An open letter to Jonathan Jones at the Guardian

If you haven’t read it yet, Jonathan Jones published an opinion piece in The Guardian. The tagline and main opinion is “Get real. Terry Pratchett is not a literary genius.”

Dear Mr Jones,

Let’s see…your article combines elitism, snobbery, high-handedness, arrogance, and a tone of absolute self-righteousness that is actually quite impressive. You have never read Terry Pratchett’s work, yet you are happy to dismiss him as ‘trash’?

What is it about Pratchett that means you don’t count him as ‘literature’? The fantasy? The magic? The lack of long words and carefully-obscured opinions? His popularity? His wide and very enthusiastic fanbase? The fact that so many people in so many countries adore his work? Maybe it’s all of that – ‘literature’ and ‘genius’ shouldn’t be popular, well-liked and well-respected.

On that note, your opinions on literature do seem a little strange. You hadn’t read Mansfield Park until recently…so why did you bother? How come that made your ‘literature’ cut, yet Pratchett doesn’t? Jane Austen is women’s fiction, you realise – not suitable for men, or for art writers at the Guardian. I don’t even know that Shakespeare should cut it – he gets quite bawdy, you know. And he writes comedy. So what is it about Gunter Grass that means he gets your approval? What exactly is your criteria for ‘genius’, or ‘literature’?

You are exactly what is wrong with ‘art’ critics – you dismiss something without even having read it, knowing nothing about it! Pratchett’s writing may be ‘mediocre’ to you, his name not suitable to fit into your ‘literature’ category – but not a genius? I disagree. Anyone who can unite so many generations, peoples, points of view and cultures with one world; anyone who can combine so many elements, comedy and fantasy and philosophy and crime; anyone who can make you laugh and cry and jump in the same book, who can be read hundreds of times and you still won’t get everything out of the book…

You are absolutely entitled to your opinion, and absolutely entitled to your assessment of Pratchett and of literature. But to dismiss him as trash on the basis of never reading him, on the basis of hearsay, genre and your own arrogance?

Pratchett’s work, Mr Jones, might not conform to your tastes. But to enchant and delight, capture and tempt, so many people?

Trash? No.

That is genius and literature.

Sir Terry Pratchett

Pratchett Twitter announcement

I heard (well, saw) the news that Sir Terry Pratchett had died yesterday on Twitter, about five minutes after it had been announced. I was sitting in the Library, and I suddenly realised that tears were dripping onto the desk…and I just put my head down and cried for a few minutes.

I picked up The Light Fantastic in an English class in Year 7, when I was 11. It was up in the old building, in an airy room, and we all had to dig a book out of the plastic box. I hung back and rummaged after everyone else had chosen. I think a half-naked woman, box with legs and general chaos on the front cover wasn’t helping the book’s case with my rather more ‘normal’ classmates, but I went for it, and read it over the course of two lessons – and then went back for The Colour of Magic (which luckily was also in the box).

As a teenager, I used to wander via the market on Saturday on my way to YAC, and I’d always take a couple of pounds of pocket money. There was a second-hand exchange bookstall and I went through their fantasy section like wildfire. Did they have any new Anne McCaffrey, Agatha Christie, or most importantly – Pratchett! I still had spaces on my bookshelf, you see…

When I started earning properly, I’d buy the new ones. The Truth was the first hardback I bought because even though it didn’t fit my (old, battered and well-thumbed) paperback collection, I had to read it. I’d always get the new ones in hardback after that – either through agreement with my mother, or I’d just buy it and then pass it round the family. I picked up The Long Earth. I adored (and wore out) The Dark Side of the Sun. I bought the Science of Discworld series, and loved both parts (and learned stuff!). I loved Johnny and whatever-her-name-is-today Kirsty; I bought Where’s My Cow and The World Of Poo for various children, and I’ve just given Dragons At Crumbling Castle to my cousins for Christmas with the ongoing intention of corrupting them to the rest of the series.

My Pratchett books were read, and re-read. There was the closest thing to an argument that my family has when I moved out to come up to Swindon and took the Pratchett collection with me; previously, I’d just left it at home and borrowed the ones I wanted when I came back. My mother threatened to get herself new copies to replace the ones I’d taken, which seemed like a very practical solution. My pile is currently sitting on the pew in the pub, hardbacks stacked at the bottom, out of order but that doesn’t matter to someone who keeps every book in her head. I’m still adding to the collection, too – Sam has just bought me the Map of Ankh-Morpork, and I haven’t yet picked up The Long Mars

And now? I’m hoping that Rhianna will take over. I’m hoping that Bob can keep writing. I don’t want to lose the wonderful world, even though I know it won’t be quite the same.

I was trying to explain my feelings to a friend who didn’t entirely get why there was such grief. The world that Terry Pratchett created was complicated, detailed, grey, funny and terrifying and sad and critical. It contained details that you didn’t get until the fifth or tenth or twentieth read – I didn’t get most of Soul Music until I heard a lot of 60’s-80’s music, and you have to watch The Blues Brothers to get another bit – and there’s so many little comments, and snarks, and jokes. There’s in-jokes in the books themselves. There’s references to outside life. There’s things that make you laugh and cry and think.

I grew up with Pratchett’s writing. His books have been part of my life for sixteen years, which as I realised last night is longer than I’ve known Jon or Chris, and as long as I’ve known my oldest friend from school. They’ve shaped my understanding of writing, of the world, of how to think. Granny Weatherwax’s practical morality. Vimes’ cynicism. Death’s relentless optimism. Even Gaspode’s loveable – albeit smelly – charm. The bickering wizards. The (I can’t think of a suitable word…drunk, mebbe?) Wee Free Men. The switch from city life to countryside to inside someone’s head to adventure to old age to remorseless practicality to woolly thinking to philosophy to jokes. The wonderful, brilliant, worlds that were created, the stories that were told…they have always been with me. The Discworld is the world I would pick up when all else failed, when I needed a book that I could read for five minutes or an hour, my chocolate-and-duvet books, my switch-off books, my need-to-think books. The Discworld books, and Pratchett’s writing, were my solace and my inspiration.

It feels as if I have lost a very dear and very loved friend, and I know a lot of other people feel the same. I will greatly miss the man who created the Discworld and who wrote such amazing stories, and I very much hope he’s having a drink of scumble with Death.

No-one is finally dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away. – Reaper Man