Monday, April 29, 2013

Let's talk about Discworld

Great A'Tuin, by Paul Kidby
Sir Terry Pratchett's birthday was a few days ago, so I think now is a great time to talk about his most famous creation, the Discworld and the series of excellent novels set on it! Discworld, as fans know, is a flat, circular world, born on the backs of four enormous elephants, who in turn stand on the back of Great A'Tuin, a giant turtle who swims through space. The disc is home to people, trolls, dwarves, gnomes, and dragons, though the dragons tend to be small, snivelly creatures who explode when they get excited. It's a fantasy world, but it's also surprisingly familiar. And I love it!

Wyrd Sisters, by Paul Kidby
 I had never read Discworld before my lovely wife got me into it. To my shame, I had always lumped it together with Piers Anthony's Xanth novels in my mind. I had never read those, either, but my impression of them was that they were kind of obnoxious: wacky just for the sake of being wacky. How wrong I was! About Discworld, at least. I started reading the books, and they turned out to be some of the most hilarious, exciting, interesting, and wise books I have ever read.
Rincewind, by Paul Kidby
 One of the big debates among Discworld fans is what order to read the books in. While you can certainly start at the beginning and work your way through the books chronologically, there are also several "Groups" of novels. For instance, the first novels of the Watch series are Guards! Guards!, Men at Arms, and Feet of Clay, but these are books 8, 15, and 19 in the overall list of Discworld novels.

When I read the Discworld novels, I started at the beginning, with The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic. Those novels go well together, since they both star the incompetent, cowardly wizard Rincewind, and the second novel finishes the story the first began. They're not as great as some of the later ones, and it's clear that Discworld was not as firmly established in Pratchett's mind when he began. Still, they offer a fun place to start, and you can then see how both Discworld and Pratchett developed from there.
When I read the first novels, I really loved Rincewind, and I was worried that I would not like the novels starring other characters as much. I need not have worried! I also found myself enjoying books starring the Witches, the Wizards, and Death. Indeed, Death is the character most likely to appear in any Discworld novels, and he has several books dedicated to him, his apprentice, and his (adopted) granddaughter. But my favorite novels are the ones featuring Sam Vimes and the City Watch.
The Watch, by Paul Kidby
The Watch series of novels takes place in Ankh-Morpork, the largest, smelliest, and most prosperous city on the Disc. Ankh-Morpork is the heart of Discworld, where people live alongside dwarves, trolls, golems, vampires, and all manner of other creatures. The city is run by Lord Vetinari, a genius who is a master manipulator. Vetinari may pull the strings from above, but the city is also held up from below by the Watch. And the men of the Watch (who may be women, or trolls, or dwarves, or anything else) are led by one man, Sam Vimes.
Vimes, by Paul Kidby
 To me, Vimes embodies what it means to be in Discworld, and that picture of him lighting his cigar with a dragon says more about why I love this world than anything I have said so far. Discworld may seem unusual to us, but to the people who live there, it's home. Discworld makes as much sense to its inhabitants as "roundworld" does to us. So naturally, the hard-bitten head of the Watch would light his cigar with a dragon, if there's one close to hand. To an outsider, Discworld is full of exciting, strange things. To Vimes, Discworld is full of people, most of them just trying to go about their lives. And it's up to Vimes to protect them from the other kind of people.
Step Into the Discworld, by JessKat (the only picture on this post not by Paul Kidby)
When I go through a phase of reading Discworld novels, I tend to read them at frightening speed. Pratchett can consistently make me laugh out loud while silently reading a book, which is a testament to how strong his writer's voice is. He makes me think, and his clear-eyed view of humanity is humbling and ennobling. The novels draw me in, and the plots are always exciting and can be surprisingly dark. Perhaps most importantly, I enjoy the time I spend reading them. They just keep getting better as I go, so I am looking forward to reading more!


  1. If you feel like leaving a comment, why not let me know what your favorite Discworld novels are?

  2. Mort is my favorite. I also love Men at Arms, Hogfather, Night Watch, Wyrd Sisters, and Reaper Man. I also love whenever Death and/or Susan show up. But they're really all very clever, though some are weaker than others. Pratchett has a gift for making humanity seem ridiculous and beautiful, sometimes at the same time. And, of course, I truly appreciate Hrun the Barbarian and Cohen.