Terry Pratchett, whose science-fantasy Discworld novels are some of the best-selling works in English fiction around the world, died on March 12, 2015, aged 66 after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease. Pratchett sold more than 85 million books worldwide and was full of wit and wisdom. His final book The Shepherd’s Crown, completed last year, was published on August 27 2015 (read our review). Here are 50 of his greatest quotations, chosen by Martin Chilton.
1 Stories of imagination tend to upset those without one
2 A marriage is always made up of two people who are prepared to swear that only the other one snores
3 Geography is just physics slowed down, with a couple of trees stuck in it
4 An education was a bit like a communicable sexual disease. It made you unsuitable for a lot of jobs and then you had the urge to pass it on
5 The truth may be out there, but the lies are inside your head
6 Give a man a fire and he's warm for the day. But set fire to him and he's warm for the rest of his life
7 Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time
8 In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods. They have not forgotten this
9 The space between the young readers eyeballs and the printed page is a holy place and officialdom should trample all over it at their peril
10 "Educational" refers to the process, not the object. Although, come to think of it, some of my teachers could easily have been replaced by a cheeseburger
11 Dickens, as you know, never got round to starting his home page
12 I once absent-mindedly ordered Three Mile Island dressing in a restaurant and, with great presence of mind, they brought Thousand Island Dressing and a bottle of chili sauce
13 I didn't go to university. Didn't even finish A-levels. But I have sympathy for those who did
14 It is said that your life flashes before your eyes just before you die. That is true, it's called Life
15 Only in our dreams are we free. The rest of the time we need wages
16 The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it
17 Five exclamation marks, the sure sign of an insane mind
18 Taxation is just a sophisticated way of demanding money with menaces
19 The pen is mightier than the sword if the sword is very short, and the pen is very sharp
20 Most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally evil, but by people being fundamentally people
21 It is well known that a vital ingredient of success is not knowing that what you're attempting can't be done
22 Human beings make life so interesting. Do you know, that in a universe so full of wonders, they have managed to invent boredom
23 Some humans would do anything to see if it was possible to do it. If you put a large switch in some cave somewhere, with a sign on it saying 'End-of-the-World Switch. PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH', the paint wouldn't even have time to dry
24 Wisdom comes from experience. Experience is often a result of lack of wisdom
25 Personally, I think the best motto for an educational establishment is: 'Or Would You Rather Be a Mule?'
26 The whole of life is just like watching a film. Only it’s as though you always get in ten minutes after the big picture has started, and no-one will tell you the plot, so you have to work it out all yourself from the clues. —from Moving Pictures
27 It’s not worth doing something unless someone, somewhere, would much rather you weren’t doing it
28 People don't alter history any more than birds alter the sky, they just make brief patterns in it
29 I’d rather be a rising ape than a falling angel
30 If there was anything that depressed him more than his own cynicism, it was that quite often it still wasn’t as cynical as real life
31 Fantasy is an exercise bicycle for the mind. It might not take you anywhere, but it tones up the muscles that can
32 The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to the presence of those who think they’ve found it
33 It’s still magic even if you know how it’s done
34 There are times in life when people must know when not to let go. Balloons are designed to teach small children this
35 The entire universe has been neatly divided into things to (a) mate with, (b) eat, (c) run away from, and (d) rocks
36 Here’s some advice boy. Don’t put your trust in revolutions. They always come around again. That's why they’re called revolutions
37 If you don’t turn your life into a story, you just become a part of someone else’s story
38 Evil begins when you begin to treat people as things
39 Inside every sane person there’s a madman struggling to get out
40 I'm not writing 'The A-Team' - if there's a fight going on, people will get hurt. Not letting this happen would be a betrayal
41 Most gods throw dice, but Fate plays chess, and you don't find out til too late that he's been playing with two queens all along
42 Pets are always a help in times of stress. And in times of starvation, too, of course
43 Captain Quirke was not actually a bad man; he didn’t have the imagination; but he dealt more in the generalised low-grade unpleasantness which slightly tarnishes the soul of all who come into contact with it – rather like British Rail
44 Goodness is about what you do. Not what you pray to
45 The intelligence of that creature known as a crowd is the square root of the number of people in it
46 They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but it's not one half so bad as a lot of ignorance
47 Time is a drug. Too much of it kills you
48 It occurred to me that at one point it was like I had two diseases - one was Alzheimer's, and the other was knowing I had Alzheimer's
49 I commend my soul to any God that can find it
50 So much universe, and so little time
Terry Pratchett, the bestselling author and creator of the Discworld series who died in March last year, was a famous wit and wordsmith. His inimitable turn of phrase has just been celebrated in Seriously Funny, the Endlessly Quotable Terry Pratchett, which is prefaced by an address he gave in Trinity College Dublin in 2010, which encapsulates his passion for language.
“For the whole of my life since I was nine years old I have enjoyed words… Words turn us from monkeys into me. We make them, change them, trace them around, eat them and live by them - they are workhorses, carrying any burden, and their usage is the skill of the author’s trade, hugely versatile; there are times when the wrong word is the right word, and times when words can be manipulated so that silence shouts. Their care, feeding and indeed breeding is part of the craft of which I am a journeyman.”
Lisa McInerney, winner this month of both the Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction and the Desmond Elliott Prize for The Glorious Heresies, is a devotee of Pratchett’s work. Asked for her favourite, she responded: “Oh God, so many. One that I almost tweeted earlier: ‘May you live in interesting times’ which you’ll probably know is a reference to a myth about there being such a curse in China. And right now I think we’re living in interesting times.
“My other favourite Pratchett quote is from Soul Music, where Death is collecting money and someone gives him a penny, just for this line: THANK YOU, said the grateful Death. I honestly think that that’s a case of an author coming up with a killer pun and writing an entire book around it. And one from Reaper Man, which always makes me think of my enthusiastically Facebooking uncle: ‘Five exclamation marks, the sure sign of an insane mind.’
“Other than that, of course, there’s this, which isn’t funny, but...
Mort . . . shook his head. ‘There’s no justice.’
Death sighed. ‘NO,’ he said, ...’THERE’S JUST ME.’
They’re all Discworld quotes, in fairness.”
Colin Smythe, the Trinity College Dublin graduate who published Pratchett’s first five books and has been his agent since 1987, admitted: “I can’t remember Terry telling me any jokes. Both poor memory and because he must have kept them to put in his books. Over the last decade, I think we talked about facts, research for the book he was working on, that sort of thing.”
In his tribute to his friend in The Irish Times, Smythe wrote: “It is hard to look at a future without Terry, his humour, wicked bubble-pricking comments, his amazing inventiveness, his style, the deftness of his puns, and the deep moral sense that pervaded all of the books, without being obtrusive.”
So what is his favourite Terry Pratchett quotation? “Too many to choose from. But how about...?
Susan... it wasn’t a good name, was it? It wasn’t a truly bad name, it wasn’t like poor Iodine in the fourth form, or Nigella, a name which means ‘oops, we wanted a boy’. But it was dull. Susan. Sue. Good old Sue. It was a name that made sandwiches, kept its head in difficult circumstances, and could reliably look after other people’s children.
It was a name used by no queens or goddesses anywhere.
And you couldn’t do much even with the spelling. You could turn it into Suzi, and it sounded as though you danced on tables for a living. You could put in a Z and a couple of Ns and an E, but it still looked like a name with extensions built on. It was as bad as Sara, a name that cried out for a prosthetic H.
“Far too long, I know. How about a talking raven on a battle-field, looking for eyeballs and other scraps, saying ‘Carrion regardless. That’s what I say.’?
“Or the cleric in a band that went off with all its takings, and was arrested. ‘And what did they do with that felonious monk?’ [Only for jazz lovers, I suspect].”
Here are a few more for your amusement I came across that I'd put away in a file.
“A weapon you held and didn't know how to use belonged to your enemy.”
“Sometimes the truth is arrived at by adding all the little lies together and deducting them from the totality of what is known.”
“Steal five dollars and you're a common thief. Steal thousands and you're either the government or a hero.”
“It is a long-cherished tradition among a certain type of military thinker that huge casualties are the main thing. If they are on the other side then this is a valuable bonus.”
“Taxation, gentlemen, is very much like dairy farming. The task is to extract the maximum amount of milk with the minimum amount of moo.”
"Mention has already been made of an attempt to inject a little honesty into reporting on the Disc, and how poets and bards were banned on pain of - well, pain - from going on about babbling brooks and rosy-fingered dawn and could only say for example, that a face had launched a thousand ships if they were able to produce certified dockyard accounts."
The Light Fantastic
Twenty more killer Terry Pratchett quotations
Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time.
Sometimes I really think people ought to have to pass a proper exam before they’re allowed to be parents. Not just the practical, I mean.
Thief of Time
Always remember that the crowd that applauds your coronation is the same crowd that will applaud your beaheading. People like a show.
The phrase “Someone ought to do something” was not, by itself, a helpful one. People who used it never added the rider “and that someone is me”.
Just erotic. Nothing kinky. It’s the difference between using a feather and using a chicken.
Education was a bit like a communicable sexual disease. It made you unsuitable for a lot of jobs and then you had the urge to pass it on.
A lie can run round the world before the truth has got its boots on.
But we’re a university! We have to have a library!” said Ridcully. “It adds tone. What sort of people would we be if we didn’t go into the library?”
“Students,” said the Senior Wrangler morosely.
The Last Continent
If you trust in yourself, and believe in your dreams, and follow your star … you’ll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy.
The Wee Free Men
Give a man a fire and he’s warm for a day, but set fire to him and he’s warm for the rest of his life.
The wholf of life is just like watching a click*, he thought. Only it’s as though you always get in ten minutes after the big picture has started, and no-one will tell you the plot, so you have to work it all out yourself from the clues.
* A film in Discworld terminology
His philosophy was a mixture of three famous schools - the Cynics, the Stoics and the Epicureans - and summed up all three of them in his famous phrase, “You can’t trust any bugger further than you can throw him, and there’s nothing you can do about it, so let’s have a drink."
No one is finally dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away - until the clock he wound winds down, until the wine she made has finished its ferment, until the crop they planted is harvested. The span of someone’s life…is only the core of their actual existence.
DON’T THINK OF IT AS DYING, said Death. JUST THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH.
Pets are always a great help in times of stress. And in times of starvation too.
There is a rumour going around that I have found God. I think this is unlikely because I have enough difficulty finding my keys, and there is empirical evidence that they exist.
The God Moment, Mail on Sunday
Fear is strange soil. Mainly it grows obedience like corn, which grows in rows and makes weeding easy. But sometimes it grows the potatoes of defiance, which flourish underground.
Two types of people laugh at the law: those that break it and those that make it.
The pen is mightier than the sword… if the sword is very small and the pen is very sharp.
The Light Fantastic
Stories of imagination tend to upset those without one.
Introduction to The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Fantasy
Seriously Funny, the Endlessly Quotable Terry Pratchett (Doubleday, £9.99)
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