If you asked me what my favorite fictional world was, the world I’d most want to live in, the people I’d most want to show up at my door, the world I enjoy the most and spend the most time thinking about, it would be the Discworld, a fantasy series by Terry Pratchett.
It seems like it’s not as well-known as it should be. Maybe that’s because I live in America. Or maybe it’s because I don’t have friends who read like I do. Or maybe I just had my head in the ground and didn’t notice. Whatever the case, I had heard of the series very briefly once or twice, but only to get it confused with Ringworld, the novel by Larry Niven (also a brilliant book).
I started reading it in 2015. I remember because I’d just moved to Korea. A lot of things happened that year. I graduated. I moved to Korea. I won NaNoWriMo. I started reading Discworld, and my world altered forever.
Books can do that. Don’t tell me I’m overreacting or being dramatic. I have found more heroes and more ideas to live by in Pratchett’s works than in any other series.
That’s probably due in part to its length. The Discworld series comprises 41 novels. That’s A LOT. It also means that Pratchett had a lot of time and space to develop his world and his characters. I’ll admit that his first books aren’t as meaningful or as well-written. You can see his style develop. You can see his characters grow. That’s part of what makes it so incredible.
(It reminds me of the reboot of Doctor Who starting in 2005. The show went on to become powerful and touching and to explore great depths of humanity, but first, it had to get through mannequins coming to life and spinning Christmas trees of death.)
Pratchett was an atheist, and yet, somehow his books give me more faith, not less. He pokes fun at pantheons and pretty much every religion, showing the hypocrisy and contradictions, and yet…he still shows us that humans must have faith. We must. Otherwise we aren’t human. And despite our hypocrisy and contradictions and members of each religion who do awful, stupid things, there are still people in each place and faith that do amazing things. In the end, people are people, and that seems to be the point.
Pratchett’s characters are usually the non-hero types; Sam Vimes, jaded copper and alcoholic, Tiffany Aching, too young and too stubborn for her own good, Rincewind, professional coward and wizard, Moist von Lipwig, conman and scumbag, and a host of other memorable, larger-and-smaller-than-life characters.
They don’t believe in themselves. They have doubts. They’re up against things they’re not trained for, don’t have experience with, or are absolutely scared of, and time and again we see them overcome the odds. They aren’t incredible people. They are normal people who do amazing things. That’s what I love. I don’t like heroic types in books. Of course Hercules did amazing things, he’s Hercules. Give me your average Vimes who just does the job that’s in front of him and thereby saves the world from dragons. Give me your average Glenda who knows the ins and outs of a good pie and also shows the world how to love someone everyone hates. It’s in those times when people become noble. It’s in those times readers can be inspired to do great things, even in nongreat situations.
My Favorite Books and Why
- Feet of Clay – I can’t pick a top favorite. I just can’t. But Feet of Clay might be it, gun to my head. I won’t give away the book because I think you should read it, but this book speaks to so many levels of human life and emotion; oppression, self-expression, creation, agony, love, duty…and yes, it’s laugh-out-loud funny. But I also cry every time I read it. That’s the power of a really good book, and it’s why I keep coming back to it. I’ve read this book through three times. I got my favorite quote from it on a bracelet.
- The Hogfather – Another contender for all-time favorite, this book is one I read every Christmas. Yes, there’s a TV miniseries, but its, uh…well, let’s avoid it like we avoid live-action anime moves, yeah? The Hogfather is my favorite book about Death. Not death, the thing, but Death, the character. Death is sad and poignant and funny and earnest and dutiful and not a very good grandfather. His heart would be in the right place if he had one. This is the book from whence comes the greatest quotation on faith I’ve ever heard (see below).
- Unseen Academicals – Honestly, I skip some parts of this book, and yet, it’s still on my top favorites list. Why? Well, the parts I skip are about soccer. Let’s leave it at that. But the reason it’s one of my favorites is because of two characters; Nutt and Glenda Sugarbean. They are the bravest and best. One of them is definitely not average and one of them definitely is. This book is also one that pulls at my heartstrings while simultaneously making me groan at the amazing punnery. It deals with racism, repression, learning that you can be what you want, not what you’ve been dealt in life, and so, so much more. Honesty. Integrity. Beauty. And soccer. Um. The bucket of crabs scene still gets me every time.
- The Wee Free Men – This is the first book of the Tiffany Aching series. I love it because Tiffany is a child, with childish selfishness and childish dreams and yet, she has the capacity and the tenacity to save her world. As she grows through the series, we see more of her character develop. Tiffany is not a soft character. She’s tough, she’s often mean, but she always does what’s right. She’s also accompanied by tiny blue Scotsmen, and you just can’t go wrong with that.
Where to Start Reading
Those are just my top four books. I wanted to include about twenty others, but that’s half the series, and I decided to stop while I was ahead.
When I first started reading, it took me a while to get into it. The first couple of books are pretty much your basic fantasy. I didn’t much like Rincewind, and was more reading it to understand where other references had come from, so I had to push through the first few books until I got to Guards! Guards!. That’s where I got really and truly hooked.
So if you’re looking to start reading, you have a few options.
You can start at the beginning and go chronologically. It does make a difference, because the books build on each other and what’s happened in the world. I wouldn’t say it’s a must, though. You could start in the middle and fall in love and go back to read the others as sorts of prequels.
Depending on your kind of book, you might start with a series. The City Watch series centers around the fantastic city of Ankh-Morpork and a member of the Watch, Sam Vimes, as he struggles to remain average in a city full of weirdos.
The Death Series obviously centers on the anthropomorphic personification Death and his adventures. Also amazing. Also touching and tearful in parts.
Then we have the Witch series (and I would put the Tiffany Aching series in there as well), which is more fantasy feeling, and the Industrial Revolution series, for anyone who loves that kind of time period, and the few standalone stories. In my opinion, you could start either at the beginning with the Wizards or at the beginning of one of the character series or go chronologically.
Really, there’s no wrong way to read the Discworld.
My Favorite Quotes
“All right,” said Susan. “I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need…fantasies to make life bearable.”
REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.
“Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—”
YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.
“So we can believe the big ones?”
YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.
“They’re not the same at all!”
YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET—Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME…SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.
“Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point—”
MY POINT EXACTLY.
– Susan and Death, The Hogfather
Fear is a strange soil. Mainly it grows obedience like corn, which grows in rows and makes weeding easy. But sometimes it grows the potatoes of defiance, which flourish underground.
– Small Gods
There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who, when presented with a glass that is exactly half full, say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty.The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: ‘What’s up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don’t think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass! And at the other end of the bar the world is full of the other type of person, who has a broken glass, or a glass that has been carefully knocked over (usually by one of the people calling for a larger glass), or who had no glass at all, because they were at the back of the crowd and had failed to catch the barman’s eye.
– The Truth
“The secret is not to dream,” she whispered. “The secret is to wake up. Waking up is harder. I have woken up and I am real. I know where I come from and I know where I’m going. You cannot fool me anymore. Or touch me. Or anything that is mine.”
– Tiffany Aching, The Wee Free Men
I believe in freedom, Mr. Lipwig. Not many people do, although they will, of course, protest otherwise. And no practical definition of freedom would be complete without the freedom to take the consequences. Indeed, it is the freedom upon which all the others are based.
– Vetinari, Going Postal
Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.
And Tiffany knew that if a witch started thinking of anyone as “just” anything, that would be the first step on a well-worn path that could lead to, oh, to poisoned apples, spinning wheels, and a too-small stove… and to pain, and terror, and horror and the darkness.
Esme Weatherwax hadn’t done nice. She’d done what was needed.
HUMAN BEINGS MAKE LIFE SO INTERESTING. DO YOU KNOW, THAT IN A UNIVERSE SO FULL OF WONDERS, THEY HAVE MANAGED TO INVENT BOREDOM.
― Death, The Hogfather
“Now if I’d seen him, really there, really alive, it’d be in me like a fever. If I thought there was some god who really did care two hoots about people, who watched ’em like a father and cared for ’em like a mother . . . well, you wouldn’t catch me saying things like ‘there are two sides to every question’ and ‘we must respect other people’s beliefs.’ You wouldn’t find me being gen’rally nice in the hope that it’d all turn out right in the end, not if that flame was burning in me like an unforgivin’ sword. And I did say burnin’, Mister Oats, ‘cos that’s what it’d be. You say that you people don’t burn folk and sacrifice people anymore, but that’s what true faith would mean, y’see. Sacrificin’ your own life, one day at a time, to the flame, declarin’ the truth of it, workin’ for it, breathin’ the soul of it . . . That’s religion. Anything else is . . . is just bein’ nice. And just a way of keepin’ in touch with the neighbors. Anyway, that’s what I’d be, if I really believed. And I don’t think that’s fashionable right now, ‘cos it seems that if you sees evil you have to wring you rhands and say ‘oh deary me, we must debate this.’ That my two penn’orth, Mister Oats.”
― Granny Weatherwax,
There you have it. A review/open love letter to my favorite series. I keep trying to get people to read it. I haven’t met many who have, and I think most people hear 41 novels and turn a bit green thinking they have to read ALL of them or none.
But if you have read it, how has it impacted you?