Sir Terry Pratchett OBE
Fantasy fiction author, satirist and distinguished supporter of Humanism
Terry Pratchett was born in 1948 and began his career as a local journalist before becoming a Press Officer and then in 1987 a full-time writer. His first fantasy novel was The Carpet People in 1971, and in 1983 The Colour of Magicwas the first in his humorous “Discworld” series.
His books have sold over 40 million copies worldwide and several of his novels have been adapted as plays. They appeal to both adults and children, and, while always highly entertaining, they often have a serious or satirical element. In many he deals with philosophical questions and arguments – he is interested in ethics, religion, and consciousness. For example, his children’s book Truckers, about little people who live in a department store, contains an element of satire on organised religion, and the Carnegie Medal winning The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents is the story of an intelligent talking cat and a group of intelligent talking rats who discover philosophy. As they acquire language and learn to read, they develop consciences, become aware of consciousness, begin to think about the big questions – death, ethics, what are we, and why we are here, and they exchange conflict and hostility for compassion and sympathy. Pratchett has described Maurice as “quite a serious book” and wrote to the BHA “I hope it doesn’t escape readers of Maurice that the rats develop a moral society before speculating that there’s a Big Rat who created everything.” When he won the Carnegie Medal in 2001, he said: “Far more beguiling to me than the idea that evil can be destroyed by throwing a piece of expensive costume jewellery into a volcano is the possibility that peace between nations can be maintained by careful diplomacy.”
He is also interested in science, and with Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen has written three books using the Discworld series to illustrate popular science topics: The Science of Discworld (1999); The Science of Discworld II: The Globe (2002); The Science of Discworld III: Darwin’s Watch (2005).
In July 2001 he was one of the signatories to a letter published in The Independent which urged the Government to reconsider its support for the expansion of maintained religious schools.
In December 2007, humanists and Discworld fans were sorry to hear the news, characteristically announced by Pratchett as “An Embuggerance”, that he had been diagnosed with a very rare form of early onset Alzheimer’s. “We are taking it fairly philosophically down here and possibly with a mild optimism,” he wrote at the time. “…I would just like to draw attention to everyone reading the above that this should be interpreted as ‘I am not dead’. I will, of course, be dead at some future point, as will everybody else. For me, this maybe further off than you think – it’s too soon to tell. I know it’s a very human thing to say ‘Is there anything I can do’, but in this case I would only entertain offers from very high-end experts in brain chemistry.”
On the issue of raising awareness of dementia and the urgent need for more research he said: “I intend to scream and harangue while there is time.” And in March 2008 he pledged $1 million to Alzheimer’s Research Trust. You can read his speech to the Alzheimers Research Trust here.
In July 2009 Sir Terry Pratchett spoke to the BHA about assisted dying. He explained why he thought it ethical to allow people to be able to choose to have an assisted death, “when medicine cannot do any more…An individual’s personal decision should I think be honoured if it’s clearly been made by them when they’re in a state of compos mentis and in full control of their faculties.” You can watch a recording on YouTube and read the full BHA story here. In June 2011 he reignited the debate about assisted suicide in a BBC TV programme about Dignitas followed by a discussion. You can read about it here.
In 1998 he was awarded an OBE for his services to literature, and he was knighted in the New Year honours in December 2008. His modest comment was: “I’m glad a genre writer has got a knighthood, but stunned that it was me.” He is a supporter of the Orang-Utan Foundation.