The pen may be mightier of the two but, after years forging a career as Britain’s best-selling fantasy author with over 65 million books sold to his name, Terry Pratchett decided it was time to forge a sword instead of writing about them.
Appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) “for services to literature” in 1998 and knighted in the 2009 New Year Honours, he briefly lamented the fact that knighthood no longer came with a horse and blade before deciding to make his own. And not just any sword, but as fitting a fantasy writer, he decided to make an epic sword made from fallen meteorites – a Swordof Fallen Stars, if you want to get all fantastical about it.
Make it, mind, not just buy it in a shop. Popular convention has it that writers are weedy creatures, unsuited to exertion, the outdoors and – in extreme cases – sunlight and fresh air, but Pratchett, found and gathered and smelted the iron ore himself. For that epic sword of fantasy flavour it included “several pieces of meteorites — thunderbolt iron, you see — highly magical, you’ve got to chuck that stuff in whether you believe in it or not”.
In addition to the pieces of meteorite it took 81kgs of ore, a makeshift kiln made from clay and hay and powered by sheep manure, and the help of a friend who was an expert on metal-making, but Terry Pratchett succeeded in making his own sword. “Most of my life I’ve been producing stuff which is intangible and so it’s amazing the achievement you feel when you have made something which is really real.”
Pratchett is a profilic writerm and a favourite author of mine, with his Discworld series taking up some serious bookshelf real estate in my apartment (Small Gods is my favourite). His collaboration with Neil Gaiman, Good Omens, being one of the books I am most likely to force into people’s hands, roaring “you must read this, it is fantastic”. He’s been in the news recently for his battle with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, filming a programme chronicling his experiences with the disease for the BBC and his controversial and publicised support of assisted suicide, and it’s good to see that he hasn’t – if you will forgive the pun – lost his edge.
He has always gone his own way, and long been known for his habit of wearing a black fedora anywhere he can get away with it. Looking more like a snow-bearded cowboy than an elderly writer, it’s unlikely he’ll be adding the sword to his threads when he’s out in public. It’s a showpiece only, as he can’t carry it proudly on his side – sheathed or otherwise – thanks to UK law. “It annoys me that knights aren’t allowed to carry their swords. That would be knife crime.”
Despite weilding a satiric pen for years, Terry isn’t contesting this. He has no doubt which of the two make a better weapon. He wrote said, “The pen is mightier than the sword if the sword is very short, and the pen is very sharp.”
As for me, I’m having fun imagining a world where authors become professionals at crafting the tools of their genre. In addition to fantasy writers slaving over the anvils, we could have science-fiction writers building spacecraft and time-machines in the shed, and romance novelists setting up dating agencies. Twilight author Stephenie Meyers doing a sideline in making bedtime coffin and scented stakes.
Someone will have to tell crime-writer Patricia Cornwall that she’s not invited to this party.