Prodigious Beginning Terry Pratchett was born on April 28, 1948, in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, England, to David and Eileen Pratchett. He had no siblings. At eleven years of age, he passed his eleven-plus exam and entered High Wycombe Technical High School. Getting what he has said is most of his
education from the Bea-consfield Public Library, Pratchett read constantly, turning often to the works of H. G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, and ‘‘every book you really ought to read,’’ he later reported.
Early Interests in Astronomy Pratchett developed an early penchant for space and astronomy. Included in his boyhood collection were Brooke Bond tea cards and a telescope, which he hoped would be a part of a long career in astronomy. However, having weak skills in math, the young Pratchett turned back to reading and, in particular, to science fiction books, including his favorite, The Wind in the Willows (1908), by Kenneth Graeme. He also began to write; at thirteen he published his first short story, ‘‘The Hades Business,’’ in the school
paper. The story was then published by a local magazine, bringing Pratchett his first income. This, according to his official Web site, enabled the young prodigy to purchase his first writing equipment, a secondhand typewriter.
Early Writing Success Pratchett began studying English, art, and history in school, and eventually decided to become a journalist. By age seventeen, Pratchett left school to begin work with Bucks Free Press and wrote his first novel, a humorous children’s fantasy titled The Carpet People. The book was published in 1971.
The Discworld Series With the success of his first novel, Pratchett continued to write and publish, delivering to his soon-to-be-fanatic readers The Dark Side of the Sun (1976) and Strata (1981). Two years later, his
creative efforts launched him into literary stardom: beginning the same year, he became press officer for the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) covering three nuclear power plants and published The Colour of Magic (1983). The novel was the first of his ‘‘Discworld’’ works, novels of science fiction and fantasy set in a flat world. The planet is supported on the backs of four gigantic elephants astride the shell of an immense tortoise swimming in space.
Pratchett continued with the comedic and fantastic Discworld series, which features witches and wizards and gnomes and trolls, presenting them to an eager readership. The Light Fantastic (1986), Equal Rites (1987), and Mort (1987) were the first sequels. As the Discworld series grew rapidly in production and popularity, numerous offshoots entertained Pratchett’s avid followers—including Discworld reference books, guides, and maps; short stories; animations and theater productions; and television programs.
Continued Accolades and Awards With the publication and astonishing success of his fourth Discworld volume, Mort, Pratchett decided to turn to writing fulltime. In addition to writing thirty-six Discworld books, Pratchett started to write graphic novels and comic books for Discworld. Game designers and platforms delivered numerous versions of Discworld role-playing games. By 1989 Pratchett and his Discworld series had been honored with the British Science Fiction Award, a first of several awards the comic author was to receive.
In the early 1990s, Pratchett also delivered another award-winning series featuring Johnny Maxwell. After a trio of successful works dubbed the Bromeliad Trilogy, Pratchett began the Johnny Maxwell trilogy with Only You Can Save Mankind (1992), followed by Johnny and the Dead (1993) and Johnny and the Bomb (1996). All were exceptionally well-received. The second volume won Pratchett the 1993 Best Children’s Book award from the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain. By 1996 he was reportedly the top-selling and highest-earning author in the United Kingdom; by 2003, he was second only to the author of the Harry Potter series, J. K. Rowling.
Ongoing Productivity and Popularity Pratchett met and married Lyn Purves at the start of his writing career. Together they raised daughter Rhianna, who was born in 1976. The Pratchett family moved southwest of Salisbury, Wiltshire, in 1993 and still reside there. In 2007 Pratchett was diagnosed with a rare form of Alzheimer’s disease called posterior cortical atrophy. As the disease began to impact his physical efforts at writing, Pratchett has become an active fundraiser, making charitable contributions himself, including the sum of one million U. S. dollars to the Alzheimer’s Research Trust. His donation reportedly prompted a mimicking movement online, whereby Pratchett fans began a campaign they call ‘‘Match it for Pratchett,’’ in hopes of raising another million for Alzheimer’s research.
In 1998 Pratchett was named an Officer of the British Empire ‘‘for services to
literature.’’ In 2002 he received the esteemed Carnegie Medal from the British Library Association for one of his many popular children’s books, The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents (2001). Pratchett’s work has been translated into thirty-three languages and has sold more than forty-five million copies.
Works in Literary Context
Classical and Popular Characters Several influences are built into Pratchett’s works. As he told James Naughtie at the BBC Radio show Bookclub, he leans on characters from ancient history, classic literature, and popular culture, and adds his own brand of humor. Indeed, it is the original sources that provide inspiration for and give impetus to his humorous style.
Satire and Parody The outside influences that inform Pratchett’s humorous work became more than inspiration for his humorous style. Satire is apparent in his fantasy and science fiction. Naughtie notes that Pratchett’s Discworld series began as a parody of the fantasy genre, but over the course of development, it turned into ‘‘a satire on just about everything.’’
As a critic for Authors and Artists for Young Adults adds, ‘‘Discworld—as well as most of Pratchett’s other works—also offers humorous parodies of other famous science fiction and fantasy writers, such as J. R. R. Tolkien or Larry Niven.’’ Pratchett also spoofs (or parodies) contemporary concerns. For instance, he spoofs death in Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Predictions of Agnes Nutter, Witch (1990, cowritten by Neil Gaiman). This novel is like several in this genre, a send-up of modern horror themes—particularly The Omen series of films and the series’ imitators. When the son of Satan is misplaced and raised as a nice child, the schedule of Armageddon is thrown awry, and the powers of
heaven and hell must pitch together to work things out.
Barrett, David V. ‘‘Serious Fun.’’ New Statesman &
Society, January 3, 1992: 33. Cassada, Jackie. Review of Lords and Ladies. Library
Journal, September 15, 1995: 97. Publishers Weekly. Review of Interesting Times, March 31,
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