I've spent a good deal of time the last several days with Twitter open on a "Terry Pratchett" search, following a lot of links, reading many tributes, looking at fanart, occasionally posting things of my own.
Or, to put it another way, I've been participating in the global wake. Because that's what it is.
Although I don't do Twitter much, I think it's an amazing platform. This is one of the best examples why. Thousands of us, hundreds of thousands, all around the planet. People who will never meet in person, meeting in the ether (or in the Overhead, if you like). Feeling that this is one of our own, and we've gathered to mourn him as such.
I know this has happened many times before, with other dearly loved people we've lost (Leonard Nimoy for one). But there's something especially magical about this. Watching the name trending for so long ('Terry Pratchett', without any hashtag, was the top item for more than a full day, and there's still a steady stream of items flowing by). Over the last four days, I've seen exactly one negative post and one bit of mean-spirited trollishness, in the still-flowing tide of remembrance. When has that ever happened? Even Reddit of all places is rising to the occasion, showing class that I didn't think existed there.
I've been pimping Pratchett with particular enthusiasm for the last couple of years, telling people that he's "one of the sneakiest bastards in print: you think you're reading a light-hearted farce about this crazy fantasy world, and then you realize it's the most subversive stuff you've ever read. He's ripping apart racism, sexism, fundamentalism, bureaucratic stupidity, and on top of all that there's a great story and all these amazing characters." I look at the paucity of his awards list and can't understand it. Yes, I know: genre fiction gets no respect from the literary world, fantasy gets no respect from the science fiction world, and comedy gets no respect from anybody. But still. He should've had a shelf of Hugos, more nominations than Gaiman, a mountain of lifetime awards.
As an author, by my reckoning, he's a Great Literary Figure who managed to sneak around, unnoticed by whoever is supposed to be in charge of identifying and crowning Literary Giants. I've read tributes comparing Pratchett to Kurt Vonnegut, waving aside Douglas Adams as an also-ran -- but the ones that really hit the nail on the thumb are the ones who set his throne next to Dickens, Twain and Swift. This columnist, back in 2013, suggested that "In five hundred years, it won’t be the Nobel laureates who are being studied. It’s going to be this guy." This one especially nailed it, calling Pratchett "our most quotable writer after Shakespeare and Wilde" (Twitter has been displaying that, in glory), and suggesting that "dodging" the high literary accolades was more of a benefit than otherwise.
He's probably right. The global mourning for Sir Terry -- the online wake -- is ours. The sorrow, and the joy -- so many good memories shared, so many dazzlingly acid lines etched onto our screens, so many readers going back to re-read, so many books to read and re-read! -- these belong to us. Not to the critics, not to the lions of literature (whoever they are). Us.