Neil Gaiman's introduction to A Slip of the Keyboard, a collection of Terry Pratchett's nonfiction essays, exposes a little-known side of the writer than many think of as a "twinkly old elf" -- the rage that is Pratchett's engine, driving him to write deceptively simple stories that decry unfairness and make virtue from bravery.
Gaiman and Pratchett toured their classic comic novel Good Omens (seriously go read this book now) together in 1991 -- I can say from experience that touring a book with another writer is an experience even more intimate than writing the book itself (when I first interviewed William Gibson, I prepped by quizzing his friends about him and Bruce Sterling fed me a great question from their Difference Engine tour).
Terry looked at me. He said: “Do not underestimate this anger. This anger was the engine that powered Good Omens.” I thought of the driven way that Terry wrote, and of the way that he drove the rest of us with him, and I knew that he was right.
There is a fury to Terry Pratchett’s writing: it’s the fury that was the engine that powered Discworld. It’s also the anger at the headmaster who would decide that six-year-old Terry Pratchett would never be smart enough for the 11-plus; anger at pompous critics, and at those who think serious is the opposite of funny; anger at his early American publishers who could not bring his books out successfully.
The anger is always there, an engine that drives. By the time Terry learned he had a rare, early onset form of Alzheimer’s, the targets of his fury changed: he was angry with his brain and his genetics and, more than these, furious at a country that would not permit him (or others in a similarly intolerable situation) to choose the manner and the time of their passing.
And that anger, it seems to me, is about Terry’s underlying sense of what is fair and what is not. It is that sense of fairness that underlies Terry’s work and his writing, and it’s what drove him from school to journalism to the press office of the SouthWestern Electricity Board to the position of being one of the best-loved and bestselling writers in the world.
Neil Gaiman: ‘Terry Pratchett isn’t jolly. He’s angry’ [Neil Gaiman/The Guardian]
(Image: Terry Pratchett auf der Elf Fantasy Fair in den Niederlanden, Stefan Servos/Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA)