Terry Pratchett was a British author, best known for his “Discworld” series of satiric fantasy novels. He wrote more than 70 gleefully hilarious books during his career, and was one of the most popular and beloved fantasy authors of his time. He was also a personal favorite of mine, and I still mourn his passing.
I picked up my first Terry Pratchett novel (“The Colour of Magic”) during a summer holiday as I was browsing the dusty stacks of a Cape Town library in 1990. Ten pages in and I was hooked. I then predictably spent the entire summer reading through the small stack of Pratchett books at that library, and laughed myself silly in the process. The comedic genius of the man baffled me. I remember wondering at the time how anyone could be that consistently funny.
After exhausting all the library had to offer, I then commenced eagerly awaiting the release of every new Pratchett novel, and could hardly contain my giddiness whenever I got my grubby little hands on one. I still incessantly re-read them to this day, and always manage to discover something new that tickles my funny bone.
Terry’s career began in the 1970s, when he wrote several humorous science fiction short stories. In 1983, he published his first “Discworld” book, “The Color of Magic,” which introduced readers to the series’ unique brand of fantasy satire. The book was a commercial and critical success, and it launched Terry’s career as a bestselling author.
Just what is ‘Discworld?’
The Discworld is a flat, circular world that is supported by four elephants, which in turn stand on the back of an enormous astro-turtle swimming through the infinite cosmic void, accompanied by a small rotating sun. Right now you must be doing a double-take and shouting “What!?” Well, The Discworld is a place of magic and fantasy, obviously. Strange and fantastical creatures roam the land, and the laws of physics have long since taken a hike. Its surface is divided into several continents, each with their own unique cultures and landscapes.
The largest continent is home to the sprawling, bustling city of Ankh-Morpork (more on this den of iniquity later), as well as the Ramtops, a mountainous region known for its powerful witches and wizards. Other regions on the Disc include the kingdom of Lancre, home to a coven of witches, and the desert-like land of Klatch, known for its spicy cuisine and powerful djinns. The Discworld also has an “Outer” area, which is home to the city of Dunmanifestin, the home of the gods, and the strange and mysterious places like the Rim, where the sea falls off the edge of the world. It’s a place where even the laws of nature are often bent and broken, and where magic and technology blend in a chaotic and humorous stew of crazy.
Terry’s Career (continued)
Over the next several decades, Terry published more than 40 “Discworld” books, as well as a number of other novels, children’s books, and non-fiction works. He also wrote several collaborations, including “Good Omens” with Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite novels of all time.
That Old Pratchett Magic
One of the hallmarks of Terry’s signature writing style was of course his wit and humor. He had a unique ability to take fantasy tropes and turn them on their head, creating stories that were both entertaining and thought-provoking. His “Discworld” series, in particular, was widely praised for its satirical acerbity, and not only hilariously satirized fantasy tropes, but also science fiction, religion, politics, and the media. His stories often played out in the debauched city of Ankh-Morpork, possibly the greatest fictional city in the history of literature.
Just what is ‘Ankh-Morpork?’
Ankh-Morpork is a sprawling, bustling metropolis, and is the largest city on the Discworld. It is known for its diverse population, its rich history, and its colorful characters. It’s a melting pot of different cultures, religions, and races, and is a place where anything can happen. The city is ruled by a shadowy council of powerful figures, and is home to a wide variety of criminal organizations, as well as the city’s own police force, the inept City Watch. The city is also home to the infamous Unseen University, supposedly the most prestigious institution of wizardry and magic on the Disc. This is a place where the rich and powerful rub shoulders with the poor and dispossessed (who predictably mug and pickpocket the rich at their leisure), and where magic and technology coexist in a chaotic parody of industrial society. Nevertheless, despite it’s filthy streets and uncontrollable rat population, it is a place that readers come to know and love over the course of the series.
And then there are the madcap personalities of Ankh-Morpork that fill in the cracks of the city’s putrid personality. Seriously, you have to read them to believe them. Here are a few notables:
The Quirky Characters
*Rincewind: A failed wizard who is the protagonist of several “Discworld” novels, including “The Color of Magic” and “The Light Fantastic.” Rincewind is known for his cowardice and lack of magical abilities, but he often finds himself thrust into dangerous situations and uses his quick wit to survive.
*Death: One of the most iconic characters in the “Discworld” series, Death is a personification of death, who appears as a hooded figure with a scythe, and always talks in capitals. Despite his grim appearance, he is portrayed as a sympathetic character with a rapier (scythe?) wit, who is often more interested in collecting cats than souls.
*Commander Samuel Vimes: A police commander in the city of Ankh-Morpork, who first appears in “Guards! Guards!” and goes on to feature in several other novels. Vimes is a no-nonsense, hard-drinking, working-class man who is determined to uphold the law and make the city a better place.
*Granny Wheatherwax: A powerful and respected witch who lives in the Ramtops, a mountainous region in the Discworld. Granny Weatherwax is a strong-willed, independent woman who is fiercely protective of her community and is known for her common sense and pragmatic approach to magic.
*Moist von Lipwig: A con artist and fraudster who is given a chance at redemption by being made the postmaster of Ankh-Morpork in “Going Postal.” Moist is a complex character, who uses his wit and charm to navigate the corrupt world of the city’s politics and business, and flirts with becoming a hero.
*The Luggage: A sentient, psychopathic, indestructible brass-bound wooden chest with hundreds of tiny legs pumping furiously as it follows its master…, or hunts down those who’ve risked its ire.
*The Librarian: An Orangutan. Also an actual librarian.*
*I swear I’m not making this last one up.
Terry’s Career (Wrap-up)
Terry’s books are popular all around the world, and he won numerous awards during his life, including the Carnegie Medal and the World Fantasy Award. He was also appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1998, and Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2009, for his services to literature.
Sadly, Sir Terry passed away in 2015, leaving behind a legacy of beloved books that continue to be read and enjoyed by fantasy fans of all ages. And if you haven’t read him, you should. He’ll bring a spark back into your life.
Notable Novels for Newbies
For readers new to Terry Pratchett, here are 5 books I’d recommend. Don’t worry overly much about the order of the Discworld series. Each novel can be read as a standalone work.
“The Color of Magic” — This is the first book in the “Discworld” series and serves as a great introduction to the series’ unique brand of fantasy satire.
“Good Omens” — Written in collaboration with Neil Gaiman, “Good Omens” is a comedic take on the apocalypse, with an angel and a demon teaming up to stop the end of the world.
“Small Gods” — Another “Discworld” book, “Small Gods” is a witty and irreverent take on religion and belief.
“The Truth“ — Set in the bustling city of Ankh-Morpork, “The Truth” is a satire on the newspaper industry and the power of the press.
“The Last Hero” — This “Discworld” book is a parody of fantasy adventure stories, as it follows the journey of Cohen the Barbarian and his Silver Horde, a group of old, retired heroes who set out on one last quest to save the world.
For those of you who are now irrevocably tantalized and would like to read the whole caboodle, here is a handy reading order map of Terry’s Discworld books.
And now, I’m off to re-read some Pratchett again. I’ll finish by saying this: Rest in peace, Sir Terry. You will always be remembered as one of the most talented and beloved fantasy authors of the 20th and 21st centuries. We were truly lucky to have you.
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