software.[41]

Pratchett at Worldcon 2005 in Glasgow, August 2005

In March 2008, Pratchett announced he would donate US$1,000,000 (about £494,000) to the Alzheimer's Research Trust, and that he was shocked "to find out that funding for Alzheimer's research is just 3% of that to find cancer cures."[12][42] He said: "I am, along with many others, scrabbling to stay ahead long enough to be there when the cure comes along."[12]

In April 2008, Pratchett worked with the BBC to make a two-part documentary series about his illness, Terry Pratchett: Living With Alzheimer's.[43] The first part was broadcast on BBC Two on 4 February 2009, drawing 2.6 million viewers and a 10.4% audience share.[44] The second, broadcast on 11 February 2009, drew 1.72 million viewers and a 6.8% audience share.[45] The documentary won a BAFTA award in the Factual Series category.[46]

On 26 November 2008, Pratchett met the Prime Minister Gordon Brown and asked for an increase in dementia research funding.[47] Pratchett tested a prototype device to address his condition.[48][49] The ability of the device to alter the course of the illness has been met with skepticism from Alzheimer's researchers.[50]

In an article published 2009, Pratchett stated that he wished to die by assisted suicide, a term he disliked, before his disease progressed to a critical point.[51] He later said he felt "it should be possible for someone stricken with a serious and ultimately fatal illness to choose to die peacefully with medical help, rather than suffer".[52] Pratchett was selected to give the 2010 BBC Richard Dimbleby Lecture,[53] Shaking Hands With Death, broadcast on 1 February 2010.[54] Pratchett introduced his lecture on the topic of assisted death, but the main text was read by his friend Tony Robinson because his condition made it difficult for him to read.[55] In June 2011, Pratchett presented a BBC television documentary, Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die, about assisted suicide. It won the Best Documentary award at the Scottish BAFTAs in November 2011.[56]

In September 2012, Pratchett told an interviewer: "I have to tell you that I thought I'd be a lot worse than this by now, and so did my specialist." In the same interview, he said that the cognitive part of his mind was "untouched" and his symptoms were physical (normal for PCA).[57] However, in July 2014, he cancelled his appearance at the biennial International Discworld Convention, citing his condition and "other age-related ailments".[58]


Pratchett died at his home from complications of Alzheimer's disease on the morning of 12 March 2015. He was 66 years old.[59] The Telegraph reported an unidentified source as saying that despite his previous discussion of assisted suicide, his death had been natural.[60] After Pratchett's death, his assistant, Rob Wilkins, wrote from the official Terry Pratchett Twitter account:


Terry took Death's arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night.

The End.[61]

The use of small capitals is a reference to how the character of Death speaks in Pratchett's works.[61]

Public figures who paid tribute include British Prime Minister David Cameron, comedian Ricky Gervais,[62] and authors Ursula K. Le Guin, Terry Brooks, Margaret Atwood, George R. R. Martin, and Neil Gaiman.[63][64] Pratchett was memorialised in graffiti in East London.[65] The video game companies Frontier Developments[66] and Valve added elements to their games named after him.[67] Users of the social news site Reddit organised a tribute by which an HTTP header, "X-Clacks-Overhead: GNU Terry Pratchett", was added to web sites' responses, a reference to the Discworld novel Going Postal, in which "the clacks" (a semaphore system, used as Discworld's equivalent to a telegraph) are programmed to repeat the name of its creator's deceased son; the sentiment in the novel is that no one is ever forgotten as long as their name is still spoken.[68] A June 2015 web server survey reported that approximately 84,000 websites had been configured with the header.[69]

Pratchett's humanist funeral service was held on 25 March 2015.[70]

Personal life

Pratchett married Lyn Purves at the Congregational Church, Gerrards Cross, on 5 October 1968.[29] They moved to Rowberrow, Somerset, in 1970. Their daughter Rhianna Pratchett, also a writer, was born there in 1976. In 1993, the family moved to Broad Chalke, a village west of Salisbury, Wiltshire.[71]

Pratchett was the patron of the Friends of High Wycombe Library.[72] In 2013, he gave a talk at Beaconsfield Library, which he had visited as a child, and donated the income from the event to it. He also visited his former school to speak to the students.[17]

Pratchett often wore large, black hats, a style described as "more that of urban cowboy than city gent".[36] Concern for the future of civilisation prompted him to install five kilowatts of photovoltaic cells (for solar energy) at his house.[73]



Pratchett started to use computers for writing as soon as they were available to him. His first computer was a Sinclair ZX81; the first computer he used properly for writing was an Amstrad CPC 464, later replaced by a PC. Pratchett was one of the first authors to routinely use the Internet to communicate with fans, and was a contributor to the Usenet newsgroup alt.fan.pratchett from 1992.[74] However, he did not consider the Internet a hobby, just another "thing to use".[32] He had many computers in his house,[32] with a bank of six monitors to ease writing.[75][76] When he travelled, he always took a portable computer with him to write.[32]

In a 1995 interview with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Pratchett expressed concern about the potential spread of misinformation online. He felt that there was a "kind of parity of esteem of information" on the internet, and gave the example of holocaust denial being presented on the same terms as peer-reviewed research, with no easy way to gauge reliability. Gates disagreed, saying that online authorities would index and check facts and sources in a much more sophisticated way than in print. The interview was rediscovered in 2019, and seen by Pratchett's biographer as prescient of fake news.[77]

Pratchett was a video game player, and collaborated in the creation of a number of game adaptations of his books. He favoured games that are "intelligent and have some depth", citing Half-Life 2 (2004) and fan missions for Thief as examples.[78] The red army in Interesting Times prompted comparisons to the 1991 puzzle game Lemmings. When asked about this connection, Pratchett said: "Merely because the red army can fight, dig, march and climb and is controlled by little icons? Can't imagine how anyone thought that ... Not only did I wipe Lemmings from my hard disk, I overwrote it so I couldn't get it back."[79] He described The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (2006) as his favourite video game, and said he used many of its non-combat-oriented fan-made mods.[80]

Natural history

Pratchett had a fascination with natural history that he referred to many times, and he owned a greenhouse full of carnivorous plants.[81] He described them in the biographical notes on the dust jackets of some of his books, and elsewhere,[82] as "not as interesting as people think".[83] By Carpe Jugulum the account had become that "he used to grow carnivorous plants, but now they've taken over the greenhouse and he avoids going in."[84]

In 1995, a fossil sea-turtle from the Eocene epoch of New Zealand was named Psephophorus terrypratchetti in his honour by the palaeontologist Richard Köhler.[85]

In 2016, Pratchett fans petitioned the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) to name chemical element 117, temporarily called ununseptium, as octarine with the proposed symbol Oc (pronounced "ook").[86] The final name chosen for element 117 was tennessine with the symbol Ts.[87]

Pratchett was a trustee for the Orangutan Foundation[88] but was pessimistic about the future of orangutans.[73] His activities included visiting Borneo with a Channel 4 film crew to make an episode of "Jungle Quest" in 1995, seeing orangutans in their natural habitat.[89] Following Pratchett's lead, fan events such as the Discworld Conventions have adopted Orangutan Foundation as their nominated charity, which has been acknowledged by the foundation.[90] One of Pratchett's most popular fictional characters, the Librarian, is a wizard who was transformed into an orangutan in a magical accident and decides to remain in that condition as it is so convenient for his work.

Amateur astronomy

Pratchett had an observatory built in his back garden[24][25] and was a keen astronomer from childhood. He made an appearance on the BBC programme The Sky at Night.[91]

Terry Pratchett First Novel Award

Pratchett sponsored a biennial award for unpublished science fiction novelists, the Terry Pratchett First Novel Award. The prize is a publishing contract with his publishers Transworld.[92] In 2011 the award was won jointly by David Logan for Half Sick of Shadows and Michael Logan for Apocalypse Cow.[93] In 2013 the award was won by Alexander Maskill for The Hive.[94]

Sir Terry Pratchett Memorial Scholarship

In 2015, Pratchett's estate announced an in-perpetuity endowment to the University of South Australia.[95] The Sir Terry Pratchett Memorial Scholarship supports a Masters scholarship at the university's Hawke Research Institute.[96]

Views on religion

Pratchett, who was brought up in a Church of England family,[97] described himself as atheist[98] and a humanist. He was a Distinguished Supporter of Humanists UK (formerly known as the British Humanist Association)[99] and an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society.[100]

Pratchett wrote that he read the Old Testament as a child and "was horrified", but liked the New Testament and thought that Jesus "had a lot of good things to say ... But I could never see the two testaments as one coherent narrative."[97] He then read On the Origin of Species, which "all made perfect sense ... Evolution was far more thrilling to me than the biblical account."[97] He said he had never disliked religion and thought it had a purpose in human evolution.[97] In his novel Nation, the protagonist says "It is better to build a seismograph than to worship the volcano", a statement Pratchett said he agreed with.[97]

Pratchett told the Times in 2008: "I believe in the same God that Einstein did ... And it is just possible that once you have got past all the gods that we have created with big beards and many human traits, just beyond all that on the other side of physics, there just may be the ordered structure from which everything flows."[98] In an interview on Front Row, he described an experience hearing his deceased father's voice and feeling a sense of peace.[101] Commentators took these statements to mean Pratchett had become religious; Pratchett responded in an article published in the Daily Mail in which he denied that he had found God, and clarified that he believed the voice had come from a memory of his father and sense of personal elation.[97]

Awards and honours


Pratchett drinking Irish stout shortly after receiving an honorary degree from Trinity College Dublin, in 2008

Pratchett received a knighthood for "services to literature" in the 2009 UK New Year Honours list.[6][102] He was previously appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire, also for "services to literature", in 1998. He formally received the accolade at Buckingham Palace on 18 February 2009.[103] Pratchett commented in the Ansible science fiction/fan newsletter, "I suspect the 'services to literature' consisted of refraining from trying to write any," but added, "Still, I cannot help feeling mightily chuffed about it."[104] On 31 December 2008, it was announced that Pratchett would be knighted (as a Knight Bachelor) in the Queen's 2009 New Year Honours.[6][105] Afterwards he said, "You can't ask a fantasy writer not to want a knighthood. You know, for two pins I'd get myself a horse and a sword."[106]

Pratchett was the British Book Awards' 'Fantasy and Science Fiction Author of the Year' for 1994.[107]

In 2003, BBC conducted The Big Read to identify the "Nation's Best-loved Novel" and finally published a ranked list of the "Top 200". Pratchett's highest-ranking novel was Mort, number 65, but he and Charles Dickens were the only authors with five in the Top 100 (four of his were from the Discworld series). He also led all authors with fifteen novels in the Top 200.[108]

Pratchett received the NESFA Skylark Award in 2009[109] and the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement in 2010.[110] In 2011 he won Margaret A. Edwards Award from the American Library Association, a lifetime honour for "significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature".[111][112] The librarians cited nine Discworld novels published from 1983 to 2004 and observed that "Pratchett's tales of Discworld have won over generations of teen readers with intelligence, heart, and undeniable wit. Comic adventures that fondly mock the fantasy genre, the Discworld novels expose the hypocrisies of contemporary society in an intricate, ever-expanding universe. With satisfyingly multilayered plots, Pratchett's humor honors the intelligence of the reader. Teens eagerly lose themselves in a universe with no maps."[111]

Pratchett was awarded ten honorary doctorates: University of Warwick in 1999,[113] the University of Portsmouth in 2001,[114] the University of Bath in 2003,[115] the University of Bristol in 2004,[116] Buckinghamshire New University in 2008,[117] the University of Dublin in 2008,[118] Bradford University in 2009,[119] University of Winchester in 2009,[120] The Open University in 2013[121] for his contribution to Public Service and his last, from the University of South Australia, in May 2014.[122]

Pratchett was made an adjunct Professor in the School of English at Trinity College Dublin in 2010, with a role in postgraduate education in creative writing and popular literature.[123]


Pratchett won the British Science Fiction Award in 1989 for his novel Pyramids,[124] and a Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel in 2008 for Making Money.[125] He won the 2001 Carnegie Medal from the British librarians, which recognised The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents as the year's best children's book published in the UK.[8][9] Night Watch won the 2003 Prometheus Award for best libertarian novel.[126] Four of the five Discworld novels that centre on the trainee witch Tiffany Aching won the annual Locus Award for Best Young Adult Book in 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2016.[127] In 2005, Going Postal was shortlisted for the Hugo Award for Best Novel; however, Pratchett recused himself, stating that stress over the award would mar his enjoyment of Worldcon.[128][129]

I Shall Wear Midnight[130] won the 2010 Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy presented by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) as a part of the Nebula Award ceremony. In 2016, SFWA announced that Sir Terry would be the recipient of the Kate Wilhelm Solstice Award, presented at the 2016 SFWA Nebula Conference.[131]


An asteroid (127005 Pratchett) is named after Pratchett.[132] In 2013, Pratchett was named Humanist of the Year by the British Humanist Association for his campaign to fund research into Alzheimers, his contribution to the right to die public debate and his Humanist values.[133]


Pratchett's Discworld novels have led to dedicated conventions, the first in Manchester in 1996,[134] then worldwide,[135] often with the author as guest of honour.[136] Publication of a new novel was sometimes accompanied by an international book signing tour;[137] queues were known to stretch outside the bookshop as the author continued to sign books well after the intended finishing time.[134] His fans were not restricted by age or gender, and he received a large amount of fan mail from them.[134] Pratchett enjoyed meeting fans and hearing what they think about his books, saying that since he was well paid for his novels, his fans were "everything" to him.[138]


Pratchett said that to write, you must read extensively, both inside and outside your chosen genre[139] and to the point of "overflow".[32] He advised that writing is hard work, and that writers must "make grammar, punctuation and spelling a part of your life."[32] However, Pratchett enjoyed writing, regarding its monetary rewards as "an unavoidable consequence" rather than the reason for writing.[140]

Fantasy genre

Although during his early career he wrote for the sci-fi and horror genres, Pratchett later focused almost entirely on fantasy, and said: "It is easier to bend the universe around the story."[141] In the acceptance speech for his Carnegie Medal, he said: "Fantasy isn't just about wizards and silly wands. It's about seeing the world from new directions", pointing to the Harry Potter novels and The Lord of the Rings. In the same speech, he acknowledged benefits of these works for the genre.[142]

Pratchett believed he owed "a debt to the science fiction/fantasy genre which he grew up out of" and disliked the term "magical realism" which, he said, is "like a polite way of saying you write fantasy and is more acceptable to certain people".[143] He expressed annoyance that fantasy is "unregarded as a literary form", arguing that it "is the oldest form of fiction";[138] he said he was infuriated when novels containing science fiction or fantasy ideas were not regarded as part of those genres.[139] He debated this issue with novelist A. S. Byatt and critic Terry Eagleton, arguing that fantasy is fundamental to the way we understand the world and therefore an integral aspect of all fiction.[144]

On 31 July 2005, Pratchett criticised media coverage of the Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling, commenting that certain members of the media seemed to think that "the continued elevation of J. K. Rowling can be achieved only at the expense of other writers".[145] Pratchett later denied claims that this was a swipe at Rowling, and said that he was not making claims of plagiarism, but was pointing out the "shared heritage" of the fantasy genre.[146] Pratchett also posted on the Harry Potter newsgroup about a media-covered exchange of views with her.[147]

Style and themes

Pratchett is known for a distinctive writing style that included a number of characteristic hallmarks. One example is his use of footnotes,[148] which usually involve a comic departure from the narrative or a commentary on the narrative, and occasionally have footnotes of their own.[149]

Pratchett's earliest Discworld novels were written largely to parody classic sword-and-sorcery fiction (and occasionally science fiction);[150] as the series progressed, Pratchett dispensed with parody almost entirely, and the Discworld series evolved into straightforward (though still comedic) satire.[151]

Pratchett had a tendency to avoid using chapters, arguing in a Book Sense interview that "life does not happen in regular chapters, nor do movies, and Homer did not write in chapters", adding "I'm blessed if I know what function they serve in books for adults".[152] However, there were exceptions; Going Postal and Making Money and several of his books for younger readers are divided into chapters.[153] Pratchett he said that he used chapters in the young adult novels because "[his] editor screams until [he] does", but otherwise felt that they were an unnecessary "stopping point" that got in the way of the narrative.

Characters, place names, and titles in Pratchett's books often contain puns, allusions and cultural references.[154][155] Some characters are parodies of well-known characters: for example, Pratchett's character Cohen the Barbarian, also called Ghengiz Cohen, is a parody of Conan the Barbarian and Genghis Khan, and his character Leonard of Quirm is a parody of Leonardo da Vinci.

Another hallmark of his writing was the use of dialogue in small capitals without quotation marks, used to indicate the character of Death communicating telepathically into a character's mind. Other characters or types of characters were given similarly distinctive ways of speaking, such as the auditors of reality not having quotation marks around the words they speak, Ankh-Morpork grocers never using punctuation correctly, and Golems capitalising each word in their speech. Also, common spelling mistakes were used to indicate a person's level of literacy.

Discworld novels often included a modern innovation and its introduction to the world's medieval setting, such as a public police force (Guards! Guards!), guns (Men at Arms), submarines (Jingo), cinema (Moving Pictures), investigative journalism (The Truth), the postage stamp (Going Postal), modern banking (Making Money), and the steam engine (Raising Steam). The "clacks", the tower-to-tower semaphore system that sprang up in later novels, is a mechanical optical telegraph (as created by the Chappe brothers and employed during the French revolution) before wired electric telegraph chains, with all the change and turmoil that such an advancement implies. The resulting social upheaval driven by these changes serves as the setting for the main story.


Pratchett made no secret of outside influences on his work: they were a major source of his humour. He imported numerous characters from classic literature, popular culture and ancient history,[156] always adding an unexpected twist. Pratchett was a crime novel fan, which was reflected in frequent appearances of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch in the Discworld series.[141] Pratchett was an only child, and his characters are often without siblings. Pratchett explained, "In fiction, only-children are the interesting ones".[157]

Pratchett's earliest inspirations were The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, and the works of H. G. Wells, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke.[4][158][159] His literary influences were P.G. Wodehouse, Tom Sharpe, Jerome K. Jerome, Roy Lewis,[160] Alan Coren,[161] G. K. Chesterton, and Mark Twain.[162]

Publishing history

While Pratchett's UK publishing history remained quite stable, his relationships with international publishers were turbulent (especially in America). He changed German publishers after an advertisement for Maggi soup appeared in the middle of the German-language version of Pyramids.[163][164]



Pratchett began writing the Discworld series in 1983 to "have fun with some of the cliches"[25] and it is a humorous and often satirical sequence of stories set in the colourful fantasy Discworld universe. The series contains various story arcs (or sub-series), and a number of free-standing stories. All are set in an abundance of locations in the same detailed and unified world, such as the Unseen University and 'The Drum/Broken Drum/Mended Drum' public house in the twin city Ankh-Morpork, or places in the various continents, regions and countries on the Disc. Characters and locations reappear throughout the series, variously taking major and minor roles.

The Discworld is a large disc resting on the backs of four giant elephants, all supported by the giant turtle Great A'Tuin as it swims its way through space. The books are essentially in chronological order,[153] and advancements can be seen in the development of the Discworld civilisations, such as the creation of paper money in Ankh-Morpork.[152]

Many of the novels in Pratchett's Discworld series parody real-world subjects such as film making, newspaper publishing, rock and roll music, religion, philosophy, Ancient Greece, Egyptian history, the Gulf War, Australia, university politics, trade unions, and the financial world. Pratchett also included further parody as a feature within the stories, including such subjects as Ingmar Bergman films, numerous fiction, science fiction, and fantasy characters, and various bureaucratic and ruling systems.

The Science of Discworld

Pratchett wrote four Science of Discworld books in collaboration with Professor of mathematics Ian Stewart and reproductive biologist Jack Cohen, both of the University of Warwick: The Science of Discworld (1999), The Science of Discworld II: The Globe (2002), The Science of Discworld III: Darwin's Watch (2005), and The Science of Discworld IV: Judgement Day (2013).

All four books have chapters that alternate between fiction and non-fiction: the fictional chapters are set within the Discworld universe, where characters observe, and experiment on, a universe with the same physics as ours. The non-fiction chapters (written by Stewart and Cohen) explain the science behind the fictional events.

In 1999, Pratchett appointed both Cohen and Stewart as "Honorary Wizards of the Unseen University" at the same ceremony at which the University of Warwick awarded him an honorary degree.[113]

Folklore of Discworld

Pratchett collaborated with the folklorist Dr Jacqueline Simpson on The Folklore of Discworld (2008), a study of the relationship between many of the persons, places and events described in the Discworld books and their counterparts in myths, legends, fairy tales and folk customs on Earth.

Other writing

Pratchett's first two adult novels, The Dark Side of the Sun (1976) and Strata (1981), were both science fiction, the latter taking place partly on a disc-shaped world. Subsequent to these, Pratchett mostly concentrated on his Discworld series and novels for children, with two exceptions: Good Omens (1990), a collaboration with Neil Gaiman (which was nominated for both Locus and World Fantasy Awards in 1991[165]), a humorous story about the Apocalypse set on Earth, and Nation (2008), a book for young adults.

After writing Good Omens, Pratchett brainstormed with Larry Niven on a story that would become the short novel "Rainbow Mars". Niven eventually completed the story on his own, but states in the afterword that a number of Pratchett's ideas remained in the finished version.

Pratchett also collaborated with British science fiction author Stephen Baxter on a parallel earth series.[166] The first novel, entitled The Long Earth was released on 21 June 2012. A second novel, The Long War, was released on 18 June 2013.[167] The Long Mars was published in 2014. The fourth book in the series, The Long Utopia, was published in June 2015, and the fifth, The Long Cosmos, in June 2016.

In 2012, the first volume of Pratchett's collected short fiction was published under the title A Blink of the Screen. In 2014, a similar collection was published of Pratchett's non-fiction, entitled A Slip of the Keyboard.[168]

Pratchett wrote dialogue for a mod for the game The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (2006), which added a Nord companion named Vilja. He also worked on a similar mod for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011), which featured Vilja's great-great-granddaughter.[169][170]

Children's literature

Pratchett's first children's novel was also his first published novel: The Carpet People in 1971, which Pratchett substantially rewrote and re-released in 1992. The next, Truckers (1988), was the first in The Nome Trilogy of novels for young readers (also known as The Bromeliad Trilogy), about small gnome-like creatures called "Nomes", and the trilogy continued in Diggers (1990) and Wings (1990). Subsequently, Pratchett wrote the Johnny Maxwell trilogy, about the adventures of a boy called Johnny Maxwell and his friends, comprising Only You Can Save Mankind (1992), Johnny and the Dead (1993) and Johnny and the Bomb (1996). Nation (2008) marked his return to the non-Discworld children's novel, and this was followed in 2012 by Dodger, a children's novel set in Victorian London.[171] On 21 November 2013 Doubleday Children's released Pratchett's Jack Dodger's Guide to London.[172]

Pratchett also wrote a popular five-book children's series featuring trainee witch Tiffany Aching and taking place in his Discworld universe, beginning with The Wee Free Men in 2003.

In September 2014 a collection of children's stories, Dragons at Crumbling Castle, written by Pratchett, and illustrated by Mark Beech, was published.[173] This was followed by another collection, The Witch's Vacuum Cleaner, also illustrated by Mark Beech, in 2016. A third volume, Father Christmas's Fake Beard, was released in 2017. A fourth and final collection, The Time-travelling Caveman, was released in September 2020.[173]

Collaborations and contributions

  • The Unadulterated Cat (1989) is a humorous book of cat anecdotes written by Pratchett and illustrated by Gray Jolliffe.
  • Digital Dreams, edited by David V Barrett (1990), contains the science fiction short story "#ifdefDEBUG + "world/enough" + "time".
  • More Tales from the Forbidden Planet (1990, edited by Roz Kaveney) includes the short story "Hollywood Chickens" with an illustration by Gilbert Shelton.
  • Good Omens, written with Neil Gaiman (1990)
  • After the King: Stories In Honor of J.R.R. Tolkien edited by Martin H. Greenberg (1992) contains "Troll Bridge", a short story featuring Cohen the Barbarian. This story was also published in the compilation The Mammoth Book of Comic Fantasy (2001, edited by Mike Ashley).
  • Now We Are Sick, written by Neil Gaiman and Stephen Jones (1994), includes the poem called "The Secret Book of the Dead" by Pratchett.
  • The Wizards of Odd, a short-story compilation edited by Peter Haining (1996), includes a Discworld short story called "Theatre of Cruelty".
  • The Flying Sorcerers, another short-story compilation edited by Peter Haining (1997), starts off with a Pratchett story called "Turntables of the Night", featuring Death (albeit not set on Discworld, but in our "reality").
  • Legends, edited by Robert Silverberg (1998), contains a Discworld short story called "The Sea and Little Fishes".
  • The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Fantasy, edited by David Pringle (1998), has a foreword by Pratchett.[174]
  • The Leaky Establishment, written by David Langford (1984), has a foreword by Pratchett in later reissues (from 2001).
  • Meditations on Middle-Earth, an anthology of essays on Middle Earth compiled by Karen Haber, contains Pratchett's essay "Cult Classic" (2002)
  • Once More* With Footnotes, edited by Priscilla Olson and Sheila M. Perry (2004), is "an assortment of short stories, articles, introductions, and ephemera" by Pratchett which "have appeared in books, magazines, newspapers, anthologies, and program books, many of which are now hard to find".[175] These include the short stories "The Sea and Little Fishies", "Troll Bridge", "The Hades Business", "Final Reward", "Hollywood Chickens", "Turntables of the Night", "Once and Future", and "#ifdef DEBUG + 'world/enough' + 'time'", as well as nonfiction articles.
  • The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook 2007 includes an article by Pratchett about the process of writing fantasy.
  • The five-book "Long Earth" series written with Stephen Baxter, published between 2012 and 2016 beginning with The Long Earth.

Unfinished texts

According to Pratchett's assistant Rob Wilkins, Pratchett left "an awful lot" of unfinished writing, "10 titles I know of and fragments from many other bits and pieces."[176] Pratchett had mentioned two new texts, Scouting for Trolls[177] and a Discworld novel centering on a new character.[178] The notes left behind outline ideas about "how the old folk of the Twilight Canyons solve the mystery of a missing treasure and defeat the rise of a Dark Lord despite their failing memories", "the secret of the crystal cave and the carnivorous plants in the Dark Incontinent", about Constable Feeney of the Watch, first introduced in Snuff, involving how he "solves a whodunnit among the congenitally decent and honest goblins", and on a second book about Amazing Maurice from The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents.[179]

Pratchett's daughter, writer Rhianna Pratchett, is the custodian of the Discworld franchise. She has said she has no plans to publish her father's unfinished work or continue the Discworld series.[180] Pratchett told Neil Gaiman that anything that he had been working on at the time of his death should be put in the middle of a road and then destroyed by a steamroller. On 25 August 2017, Wilkins fulfilled this wish by crushing Pratchett's hard drive under a steamroller at the Great Dorset Steam Fair.[181][182]


Works about Pratchett

A collection of essays about his writings is compiled in the book Terry Pratchett: Guilty of Literature, edited by Andrew M. Butler, Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn, published by Science Fiction Foundation in 2000 (ISBN 0903007010). A second, expanded edition was published by Old Earth Books in 2004 (ISBN 188296831X). Andrew M. Butler wrote the Pocket Essentials Guide to Terry Pratchett published in 2001 (ISBN 1903047390). Writers Uncovered: Terry Pratchett is a biography for young readers by Vic Parker, published by Heinemann Library in 2006 (ISBN 0431906335).

A BBC docudrama based on Pratchett's life. Terry Pratchett: Back In Black was broadcast in February 2017 and starred Paul Kaye as Pratchett. Neil Gaiman was involved with the project which used Pratchett's own words. Terry's long term assistant Rob Wilkins stated that Terry was working on this documentary before he died, and according to the BBC, finishing it would "show the author was still having the last laugh".[185]

English author, critic and performer Marc Burrows wrote an unofficial biography of Pratchett, The Magic of Terry Pratchett, published by Pen & Sword on 6 July 2020 (ISBN 9781526765505).[186] Though it was not endorsed by the Pratchett estate, prior to its publication they did wish Burrows "all the best" regarding the book through the official Pratchett Twitter account.[187] The Magic of Terry Pratchett met with generally favourable reviews, and won the 2021 Locus Award for Non-Fiction.[188]

In 2022, Wilkins himself wrote Terry Pratchett: A Life with Footnotes which is subtitled The Official Biography.[189] The biography was well-received: in The Daily Telegraph, Tristram Fane Saunders wrote that "The joy of this biography by Wilkins is that it spins magic from mundanity in precisely the way Pratchett himself did."[190]


Coat of arms of Terry Pratchett
Terry Pratchett's arms were designed by Hubert Chesshyre and granted by Letters Patent of Garter and Clarenceux Kings of Arms dated 28 April 2010.[191]
Upon a Helm with a Wreath Argent and Sable on Water Barry wavy Sable Argent and Sable an Owl affronty wings displayed and inverted Or supporting thereby two closed Books erect Gules.
Sable an ankh between four Roundels in saltire each issuing Argent.
Noli Timere Messorem (Don't fear the reaper)[191]
The owl is a morepork, which taken together with the ankh is a clear reference to the city of Ankh-Morpork. The image of a morpork holding an ankh appears in the fictional Ankh-Morpork City Arms. The motto "Noli Timere Messorem" is a corrected version of the dog Latin "Non Timetis Messor", the motto of Death's son-in-law and former apprentice, Mort of Sto Helit[192] and his heirs. The phrase is a reference to the song "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" by Blue Öyster Cult.[193]


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