Marketed as “the first full biography of Sir Terry Pratchett”, The Magic of Terry Pratchett explores the wondrous life and career of one of the most famous fantasy authors of all time. With over 85 million copies of over 60 books sold by the time of his death in 2015, Pratchett was as prolific as he was acclaimed. Most famous for his his long-running Discworld series, he picked up multiple Locus awards, a Carnegie Medal, an OBE, and even a knighthood on his way to becoming a worldwide literary icon. But who was the real man behind the quick wit and black hat?
For a subject who died in 2015—not all that long ago—it might be surprising that the first person to publish a serious exploration of Terry Pratchett would have never met him. While not a requirement, there’s a compelling argument that closeness to a subject would provide the bones for writing a rich examination of them. And yet author Marc Burrows completely dispels the idea that that’s the only way to write about recent figures. Through careful research and a deep look into Pratchett’s own words from his numerous interviews, Burrows has provided a compact but comprehensive biography that’s both a page-turner and ridiculously funny.
Even though Burrows might not have a physical connection to Pratchett, he’s an obvious fan of his work, and his excitement while discussing his books is palpable on the page. It quickly becomes clear that, though Pratchett was a remarkable author, he lived a fairly low-key life by celebrity standards. Fortunately, this is where Burrows’s enthusiasm plays its greatest strength, allowing him to add in analysis of Pratchett’s books while relating them to the points in his life that they were written. While this gets somewhat technical, Burrows has such an easy, welcoming style, that these moments are fascinating—even if the reader has little knowledge of the specific book.
Burrows also taps into less obvious sections of Pratchett’s career, and many of these anecdotes are hilarious. In particular, a section on the cover art for some of the early editions of the German Discworld novels is a fascinating examination of the publishing industry, frustrating, and funny all at the same time. Along the way, Burrows, in a nod to Pratchett’s style, tosses in copious footnotes to drive some of the jokes.¹
Of course, no look at at Pratchett’s life would be complete without discussing his Alzheimer’s diagnoses and subsequent death. Much like Pratchett was able to weave darker themes into his often cheeky fantasy novels, Burrows also doesn’t shy away from the serious. He does so in such a respectful and thoughtful way that it’s impossible not to leave those final pages without having a deeper appreciation for not just Pratchett, but Burrows as well.
Ultimately, Burrows has written an emotional, charming biography of a literary giant that’ll have fans flipping through well-worn paperbacks while newcomers pick up The Colour of Magic.
Note: I received a free ARC of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.