Terry Pratchett on Life, Death and the Hero's Journey


Our neighbor's tabebuia tree
Our neighbor’s tabebuia tree

As I write this, it’s March 16, one day after the Ides of March.  This time of year has long been celebrated by religious observances honoring the delicate tension between Life and Death.  Poised at the end of Winter, March 15 still lies in the margins of Death. Yet, just a few days from now, Spring will arrive with its promise of rebirth and new Life.

Perhaps an intuitive awareness of the thin boundary between Life and Death is why this pair of opposites is on my mind today.  It started this morning when I took Izzie, my granddog, for a walk and was dazzled by Nature’s celebration of extravagant new colors and scents.  Then, when I returned to my computer and saw notification of someone’s retweet of a quote I posted on twitter last Thursday, I was reminded of Death.

“There are times in life when people must know when not to let go. Balloons are designed to teach small children this.” ~Terry Pratchett

Blossoms on our lemon tree
Blossoms on our lemon tree

Sir Terry Pratchett, a writer who sold over 85 million books around the world, finally “let go” last Thursday, March 12, 2015.  Despite his diagnosis of a rare form of Alzheimer’s eight years ago, he continued to write. According to one article, last summer he completed his 41st novel in the Discworld series in which he collaborated with friend and fellow author, Neil Gaiman.

The article continues, “Just hours after he died, Death, known for his signature habit of ALWAYS SPEAKING IN CAPITALS in Pratchett’s novels, appeared on his twitter account with this news: “AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER.”

“Death…is one of the most popular and prominent characters of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. He appears in 38 out of the 40 Discworld books published so far. In five of them, Death is a leading character.”

Yes, he was fascinated with Death, but if anyone loved and celebrated Life too, this man did.


“It is often said that before you die your life passes before your eyes. It is in fact true. It’s called living.”

“So much universe, and so little time.”

Perhaps in reference to his early love for science fiction and his passion for creating comical fantasies with bizarre characters and other-worldly settings, he wrote:

“It’s useful to go out of this world and see it from the perspective of another one.”

An astute observer of human nature, a natural philosopher who asked the Big questions about Life and Death, and a moralist, Pratchett’s most endearing stylistic signature was his cheeky, yet vulnerable, irreverence:

“It’s not worth doing something unless you were doing something that someone, somewhere, would much rather you weren’t doing.”

“Human beings make life so interesting. Do you know, that in a universe so full of wonders, they have managed to invent boredom.”

“Evil begins when you begin to treat people as things.”~I Shall Wear Midnight, Terry Pratchett

“‘And what would humans be without love?’ RARE, said Death.” ~Sourcery, Terry Pratchett


Finally, Terry Pratchett was a terrific story-teller. Everyone likes a good story, but not all of us like the same kind of good story. For example, I know several inveterate book lovers who have no interest in mythology or some of the newer genres like science fiction and modern fantasy. I get the feeling some of them consider these to be cruder or more frivolous forms of writing than classics or “serious” contemporary writing. Being an avid fan of all three genres as well as many of the classics, I’ve often wondered why.

I think the answer lies in the parallel passions of readers and the authors whose books they adore. The great stories of mythology, for instance, generally have the most appeal for seekers oriented to philosophy, religion, and spirituality.

The same people also tend to love the works of writers like Dante’ (The Divine Comedy), Hermann Hesse (Steppenwolf and Siddhartha), Henry Miller (Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn),  and Kate Chopin (The Awakening), as well as more contemporary writers like Madeleine L’Engle (A Wrinkle in Time and A Swiftly Tilting Planet), John Fowles (The French Lieutenant’s Woman and The Magus), and Ursula Le Guin (The Left Hand of Darkness and the Dispossessed).

What these books, Terry Pratchett’s books, and the people who love them have in common is that their stories were written by, and filled with, the wisdom of an individual who, having faced the terrors of Death, travels through Life in search of meaning, authenticity, self-knowledge and spiritual awakening on what Joseph Campbell called The Hero’s Journey.

Rest In Peace, Terry Pratchett. It is fitting that you left us during this season of transition from Death to new Life. The new world being born will be a bit kinder and wiser because you were in it.


Image credits.  Small Gods/ThinkStock, and The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents/ThinkStock.

Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

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0 Responses

  1. Well said Jean. And thank you also for the book list! I love that you named so many of my favourite writers and books but threw in a couple I have yet to read. It’s a great way to prioritise what comes next – I so trust your judgment and empathise with your perspective!

    1. Thank you, Amy. Have you read The Magus? It’s my all-time favorite novel. That may have had something to do with the age I was when I first read it, though. I was in my mid-twenties and hungry for adventure a

      1. Sorry. I accidentally pushed the “Send” button on my iPhone! 🙂 I was just going to say “adventure and meaning, and this book grabbed me where I lived at just about every level. I didn’t totally understand it at the time, but I knew it was profoundly important to me in some way and over the years I figured out why. So I think timing and our stage in life may also have a lot to do with why some books and writers fascinate us more than others.”

      2. I have not read “The Magus”, no, but now I absolutely must! An all time favourite from you is a massive endorsement to me 🙂 I read “The French Lieutenants Woman” when I first left home and was thrilled by it – both the female character but also the style and creative freedom, after studying quite conservative English Literature (I had to push my teacher to allow me to write about Blake when we were supposed to be studying the Romantics. I got away with it by taking the angle he was influential on the Romantics! But I was far more interested in mystics and loners)

  2. You’ve introduced me to an author I haven’t read by luring me to consider the cusp between death and rebirth. I haven’t read the Magus, but it’s on my list now. A wonderful post and I’m fascinated that he had memory problems and could still write. Though I haven’t read Patchett, I know quite a few of those quotes. Time to read outside my usual genres!

  3. Yikes, I bought John Fowles’ The Magus just the other day! I read it MANY years ago. I was so pleased to see it at a 2nd hand bookshop as I’d been thinking of what I would like to read … I hope to re-read it soon!!
    I’m not familiar with Terry Pratchett and look forward to making his acquaintance. I know of him and how much he was revered as an author and wise commentator on life and all its catastrophes – I love the quotes you’ve presented, thank you Jean.

    1. “Yikes, I bought John Fowles’ The Magus just the other day!” No way! How cool is that? 🙂 I look forward to your thoughts on it the second time around. I’ve read it four times and found new meaning every time. How I’d love to be able to write like that!
      I’m glad you enjoyed the quotes. He was a rare man with a unique style!

  4. A wonderful tribute and a real encouragement, speaking personally, to read Terry Pratchett who has floated around in the ‘to do’ mental list for years. And also – The Magus! Thank you.

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