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British novelist Terry Pratchett, 66, has died. The writer of comic fantasy novels, including the Discworld series, was loved worldwide for his more than 70 published books. Pratchett passed away at his England home on Thursday.
According to an email sent by an editor at Transworld Publishers, Suzanne Bridson, the cause of death was a rare type of dementia called posterior cortical atrophy which may be related to Alzheimer’s disease. Pratchett was diagnosed with the disease, which causes the brain’s outer layer to degenerate, in 2007. The author was open about his dementia, giving speeches and interviews about his diagnosis, and donating $1 million to the study of Alzheimer’s in 2008. In addition to his work to educate others about dementia, he was a strong supporter of making assisted suicide legal.
Per Pratchett’s publisher, Pratchett sold 85 million copies of his books worldwide. Literary critics rarely reviewed his work due to their dismissal of the fantasy genre as a whole. Nevertheless, Pratchett was a well-read and highly intelligent author who peppered his works with literary references that ran the gamut of genres. Critics who did review his work found that he was a worthwhile member of the literati. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II as New Year’s Eve, 2008, became New Year’s Day, 2009.
Pratchett was well-known for his ability to satirize political and cultural issues. His imagination knew no bounds, and he put it to use by creating alternate realities, which worked to expose readers to the actual reality in which they lived. The setting used most frequently in Prachett’s novels is a flat, disc-shaped planet, which balances atop four elephants. The elephants themselves, with the aptly named ‘Discworld’ balanced on their backs, stand on top of a giant turtle.
Discworld was first seen in the 1983 novel, The Colour of Magic, in which protagonist Rincewind lives as an inept student at the most important wizardry school in Ankh-Morpork. Thirty-plus years later, Discworld had grown into a full-fledged society inhabited by all sorts of creatures, who often reflect the behavior and customs of humans on Earth. Death was a frequent character in Discworld, and was characterized by his captivation with humans and his way of only expressing himself with capital letters.
Pratchett was born in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. Although he failed to complete school, he often said that it was the Beaconsfield Public Library which had provided him the best education. Pratchett was 13 when The Hades Business, a short story, was published. He was hired as a journalist for a Buckinghamshire newspaper, and his first novel, The Carpet People, was published in 1971. By 2000, the school drop-out had a worth of $62 million and had claimed the title of Britain’s second highest-read author behind Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling.
British Prime Minister David Cameron posted on Twitter regarding Pratchett’s death. In his message, Cameron said that Pratchett had “fired the imagination of millions” with his works and had “fearlessly campaigned for dementia awareness.” Pratchett is survived by his wife, Lyn, to whom he had been married for 44 years, and their daughter, Rhianna. Both women, and his cat, were with him when he died.
In a way befitting the work of the author, three posts were made on Pratchett’s Twitter account on Thursday. The first read, “AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER.” This tweet was followed by, “Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night.” The final post read only, “The End.”
By Jennifer Pfalz