March 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

“Discworld” Author Terry Pratchett Dies at 66


10.12.12TerryPratchettByLuigiNovi1.jpgBeloved fantasy author Terry Pratchett, best known for his “Discworld” (HarperCollins) novels, died at age 66 on March 12, following a long battle with Alzheimer’s.

The UK’s number one best-selling author in the 1990s, Pratchett attracted a huge fan base, selling more than 85 million books worldwide. Numbering more than 40 volumes, his immensely popular “Discworld” books led to dedicated conventions beginning in 1996, many of which the author himself often attended, going out of his way to sign books and meet with fans. The series also spawned video and role-playing games, plays, and radio adaptations. Though the books were initially aimed at adults, Pratchett also wrote for children, beginning in 2001, with The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents (2001, HarperCollins).

Pratchett also garnered critical acclaim for his novels, especially among the library community. In 2011, he was awarded the Margaret A. Edwards award for lifetime achievement by the American Library Association (and sponsored by School Library Journal), while his young adult book Nation (HarperCollins, 2008) was a Printz Honor book. Over the course of his career, he picked up countless other accolades, including the Locus Award for Best Young Adult Novel for The Wee Free Men (2003), A Hat Full of Sky (2004), and Wintersmith (2006)—and the Carnegie Medal for The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents (2001, all HarperCollins).

Detailed world-building and a clever blend of humor and fantasy characterized Pratchett’s works. His “Discworld” books paid homage to authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien and H.P. Lovecraft and often parodied fantasy tropes and clichés. Creativity and innovation were hallmarks of all his works. With Dodger (HarperCollins, 2012), Pratchett retold the Oliver Twist story from the perspective of the Artful Dodger, bringing to life figures from Victorian England such as Benjamin Disraeli, Sweeney Todd, and Queen Victoria. SLJ lauded Pratchett for expertly “recreating Old London for today’s audience, complete with pathos, humor, and truly nasty descriptions of the filth, stench, and danger.”

In his Printz Honor, Nation, Pratchett laid out an alternative history set in the 1860s, set on an island in (a fictionalized version of) the South Pacific. Simultaneously profound and engaging and humorous, this “rich and thought-provoking read” explored deep themes about society and humanity, said a review from SLJ.

The first book of the "Discworld" series.

The first book of the “Discworld” series.

Pratchett’s books resonated with young people and adults alike. Karyn Silverman, a librarian at Elisabeth Irwin High School in New York, who served on the Printz committee the year Nation received its honor, emphasized Pratchett’s legacy. “I was not at [ALA] Midwinter that year [in 2009] but instead was sitting in my library watching [the Youth Media Awards] with a handful of students and colleagues,” she told SLJ. “And I burst into tears. Because my own adolescence was so heavily influenced by Pratchett’s work, and it was a validation of that experience and of how widespread that experience was, and how it transcended generations.” Silverman continued, saying about Pratchett’s passing, “I cried when I heard he was gone, as did some of my students, who are decades younger than me. That’s a legacy I can hardly comprehend.”

The author was born in Penn, England, in 1948 and developed a love of science fiction and fantasy from a young age. He published his first story (“The Hades Business”) at age 13 in his school’s magazine. He left school at age 17 to pursue a career in journalism and married Lyn Purves in 1968. The two had a daughter, Rhianna, in 1976. In 1971, he published his first novel, The Carpet People (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), a children’s book. In 1983, he published The Colour of Magic (Colin Smythe Ltd.), his first “Discworld” book, and in 1987 gave up his position as press officer at Central Electricity Generating Board to devote himself fully to his writing career.

Following his 2007 diagnosis with Alzheimer’s, Pratchett raised public awareness for the disease, donating $1 million to the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, asking Prime Minister Gordon Brown for an increase in dementia research funding, and, with the BBC, filmed a documentary about his illness, Terry Pratchett: Living With Alzheimer’s.

Jennifer Brehl, Pratchett’s longtime editor, remembered the writer fondly. “Terry Pratchett was a superb writer, a loyal friend, and a keen observer of the human condition. He had an amazing ability to speak the truth, no matter how inconvenient it was. I daresay if more people would take the time to read [his] novels, the world would be a better place. Or at least more of us would be smiling.”

Mahnaz Dar About Mahnaz Dar

Mahnaz Dar ( is Assistant Managing Editor for Library Journal and School Library Journal and can be found on Twitter @DibblyFresh.



  1. Janette maher says:

    Terry Pratchett died from Posterior Cortical Atrophy, a form of dementia. It is an atypical variant of Alzheimer’s disease. Also called Benson’s syndrome, it is the visual variant of Alzheimer’s disease. It generally strikes sooner than Alzheimer and may be the reason we lost Mr. Pratchett at such a young age.