Those of you who have been reading my blog for some time have probably noticed a pattern of Discworld novels popping up every few reviews, and there is a reason for this. Terry Pratchett has become one of my favorite authors even though I hadn’t even heard of him until four years ago. Perhaps this puts my minimal knowledge of the greater realm of fantasy novels in perspective, but for the others who are ignorant of his existence, Terry Pratchett wrote the Discworld series which totals 41 books and takes place on the Discworld. Though I didn’t realize (or realise) the magic of his prose until relatively recently, his work has come to influence me heavily and I felt compelled to write a piece about how his impact.
I actually came to find Terry Pratchett through another influential contemporary English author: Neil Gaiman. The first of his books I ever read was The Ocean at the End of the Lane after its release in 2013. After finishing the book and searching for more, I came upon Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch. Co-written and released in 1999 by Pratchett and Gaiman, the novel parodies the movie The Omen (1976) and served as my introduction to the madcap humor (or humour) and strange satire of Pratchett’s prose. Unfortunately, I didn’t dive into more of Pratchett’s work until recognizing (or recognising) his name from reports of his death in 2015. It was then that I decided to read the Discworld novels and subsequently fell in love with his humor (or humour), wit, and penchant for the preposterous.
His most famous work is the Discworld series which takes place on a disc-shaped world that sits atop four elephants astride a giant turtle slowly swimming through space. It is a world of magic, fantasy, wonder, and silliness that is often in danger of being destroyed by malevolent forces or the simply incompetent (but what world isn’t?). It is interesting in that it follows a number of characters whose stories intersect and overlap, but don’t follow one another based upon a singular protagonist of the series; by this I mean that though the first two books follow the character Rincewind, the third follows Granny Weatherwax, and the fourth introduces the character of Death. There are different approaches to reading the series, which I will cover shortly, but I chose to follow the character’s arcs to keep my head in the same frame of reference while reading those stories. I began with the Death books, followed with the City Watch, Rincewind, and I am currently reading the Witch novels.
Beginning a series that spans 41 books is a daunting task; however, I was not the first to attempt it, nor the first to look for advice in how to do so. A quick Google search of “Discworld reading order” will bring many results of different approaches. Some read chronologically while others follow the character arcs like I did. The nice thing about following the characters instead of reading the series in sequential order is that it allows the reader to continue plot lines and remain with familiar characters. A downside of this is that these characters often skip around every few books and going back to or near the start of the series when following the next character’s novels brings up inconsistencies with later books; I have pointed out some of these in my reviews.
As far as the general content of these character story lines, the Death books focus on the anthropomorphic manifestation of Death and his beautiful white stallion, Binky; these novels often deal with more ethereal themes such as mortality and time. The City Watch books follow Samuel Vimes as he ascends through the ranks of the Watch and transforms it from three men avoiding conflict into a fully functioning police force. Rincewind’s stories cover the least capable wizard on the Discworld and parody a lot of mythology and classical texts. The Witches also deal with more fantastical elements and magic, like Rincewind, except from a different point of view and often do so while subverting gender stereotypes and their roles within the genre of fantasy itself.
What sets Pratchett’s writing apart from other authors in the genre is not only the amount of satire and references, but how they are employed. Pratchett takes a genre that can easily become formulaic and injects humor (or humour) and sarcasm into it; thereby creating a refreshing version of fantasy. His books don’t try to imitate in a negative way or seek to mock past works in the genre; they instead point out illogical tropes and ridiculousness in a way that says “let’s all laugh at how silly this is.” I mean, the man laid out in his will that all of the unfinished stories on his hard drive were to be destroyed by a steamroller.
I cannot recommend the Discworld novels to everyone who enjoys fantasy because I think a lot of “serious” fantasy readers(whatever that means) would believe his poking fun comes from ill-intent; but if you enjoy reading fantasy, and don’t mind when funny things are pointed out and are there for you to laugh at, then I highly suggest you give them a try. There are very few who have read Pratchett’s work and been disappointed, and this is part of why he remains a vastly influential and beloved figure within not only the fantasy genre, but contemporary literature as a whole.
Feel free to follow this link to learn more about Terry Pratchett and the Discworld series.