Terry Pratchett is one of the greatest fantasy writers of all time. His stories spark imaginations; they’re packed with memorable characters, whimsical settings, poignant plots and a hilarious look at life that’ll tickle your funny bone.
Terry Pratchett books also reveal an insightful view into human nature. His stories feature pearls of wisdom and life lessons wrapped up in parody, wordplay, magic, heroes and even villains.
And, with the phenomenal 41-novel Terry Pratchett Discworld series, there are plenty of lessons to be learnt. So we asked authors, self-proclaimed Terry Pratchett fans and long-time friends of Terry to tell us what they’ve learnt from reading his books — along with their favourite Terry Pratchett quotes.
The results may just surprise you. Well, as Pratchett wrote in Thief of Time: “...the only appropriate state of the mind is surprise”.
1. Be as imaginative as possible - Sir David Jason
Actor Sir David Jason starred as Rincewind in the TV adaptation of Sir Terry Pratchett’s The Colour of Magic. He lets us in on how he came to enter the world of Terry Pratchett - and the lessons he’s learnt along the way.
The Colour of Magic [is my favourite Sir Terry Pratchett novel] as I love the character Rincewind, which I was lucky enough to play for a Sky Production.
He is such an irascible and often feeble character, but he has heart and warmth which I hope came across from the novel. There are so many wonderful cameo roles in there too, such as the walking luggage and the living camera.
There is such a richness to the imagination of this novel in particular, but I know this is the same for all of Terry Pratchett’s work.
I try and read a Terry Pratchett novel as often as I can, but I know I have a lot of catching up to do. I actually came to Terry Pratchett quite late in life. Let’s just say over the age of 50, but that’s one of the qualities about the writing, as it can appeal to readers of all ages.
My friend Brian Cosgrove, the animator, gave me my first copy of The Colour of Magic as being an artist and animator he loved the imagery and imagination of the many visuals described in the book - and he knew I would probably appreciate it too.
Terry Pratchett’s influence in my work is to try and be as imaginative as possible as on-screen anything is possible. We shouldn’t be bound by reality as we are telling a story. We should suspend belief in order to make a film or programme as entertaining as possible.
I would probably say the description of the Discworld [is my favourite quote] as the thought of all the different component parts of this other world is so strong and imaginative.
To think that the fantasy world is balanced on the back of four elephants in turn balanced on a giant turtle is so surreal and colourful, but then that is what Terry Pratchett was famous for; humour, imagination and wonderful fantasy.
2. Create your own voice - Dave Rudden
I was shy as a kid. I was quiet and I was ginger and I liked books, and somewhere between the ages of nine and ten that started being a problem for people who were bigger than me.
A story came down around me like a cage and I didn’t change, but the way the world saw me did - and eventually, that changed how I saw myself.
I felt very helpless. I felt silenced, afraid to speak in case I made things worse. And it wasn’t until I read the words above that I realised that stories can change, and I could be the one who changed them.
I perform in schools all the time, and when I yell ‘I LOVE BOOKS’ at three hundred kids who may or may not think that’s the kind of thing you shout about, I change the story. I change my story.
Terry Pratchett wrote books for kids, and he wrote books for adults, but he mostly wrote books for people because he didn’t see much of a difference between the two. He was very kind and very angry, and he took special care to listen to the people who don’t get listened to – children, and rats, and kittens, the creatures who live underfoot. Most of all, he showed me how I could get my own voice, and I’ll always be grateful for that.
3. Heroines don’t have to be predictable - Robin Stevens
Children’s author Robin Stevens tells us how the greatest lesson she learnt from reading Terry Pratchett has influenced her own work. Robin’s most recent book is Top Marks for Murder in the Murder Most Unladylike series.
I was a big fan of the whole Tiffany Aching series as a teenager, but the story that really stands out for me is A Hat Full of Sky. I first read it when I was 16, and then reread it again last year, when I was 29.
What struck me both times is how wonderfully well Terry Pratchett understands human beings. The Discworld might be made up, but it has always felt absolutely real because the people in it don't behave like characters - they behave like fully-rounded human beings.
Tiffany is very special to me precisely because she's a hero who isn't very (traditionally) heroic. She's grouchy and sharp and not perfect at all - and that's not presented as a problem. She still gets to be the centre of her story, and she still gets to save the world!
She made me see that I could create my own smart, imperfect heroines - there's a bit of Tiffany in both Daisy and Hazel from my Murder Most Unladylike series.
4. Death is nothing to fear - Rachel Anthony-Rowlands
Co-editor and writer of the free monthly Terry Pratchett focused newsletter Discworld Monthly, Rachel, lets us in on how Sir Terry Pratchett has changed her life - both through the power of his words and through meeting other Discworld fans.
I discovered my favourite Terry Pratchett book, Mort, when I was about 12. My Mum thrust Equal Rites into my hands and told me to read it. I then went down to the library and took out as many of Terry's books as they had and got completely hooked on Mort. I must have read it 20 times since then and I own about 10 various editions of it too.
The tale of Death's apprentice instilled a love in me for the one known as Death. Death himself is nothing to be scared of: he loves cats, does his best with his garden, tries really hard to understand human things and would often like to have a break from his job just like the rest of us. His loyal servant Albert is a cantankerous old man with not much sand left in his life-timer and not much patience for Mort either and I loved the similarities in personality between Albert and my own grandfather.
Mort taught me that Death is nothing to be afraid of (he's actually quite sweet) and that everyone has to die eventually because the consequences of not dying have a habit of not being very good despite what a fairy story may tell you.
I think I would be a different person if Terry's stories hadn't influenced my outlook on life growing up. I realised that there is no underlying logic to the universe so I accept the craziness of day-to-day life, that a man is truly not dead until the ripples he caused in the world die away - so we should spend our lives creating memories, not wealth. A few grains of sand could make the difference between a happy story and a sad ending, so we should never waste a moment.
A few years ago I saw the chance to go to a Discworld Convention and grabbed it, which completely changed my life. It's how I met my husband Jason and ended up writing Discworld Monthly and organising Discworld charity auctions.
I have so many favourite bits from Mort but I think my favourite quote is the one below. It means that as long as you have the basics, you don't really need anything else, which I think is a good way to live:
5. Make the most of the time you have - Jason Rincewind Anthony-Rowlands
Editor of Discworld Monthly, Jason, tells us how meeting Terry personally and reading his work has influenced virtually every aspect of his life.
I’ve been reading Terry Pratchett books for the last quarter of a century. If I had to narrow it down to one book I think it would be the one that means the most to me, The Truth, because as an amateur journalist I relate to William de Worde and his need to keep feeding the Thunderer (the Dwarf’s printing press) and how as soon as it is fed today’s paper it is already awaiting the next day’s offering.
I love Terry’s ability to write slightly flawed characters. William suspects that deep down he might not be a very nice person given how nasty his father can be so he tried to compensate by trying that much harder. It’s wonderful to see a character that strives to be better than he is.
I was in my late twenties when I first read The Truth and I was in the enviable position of being one of the first people to read it as I had been given a proof copy a few months before the book became readily available.
I was extremely lucky to meet Terry a few times - at book signings, events, the occasional group meal with other fans, and on one occasion in a car journey (in Terry’s car). I always enjoyed being in Terry’s company and listening to his wisdom and knowledge.
Through reading Terry’s books, he taught me to question everything. Not to just take things for granted. He said to do your own research and don’t just read stuff, consume it. Read anything and everything to broaden your horizons and your mind.
He also taught me to go out and meet people and to make the most of the time we have. Own your mistakes and live life to the full. Don’t let fear prevent you from having a life.
Terry’s influence has affected the way I interact with people. Over the years, I’ve met most of my good friends through our mutual love of Terry’s works. When I got married last year, our wedding was Discworld themed. We even had a cake in the shape of the Luggage and one of our friends brought one of Terry’s hats to the occasion so we could say he was there with us in spirit.
Because of Discworld, I’ve been able to meet lots of fabulous people, been an extra in The Colour of Magic, was part of the award-winning Terry Pratchett: Back in Black documentary. These opportunities just wouldn’t have happened without my love of Terry.
One quote that had special meaning to me after Terry passed was:
This has given me and many fans great comfort because here we are three years after Terry died and he is still as relevant now as he has ever been. We’ll continue to keep those ripples going for as long as we can.
6. Question the world and yourself - and don’t be afraid of the answers - The Discworld Emporium
Purveyors and creators of Discworld merchandise, Pratchett co-authors and long-time friends of Terry, The Discworld Emporium team let us in on what they’ve learnt throughout the years.
In terms of lessons learnt, it is perhaps the Tiffany Aching series that contain some of Terry’s most direct and fundamental teachings:
From our little shop and studios in Somerset, we’re lucky enough to meet thousands of Discworld fans and, believe us when we say, Discworld is a broad church. People from every imaginable background read Pratchett, and there are three things that link them all; a sense of humour, a sense of humanity and an enquiring mind.
These are perhaps Terry’s most prevalent lessons in the Tiffany series; he speaks often about the importance of questioning the world, and yourself, and crucially, not being afraid of the answers.
The Tiffany series follows a young woman learning to become a witch, but perhaps more importantly learning how she sees the world and how the world sees her. Her character and the lessons she herself learns, teach us the importance of being strong-minded and strong-willed, but bendable enough to know kindness and compassion.
Having had the honour of working with Terry for over 25 years, we know that Discworld is as magic behind the scenes as it is on the page, so with that in mind a favourite Pratchett quote is from a A Hat Full of Sky: