Many, many years ago I had a flatmate who owned a small collection of Terry Pratchett‘s Discworld novels. Every now and then he would try to get me to read one. I would look at the Josh Kirby covers – overly pneumatic women; trolls; swords; wizards – and politely decline. Okay, not so politely. I didn’t read books about dwarfs and magic, and I definitely didn’t read books with half-naked women sprawled across the covers
And then one day, having run out of books, I slipped Mort from his shelf and sat down to read it, fully expecting to hate it.
I loved it.
In quick succession I read every other Terry Pratchett novel he had on the shelf, and then I read them all again. And since then, I have bought every single Discworld novel for myself, mostly in hardback, and I have read every single one of them at least three times. I’m a fan.
The Discworld books may be set on an imaginary planet (which is carried through space balanced on four elephants, themselves standing on the back of a giant turtle); they may feature dwarfs, trolls, wizards, witches, heroes, dragons and magic; they may even occasionally feature half-naked women; but traditional fantasy they’re not. They’re funny, and witty, and clever, and philosophical, and quite possibly the most entertaining legal thing available.
Terry Pratchett is a modern-day Dickens. Through his wizards and dwarfs and dragons, he satirises our modern society. He’s covered big issues like religion, racism, sexism, war and diplomacy; but also lighter things like marriage, newspapers, football, theatre and friendship. He’s a lover of language – the books are full of terrible puns; glorious wordplay; and the best footnotes ever. He’s fascinated by folklore and stories – his books have drawn inspiration from Grimm’s Fairy Tales; Shakespeare; The Phantom of the Opera; Jane Austen and more. And he makes more jokes per page than any other writer, living or dead.
I can’t believe how many years of joy I missed by judging his books by their covers*. If you haven’t tried Pratchett yet, give him a go…
I was asked for a top five and it seemed impossible. But there are sub-sets in the Discworld series, so I’ve chosen one from each of five of those...
Here’s my Top 5 Favourite Discworld Novels
Lords and Ladies – The Witch Books
Granny Weatherwax and her tiny coven are up against real elves. And even in a world of dwarfs, wizards, trolls, Morris dancers and the odd orang-utan, this is going to cause real trouble. With lots of hey-nonny-nonny and blood all over the place.
Thud! – The Watch Books
With his beloved Watch crumbling around him and war-drums sounding, Commander Sam Vimes of Ankh-Morpork City Watch must unravel every clue, outwit every assassin and brave any darkness to find the solution. And darkness is following him.
Interesting Times – The Rincewind Books
Mighty battles! Revolution! Death! War! (and his sons Terror and Panic, and daughter Clancy) The oldest and most inscrutable empire on the Discworld is in turmoil, brought about by the revolutionary treatise ‘What I did on My Holidays’. All that stands in the way of terrible doom for everyone is Rincewind the Wizard, who can’t even spell the word ‘wizard’.
Going Postal – The Moist von Lipwig Books
Moist von Lipwig is a con artist and a fraud and a man faced with a life choice: be hanged, or put Ankh-Morpork’s ailing postal service back on its feet. It was a tough decision. But he’s got to see that the mail gets through, come rain, hail, sleet, dogs, the Post Office Workers Friendly and Benevolent Society, the evil chairman of the Grand Trunk Semaphore Company, and a midnight killer.
Small Gods – The Stand-Alones
‘Just because you can’t explain it, doesn’t mean it’s a miracle.’
In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was: ‘Hey, you!’ This is the Discworld, after all, and religion is a controversial business.
*I even grew to love the late Josh Kirby’s covers.