Terry Pratchett: By adapting his films for screen, I discovered how he was so much more than a ‘fantasy’ writer

Foreseeing the financial crisis was just one way that he expressed his genius

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The Independent Online

I have a lot to thank Terry for and so this is my thank-you to him for allowing me to muck about with some of the work created by his genius, in the hope of doing justice both to him as a serious literary figure and as the inventor of one of the greatest fantasy worlds we’ve ever seen.

Because Terry should not be regarded as just a funny fantasy writer; he was perhaps our greatest satirist. Some might think, as I did when first seeing those “Sword and sorcery”-style covers of his books, that this was light stuff for people with beards who would laugh at in-jokes. But what Discworld rapidly became was a fully realised place where things have to work – not fantastical at all. This is a place where the need for good diplomatic relations is all about ensuring an unbroken supply of oil for Ankh-Morpork, Discworld’s biggest city, so that a place with no electricity could keep its candles alight.

To take just one example, in Making Money, Terry foresaw the financial crisis brilliantly. If you wanted to understand what was going on – from Gordon Brown selling off the nation’s gold to why some people started to believe that a Bitcoin might have a value – then it was all there in Terry’s writing some years before these things actually happened. Terry showed it to us in a place that came from his imagination - seeing what the rest of us could not. And he managed to do it while also making us laugh and sometimes even cry.

Terry had a profound effect on my professional life. He granted me the opportunity to achieve something on my list of things to dream of doing before I too pop my clogs: to make the first live-action adaptation of a Discworld novel – the stuff of dreams for a boy who used to play Dungeons and Dragons in Bristol.

Working with Terry was like having the world’s best script doctor on hand. If I needed a new line for a character, I would call him, and a few moments later he would pluck the perfect words. Every draft I wrote he would add lines and ideas pulled from 40 Discworlds’ worth of knowledge. I always wanted to be faithful to these books that I loved, and I hope I have been. I like to think that Terry thought that I didn’t mess them up.

I remember waiting for Terry’s reaction to my first attempt at the adaptation of Hogfather. He sat in a big leather chair and said to me, “It’s very good, because most of the words are mine.” I had successfully shoplifted the words from Britain’s most shoplifted author and mucked about with them in a way that made the man himself happy. I felt like an unworthy guardian of his genius. What an honour.

Vadim Jean is a film director whose credits include the adaptations of Terry Pratchett's Hogfather and Going Postal