Despite What Ignorant People Say, Terry Pratchett Is Destined For Enduring Fame

Illustration for article titled Despite What Ignorant People Say, Terry Pratchett Is Destined For Enduring Fame

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer probably won’t be read 100 years from now, argues The Prestige author Christopher Priest. But Stephen King and J.K. Rowling have a decent shot at posterity. Also: Terry Pratchett, whose final Discworld book just came out, has an excellent chance at sticking around.

Priest’s blog post is worth reading in its entirety—it’s partly a meditation on what makes authors endure after their deaths, and Priest’s own observations on why Stephen King is more likely than Dan Brown to be read by our descendants. Priest argues that although it’s impossible to predict for sure what will make an author live on for decades after death, some mix of popularity and distinctive storytelling seems to be at play—and Priest says the modern literary novel is less likely to produce very many lasting classics. “We are more likely to find literary posterity, or the possibility of it, in the genres.”

But the second half of Priest’s blog post is a response to a silly blog update in the Guardian, where writer Jeffrey Jones confesses that he’s never read Terry Pratchett’s work, and has no interest in reading it, but he’s certain that Pratchett is not a literary genius. (People are free, of course, to read or not to read any authors they choose, but I can’t imagine what would possess someone to write a whole piece about an author they hadn’t read anything by.)


But Priest (who knew Pratchett when they were “teenage hopefuls”) writes passionately about why he thinks the Discworld author seems to be “a dead cert for long-term classic status”:

They are written for a popular audience, so fulfilling the first condition. They have been commercially successful, not just in Britain and the USA, but in languages and countries all around the world. The books are not liked by many: they are loved and admired by millions....

His work is written well – no matter what Jones says about ‘very ordinary’ prose, Terry Pratchett’s novels are stylistically adept: good muscular prose, not mucked around with for effect (except sometimes!), enlivened by wit, sharp observation, a unique take on the world at large and whatever the subject of social satire might be for the time being, a brimming sense of fun and the ridiculous, and overall an approach to the reader that feels inclusive, a letting in on the joke, an amused welcome to the world he is writing about.

[via SFSignal]

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I think that the quality of the writing itself is pretty far down the list of what makes novels timeless. I’m pretty sure literary scholars dumped on, say, Conan Doyle’s style back in his heyday as the most popular fiction writer of his time, but ultimately the plots and characters win out.

In Pratchett’s case, the question is more going to be whether his themes - especially some of the more contemporary novels - carry weight a hundred years from now. I loves me some examination of the obsolesence of the British postal service, but will any of that make any sense to someone of my age in 2115? Similarly, a lot of the Vimes books tread heavily on nostalgic cop / detective genres, but will that nostalgia continue?