Terry Pratchett is most famous for his Discworld novels, and with good reason, as there’s a great deal about them to love. One element that makes the Discworld series so darned appealing is that there’s no one right way to read them. While there’s technically a series order, groups of books can also be chunked into mini-series that follow particular characters. Also, there are so many different things going on in different parts of the Discworld, you can start anywhere and make your way around the planet at your leisure. Talk about a reader-friendly approach!
Another appeal factor is the fact that the Discworld is just plain ridiculous. The flat planet floats through space on the back of four elephants, who are themselves supported by a very large turtle. Its major city, Ankh-Morpork, is quite possibly the least livable place in the universe, and yet none of its citizens seem to mind…most likely because the majority of them are the most amoral, absurd characters in literature. The city’s ruler, Lord Vetinari, is the least likable leader you could imagine, and yet the city operates slightly better with him at the helm than it would without him (thanks largely to his own efforts to keep it that way). Oh, and the head librarian at the local wizard school, Unseen University, is an orangutan whose vocabulary is limited to the words “Ook” and “Eek,” thanks to a wave of magic gone horribly wrong. Absolutely everyone and everything in Discworld is an object of potential ridicule, and often a satire/parody of our own world. Nothing is ever taken too seriously.
So, it’s kind of a zany place.
I’ve been reading Discworld novels since I was a kid, and while I haven’t pulled them off the shelf lately, there are a few I’d like to give another go, just for the sake of a proper farewell. These include:
Mort. Being Death is a pretty big job, so naturally he needs an apprentice. Mort likes the sound of Death’s recruitment pitch, and the benefits are terrific! But Mort is a bit of a bumbler, and so of course things go hilariously awry; also, dating becomes somewhat awkward. This was my first Discworld novel, and I found it highly amusing that Death ALWAYS SPOKE IN CAPITAL LETTERS. Several years later, when A Prayer for Owen Meany came out, I honestly thought Irving swiped that trick from Pratchett to render Owen’s unique voice in text; I’m sure now that he didn’t, but considering how Owen Meany turns out, that’s a little too spooky for words. Recommended for readers into gallows humor.
Guards! Guards!. Everybody knows dragons are extinct, so it’s a bit of a surprise when one swoops into Ankh-Morpork, breathes fire all over the place, and declares itself king. Coincidentally enough, a rare book on dragon-summoning has disappeared from the library at Unseen University. Hm.
It’s up to Sam Vimes, long-suffering Captain of the Watch, and his rag-tag group of guards to figure out what the heck is going on and how to set it right without getting burned to a crisp, magicked into something awkward, or otherwise killed/humiliated. Vimes and his men are hysterically inept; luckily, so is just about everybody else in the novel. Guards! Guards! is the beginning of the Watch mini-series, including–but not limited to–Men at Arms, Feet of Clay, and The Fifth Elephant. Recommended for Three Stooges fans, and anyone else who likes wacky, madcap bumbling in their fiction.
Hogfather. T’was the night before Hogswatch, and all through the Discworld there are a whole mess of problems. For starters, the Hogfather has disappeared and is unable to deliver his toys this year, something Susan (Death’s granddaughter) is going to have to remedy. To do so, she’ll have to deal with an assassin named Teatime, who’s been hired to eliminate the Hogfather. An action-packed adventure that also manages to be a poignant comment on the nature of childhood beliefs in particular, as well as myth and ritual in general. The perfect remedy for those who no longer believe in childish things, and very comforting to those who never stopped.
Going Postal. When con artist Moist Von Lipwig (yes, really) is finally caught, he’s given a choice: be hanged from the neck until he is dead, or be put in charge of the Ankh-Morpork post office. It sounds like a no-brainer for Moist…at least, until he starts the job and finds out just how much of a mess he’s gotten himself into.
Hindered at all turns by assassins trying to kill him, a rival communication system that’s threatening to make the post office obsolete, and the tormented cries of countless undelivered letters, Moist is determined to get the post office back up and running if it’s the last thing he does…which it just might be. Snarky commentary on competing technologies, lots of physical comedy, and a little love story to boot (Pratchett’s characters are often hopelessly crushing on unattainable people), this is a good pick for a reader who wouldn’t care for some of the more magical aspects of the Discworld, but would still appreciate the comedy.