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Saturday, October 1, 2011

Required Reading: Terry Pratchett's Discworld

Now, my two readers, as well as Katie and Sharon, have been wondering where I've been hiding for the past month. Well, I've been finishing the Discworld novels I have not yet read in anticipation for the newest book, Snuff, which comes out this October. As my two readers probably remember, I am a huge fan of the Discworld series by British author Sir Terry Pratchett. "But Kalpar!" you are probably exclaiming, because you love exclaiming that, "What is this Discworld series all about?" Well, it's kind of hard to answer, but I'm certainly going to give it my best.

The first thing you need to know about
Discworld is that it takes place on the Disc, a perfectly flat circle of a planet which rests on the backs of four elephants. The four elephants, in turn, stand on the back of a ten thousand mile long turtle called the Great A'Tuin who swims through space. Why A'Tuin does this no one knows, but Sir Terry Pratchett says it looks vaguely hopeful, so I guess it will all turn out okay. From this description alone you've probably surmised that Discworld is no ordinary place, and this is true. The second thing you need to know about Discworld is that it is a series of books written by Sir PTerry (as the fans call him) and the first novel, The Colour Of Magic (Discworld Novel), was written in 1983. On average, Sir PTerry has managed to write one Discworld novel per year since 1983, and he is still writing them. As a result Discworld has become a wide and varied setting with many many characters, some of whom have gone through incredible development. For a newcomer, the challenge of finding where to begin can be daunting, however hopefully my insight will help you enter the wonderful magical Discworld.

In the beginning,
Discworld was a parody of fantasy stories.The Colour Of Magic (Discworld Novel) introduced us to Rincewind, a wizard who cannot do any magic, and Twoflower, the Disc's first tourist. Sir Pterry deconstructed traditional fantasy ideas such as magic swords, barbarian heroes, and trolls to create the unique flavor of Discworld. However, the series did not stop as a parody. Over the years it has grown into a vehicle for Sir Pterry to satirize our own world and talk about a wide range of issues. Small Gods and Hogfather deal with matters of religion and belief. In Jingo (Discworld) and Monstrous Regiment Sir Pterry satirizes war, and in Reaper Man Sir Pterry explores human mortality itself. Yes, these can be heavy issues, but even in the darkest of Discworld novels Sir Pterry manages to make jokes that are funny and appropriate for the book. The thing I love most about Discworld is that his books have the power to make you laugh and think at the same time. Yes, it may be popular mass print media, but I consider it literary gold nonetheless.

Broadly speaking, the
Discworld novels can be divided into six categories. The first are five groups of characters that are the focus of the book, and the last category are the stand alone novels.
  1. Rincewind and the Wizards: First appearing in Colour of Magic, the Wizards of Unseen University start out as a competitive group where the only means of promotion is assassination. With the arrival of Archchancellor Ridcully, things settle down and the wizards of UU actually begin to...well wizard. Rincewind, the world's most incompetent wizard, frequently finds himself in adventures he'd rather not have. They're a great parody of academics and bureaucrats everywhere, but know more about how the Disc works than you might initially think.
  2. The Lancre Witches: Although Granny Weatherwax first appeared in Equal Rites, she's not fully developed as a character until Wyrd Sisters or Witches Abroad. The other members of the Lancre coven are Magrat Garlick and Nanny Ogg. Far more practical-minded than the staff of Unseen University, the Lancre witches take a very direct approach to adventures that come their way.
  3. Death: Yes, the Grim Reaper himself. Death has the honor of being the only character to appear in every single Discworld novel, but he has been the main character in a number of his own novels. Furthermore, Sir Pterry makes Death a very likable character. He likes humans and doesn't bear them any ill-will. In fact he's gone out of his way to protect them from other forces that don't like humans. To quote Sir Pterry, "Not a bad chap when you get to know him (and sooner or later everyone gets to know him)."
  4. The Ankh-Morpork City Watch: This is my favorite group of characters, probably because the majority of focus is on Commander Sam Vimes of the City Watch. He's a man who believes in the law above all else and does everything he can to enforce it, within certain restrictions. As Vimes himself says, you can't go around being a good guy if you do bad guy things, and I really respect that. For those of you that are familiar with the term "Lawful Good" Vimes is practically its human manifestation, and I absolutely love it. Over the course of the Watch novels Vimes has managed to turn the organization around from the laughingstock of Ankh-Morpork to the most respected and famous police force on the Disc.
  5. Moist von Lipwig: A relatively recent character that Sir Pterry introduced because he had the idea of a former con man who was basically a good guy. Lord Vetinari, the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork gives Moist a second chance at life and has him take over the derelict Ankh-Morpork City Post Office. Moist's adventures are a fascinating commentary on the modern world, and at least one more novel has been promised detailing his adventures.
  6. Stand-alone novels: These novels focus on a group of characters not listed above and unlike the groups above have only had one novel about them specifically. Members of the other five groups might have a cameo, but the book is not about them.
Now, you're probably wondering "Do I have to begin at the very start to get into Discworld?" The answer is no. While the books mostly follow one after the other chronologically, it is not necessary to read the books in order. It certainly helps, but Sir PTerry has written the series so you can read any of the books in any order you wish. Each novel has a self-contained story which is resolved by the end. Furthermore, I suggest you actually do not begin with Colour of Magic. The starting books of the series are not bad, I just feel that they lack a certain finished quality I see in the later books. As can be expected, Sir Pterry has developed as an author over time and I think he was still just finding his voice in the early books.

"But Kalpar!" You are probably exclaiming right now, "If I shouldn't start with
Colour of Magic, which book should I start with?" Well, in my opinion there are three good books that introduce you to the series. If you want to be introduced to the Lancre witches, I suggest you start with Witches Abroad. It's not the first Lancre Witches books, but it's one of my favorites and more importantly introduces you to some very important concepts about Discworld. If you're interested in meeting Sam Vimes and the City Watch first, I suggest you begin with Guards! Guards!. This is the first novel with the then Ankh-Morpork Night Watch it introduces you to Vimes, Carrot, Corporal Nobby Nobbs and Sergeant Fred Colon, and also serves as a great introduction to the overall world of Discworld as well. My final suggestion for novels to introduce you to Discworld is Small Gods. Small Gods is a stand-alone novel and was my own personal introduction to Discword. It's very easy to get into, and I think it does a great job of explaining the world of the Disc, so it's a great choice to begin.

Now, hopefully I haven't spewed too much information on you, but I'm going to add one final piece. Out of all the books in the series, so far I have two favorites:
Night Watch and Thud!. Both of these novels are Watch books, and I think that they show Sam Vimes at his very best as a character. We get to look deep inside Vimes and see why he believes what he believes, and perhaps more importantly the code that he holds himself to. I find them really great explorations of Vimes's character and will probably remain my favorite books for a long long time.

I hope that somewhere in this long post I've convinced some of you to pick up a
Discworld novel if you haven't already. Stay alert for my review of Snuff when it comes out this October!



  1. Well this is certainly a new (to me) and interesting series. Thanks for sharing :)

  2. The Lancre Witches books are my favorite. I must say I do not like Magrat so was very happy when Agnes/Perdita was added to the mix.

  3. I love the space turtle up top there. :) I want a space turtle too...

    Awesome review BAK, I look forward to hearing your thoughts on Snuff.

  4. Great review, just what I was looking for. I just read The Colour Of Magic yesterday and I've been wondering where to go from there. I think I'll start on the night watch books next.

  5. good job BAK! I've read some of the Discworld series (way back when) and they were a fun and interesting. I got a little burned out on them and never went back. maybe I should try some more :)

  6. Thanks for sharing this info. I'm very intrigued now.

  7. I'm glad I could get people interested in a series I like a lot.

    Sullivan: Oddly enough, I liked Magrat better than Agnes/Perdita. I don't know, maybe because I liked Witches Abroad and Lords and Ladies a little better than Maskerade and Carpe Jugulum. I think the thing that bugged me the most in the later books was seeing Granny Weatherwax's resolve sort of weakening. Which, yeah, it's character development, and reasonable character development, but I just didn't feel like it was like Granny.