Discworld is a comedic fantasy book series by the British author Terry Pratchett, set on the Discworld, a flat world balanced on the backs of four elephants which, in turn, stand on the back of a giant turtle, Great A'Tuin. The books frequently parody, or at least take inspiration from, J. R. R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft and William Shakespeare, as well as mythology, folklore and fairy tales, often using them for satirical parallels with current cultural, technological and scientific issues.
Since the first novel, The Colour of Magic (1983), the series has expanded, spawning several related books and maps, four short stories, cartoon, theatre adaptations, computer games, and music inspired by the series. The first live-action screen adaptation for television (Terry Pratchett's Hogfather) was broadcast over Christmas 2006. A second, two-part TV adaptation of The Colour of Magic was broadcast in March 2008 in the UK.
Newly released Discworld books regularly top The Sunday Times best-sellers list, making Pratchett the UK's best-selling author in the 1990s, although he has since been overtaken by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. Discworld novels have also won awards such as the Prometheus Award and the Carnegie Medal. In the BBC's Big Read, five Discworld books were in the top 100, and a total of fifteen in the top 200.
As of 2008, there have been 36 Discworld novels published, four of which are marketed as children's or "young adult" (YA) books. The original British editions of the first 26 novels, up to Thief of Time (2001), had distinctive cover art by Josh Kirby; the American editions, published by HarperCollins, used their own cover art. Since Kirby's death in October 2001, the covers have been designed by Paul Kidby. Recent British editions of Pratchett's older novels no longer reuse Kirby's art. There have also been six short stories (some only loosely related to the Discworld), three popular science books, and a number of supplementary books and reference guides.
Very few of the Discworld novels have chapter divisions, instead featuring interweaving story-lines. Pratchett is quoted as saying that he "just never got into the habit of chapters", later adding that "I have to shove them in the putative YA books because my editor screams until I do". However, the first Discworld novel, The Colour of Magic, was divided into "books", as is Pyramids. Additionally, Going Postal and Making Money do indeed have chapters, prologue, epilogue, and brief teasers of what is to come in each chapter, in the style of A. A. Milne, Jules Verne and Jerome K. Jerome.
To a greater or lesser degree, Discworld stories stand alone as independent works set in the same fantasy universe. However, a number of novels and stories can be grouped together into grand story arcs dealing with a set number of characters and events. The main threads within the Discworld series are:
Rincewind was the first protagonist of Discworld; a wizard with no skill, no wizardly qualifications and no interest in heroics. He is the archetypal coward who 'runs away that he may live to run away again another day'. Nonetheless, he is constantly thrust into adventures that take him from one side of the Discworld to the other, much against his will. His stories mainly serve to reveal the geography of the Disc to the reader, since Rincewind's stories take him into far and exotic locations. Other characters in the Rincewind story arc include: Cohen the Barbarian, an aging hero of the old fantasy tradition, out of touch with the modern world and still fighting despite his advanced age; Twoflower, a naive tourist from the Agatean Empire (the Discworld's equivalent of China); and The Luggage, a magical, semi-sentient and exceptionally vicious multi-legged travelling accessory. Rincewind has appeared in six Discworld novels as well as the three Science of Discworld supplementary books. Cohen the Barbarian also appears in the short story Troll Bridge.
Death is the closest thing the Discworld series has to a main character (in that he appears in nearly every book; however, sometimes he has no more than a few lines). He has appeared in every novel except The Wee Free Men, sometimes in a cameo, sometimes as the main protagonist. As dictated by tradition, he is a seven-foot-tall skeleton with a black robe and a scythe who sits astride a pale horse (called Binky). The anthropomorphic personification of death, his job is to guide souls onward from this world into the next. Over millennia in the role, Death has developed a fascination with humanity, even going so far as to create a house for himself in his personal pocket dimension. Characters that often appear with Death include his "butler" Albert; his "granddaughter" Susan Sto Helit; the Death of Rats, a mini-version of Death in charge of gathering the souls of rodents; Quoth, a talking raven (a parody of The Raven); and the Auditors of Reality, personifications of the orderly laws of nature, who have declared war on life itself, believing that it is "messy". Since Death cannot exist without life, he finds himself taking its side against the machinations of the Auditors. Death or Susan appear as the main characters in five Discworld novels. He also appears in the short stories Death and What Comes Next, Theatre of Cruelty and Turntables of the Night.
Witches in Pratchett's universe are largely stripped of their modern occultist, Wiccan associations (though Pratchett does frequently use his stories to lampoon such naive conceptions of witchcraft), and act more in their traditional role as herbalists, adjudicators and wise women. That is not to say that witches on the Disc cannot use magic; they simply prefer not to, finding simple psychology is often far more effective. The principal witch in the series is Granny Weatherwax, who at first glance seems to be a taciturn, bitter old crone, from the small mountain country of Lancre. She largely despises people but takes on the role of their healer and protector because no one else can do the job as well as she can. Her closest friend is Nanny Ogg, a jolly, personable witch with the "common touch" who enjoys a smoke and a pint of beer. The two take on apprentice witches, initially Magrat Garlick, then Agnes Nitt, and then Tiffany Aching, who in turn grow on to become accomplished witches in their own right, or, in Magrat's case, Queen of Lancre. Other characters in the Witches series include: King Verence II of Lancre, a onetime jester who as a result takes his job as king very seriously; Jason Ogg, Nanny Ogg's eldest son and local blacksmith (and also, like the smiths of old, something of a magician himself); Shawn Ogg, Nanny's youngest son who serves as his country's entire army; and Nanny's murderous cat Greebo. The witches have appeared in numerous Discworld books, but have featured as main protagonists in seven. They have also appeared in the short story The Sea and Little Fishes. Their stories frequently draw on ancient European folklore and fairy tales, and also parody famous works of literature, particularly by Shakespeare.
The stories featuring the Ankh-Morpork City Watch are urban-set, and frequently show the clashes that result when a traditional, magically run fantasy world such as the Disc comes into contact with modern technology and civilization. They centre around the growth of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch from a hopeless gang of three to a modern, fully equipped and efficient police force. The stories are largely police procedurals, featuring a mystery that frequently has political or societal overtones. The main character is Sam Vimes (later His Grace, Sir Samuel Vimes), a haggard, cynical street copper who finds himself swept up in history as his inept cadre of law enforcement officials (comprising nominally human - with papers to prove it - petty thief Nobby Nobbs and perennially lazy Sergeant Colon) grows and takes on new recruits, particularly from the Disc's "minority groups", such as dwarfs, trolls, and the undead. Other main characters include Carrot Ironfoundersson, (possibly) the rightful heir to the redundant throne of Ankh-Morpork, who thus has a traditional hero's destiny thrust upon him but chooses to ignore it; his girlfriend Angua, a werewolf; Detritus, a troll who in himself represents an entire army; Golem Constable Dorfl, the brute strength of the watch; Cheery Littlebottom, the Watch's forensics expert, who is one of the first dwarfs to be openly female; Sam's wife, Lady Sybil Vimes; and his boss, Havelock Vetinari, the alternately Machiavellian/benevolent Patrician of Ankh-Morpork. The City Watch have starred in eight Discworld stories, and have cameoed in a number of others, including the children's book, Where's My Cow? and the short story Theatre of Cruelty.
The Wizards of the Unseen University have represented a strong thread through many of the Discworld novels, although the only books that they star in exclusively are the "Science of the Discworld" series. In the early books, the faculty of the UU changed frequently, as rising to the top usually involved assassination. However, with the ascension of the bombastic Mustrum Ridcully to the position of Archchancellor, the hierarchy has settled and characters have been given the chance to develop. The earlier books featuring the wizards also frequently dealt with the possible invasion of the Discworld by the creatures from the Dungeon Dimensions, Lovecraftian monsters that hunger for the magic and potential of the Discworld. The wizards of the UU employ the traditional "whizz-bang" type of magic seen in Dungeons & Dragons games, but also investigate the rules and structure of magic in terms highly reminiscent of particle physics. Prominent members include Ponder Stibbons, a geeky young wizard who, unlike the more orthodox members of the staff, actually wants to learn about the universe; Hex, the Disc's first computer; the Librarian, who was turned into an orangutan by magical accident early in the series and has skilfully resisted all attempts to be turned back; and the Bursar, the clinically insane savant who crunches the UU's numbers and subsists on a diet of his own nerves and dried frog pills. In later novels, Rincewind also joins their group. The Wizards have featured prominently in eight Discworld books and have also starred in the Science of Discworld series and the short story A Collegiate Casting-Out of Devilish Devices.
Tiffany Aching is a young apprentice witch and star of a series of Discworld books aimed at young adults. Her stories often parallel mythic heroes' quests, but also deal with Tiffany's difficulties as a young girl maturing into a responsible woman. She is aided in her task by the Nac Mac Feegle, a gang of hard-drinking, loudmouthed pictsie creatures who serve as her guardians. Both Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg have also appeared in her stories. She has to date appeared in three novels.
Moist von Lipwig is a professional criminal and con man to whom Havelock Vetinari gives a "second chance" after staging his execution, recognising the advantages his jack-of-all-trades abilities would have to the development of the city. After setting him in charge of the Ankh-Morpork Post Office in Going Postal, to good result, Vetinari ordered him to clear up the city's corrupt financial sector in Making Money, to which he rather ironically acquitted himself well. A third book, in which Lipwig is ordered to organise the city's taxation system, is planned. Other characters in this series include Adora Belle Dearheart, Lipwig's acerbic, chain-smoking lover, Gladys, a golem who develops a strange crush on Lipwig, and Stanley Howler, a mildly autistic young man who was raised by peas (by, not on) and becomes the Disc's first stamp collector.
The History Monks are a group of vaguely Buddhist-like monks who have taken on the job of ensuring that history passes smoothly. In that sense, as Pratchett says, they straddle the boundary between human beings and personifications. They perform their task in two ways: first, their monastery is home to the History Books; 20,000 ten-foot long, lead-bound volumes that record every event of historical relevance as it occurs. Second, they manage and control the flow of time, much like a public utility. Whenever the orderly flow of time gets disrupted (if, say someone is sent back into the past), the History Monks send agents into the field to repair the damage as far as possible. The principal History Monk in the novels is Lu-Tze, nominally the monastery's sweeper but in fact one of the highest ranking monks in the establishment. The History Monks have appeared in three Discworld novels to date.
The Auditors, cosmic bureaucrats who prefer a universe where electrons spin, rocks float in space and imagination is dead, represent the perils of handing yourself over to a completely materialist and deterministic vision of reality, devoid of the myths and stories that make us human. The Elves, innately psychopathic beings who seek to dominate people by usurping their free will with glamour and false magic, represent the dangers of giving yourself over completely to stories and superstition.
Together they appear to reflect the philosophy Pratchett expresses in Hogfather and is a recurring theme throughout the series: that while the stories we weave may not be true, we still need them to continue our existence. However, it would be wrong to categorise the Auditors or Elves simply as 'evil'. While their actions cause misery, it is merely incidental. Elves do not understand the suffering they cause as they have no empathy, while the Auditors are simply a form of supernatural bureaucrat who think humans cause too much inefficiency.
His good public servant, Lord Havelock Vetinari, is an assassin and a tyrant, but acting in his city's best interests as a benevolent dictator nonetheless. It is speculated that he is based on one of the Medici rulers of Renaissance Florence, or perhaps Machiavelli.
In general, Pratchett presents the notion that to be good quite often results in being perceived as bad or evil by the very people you're doing good for, and in many of his stories image is eventually overcome, without fanfare, by substance.
In the Elf books, as elsewhere, he presents the notion that our "world" is subjective, and is constructed internally. In particular, that it is constructed out of stories. Related to this is the idea that most of our experience is filtered out before it reaches consciousness:
Also in the Elf books, Pratchett presents elves as nasty, evil creatures. This follows original English and Scottish folk songs and stories e.g. Tam Lin, quite in contrast with how they were portrayed by Tolkien which is more commonly known these days.
A large portion of Carpe Jugulum is about "internal struggles", and how pieces of our mind do not always agree with other pieces of our mind (and how some of us feel we have "Darker" selves within us, that we keep deep, deep down). Aside from the obviously "split" mind character (Perdita and Agnes, Good Oats and Bad Oats), it is shown that even characters as decisive as Granny Weatherwax have inner "selves" with whom they struggle.
While central human villains do not recur from novel to novel, the individuals often share certain personality traits. The most prominent of these traits is the lack of the aforementioned "internal struggle". They are villains not because their bad self has won the struggle, but because they never had a conception of good and bad in the first place. This results in a person who is completely dispassionate, egocentric, and lacking most recognizable human emotions. This is very similar to the character of the elves, but portrayed in a more negative light, since such characteristics are inherent in elves as a species, while the reason for a human to act in such a manner is less clear cut. These amoral human villains are often highly intelligent and develop schemes to shape society or the world to conform to their views of how things should work. While the description may not apply to every central villain, many of them could be described as sociopaths. Examples include Mr. Pin, Vorbis (Small Gods) and Mr Teatime (Hogfather). In the book "Night Watch" Commander Vimes considers that the book's villain, Carcer, is not a madman but is actually dangerously sane, having realised that the laws and conventions most people follow don't have to apply to him if he doesn't want them to.
The concept of racial hatred is touched upon often when Trolls and Dwarfs are present and forms a significant plot pillar in Thud!, in which the most ardent proponents of racial hatred are the clear villains. The problems of racial integration, multiculturalism, and racial hatred are also a topic of "Jingo", which also echoes the long held divisions and superstitions between rival great powers in this world, such as U.S. and USSR, using the metaphor of "two big men in a small room".
This is generally the basis for Cohen the Barbarian and the actions of his Silver Horde, as shown in The Last Hero, in which the Patrician points out that when people say that heroes defeat tyrants, steal things from the gods, seduce women and kill monsters, they are, in fact, saying, that heroes murder, steal, rape, and wipe out endangered species. Lord Vetinari also asks the question, "When a tyrant is defeated or a monster killed, who is the person defining the monstrousness of the monster, or the tyranny of the tyrant? The hero. In fact, when a hero kills someone, he is in fact saying that, if you have been killed by a hero, then you are a person who is suitable to be killed by a hero."
Many Discworld stories feature Rincewind, a dour and ill-fated wizard who specialises in the art of the escape. Any 'heroic' actions on Rincewind's part are, for the most part, caused by accident or sheer bad luck, which often puts him straight back into the very situation he was running from in the first place. Rincewind is categorically not a 'hero' in the traditional sense, since he merely wants to be left alone and worships the state of boredom above all others. Many Discworld protagonists share this trait, such as Moving Pictures' Victor Tugelbend and The Truth's William de Worde.
In particular, The Fifth Elephant raises the point of view that if someone can kill a villain and then joke about it, they are no less a murderer than the villain himself. This thought is had by Commander Vimes, who actually considers several possible "quips" after tricking the villain to his death, but declines to say them out loud, raising the prospect (dealt with at greater length in Night Watch, among many other books) that the most effective heroes are natural villains who choose to act in accordance with a particular system of ethics.
|1||The Colour of Magic||1983||Rincewind||Came 93rd in the Big Read.||Fantasy clichés, H. P. Lovecraft, tourism, insurance, Dungeons & Dragons|
|2||The Light Fantastic||1986||Rincewind||Tourism, apocalypse, Conan the Barbarian|
|3||Equal Rites||1987||The Witches, The Wizards||Gender equality, Quantum Physics|
|4||Mort||1987||Death||Came 65th in the Big Read||Death and its personification, apprenticeship|
|5||Sourcery||1988||Rincewind, The Wizards||Apocalypse, Kubla Khan, Aladdin, Arabian Nights|
|6||Wyrd Sisters||1988||The Witches||Came 135th in the Big Read||Shakespeare (especially Macbeth and Hamlet), the Globe Theatre, Sleeping Beauty|
|7||Pyramids||1989||Miscellaneous||Egyptian mythology, quantum physics, Greek philosophy (including Zeno's paradoxes), United Kingdom driving test|
|8||Guards! Guards!||1989||The City Watch||Came 69th in the Big Read||Cop novels, show dogs, dragons, fraternal organisations, aristocracy, secret societies|
|9||1990||Rincewind||First published 1990 in a larger format, fully illustrated by Josh Kirby; reissued as a paperback without illustrations.||Faust, Dante's Inferno, Homer's Iliad|
|10||Moving Pictures||1990||Media, The Wizards||Hollywood (especially silent movies and the early years of the studio system), the Cthulhu Mythos, celebrities, King Kong, Gone with the Wind and many other films|
|11||Reaper Man||1991||Death, The Wizards||Came 126th in the Big Read||Death and its personification, Alien invasion SF, "Man with No Name" westerns, Minority rights movements, Consumerism|
|12||Witches Abroad||1991||The Witches||Came 197th in the Big Read||The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, fairy tales (especially fairy godmothers),The Hobbit, Voodoo, tourism|
|13||Small Gods||1992||Miscellaneous, the History Monks||Came 102nd in the Big Read||Abrahamic religions, the Spanish Inquisition (with thematic references to Nietzsche), ancient philosophy|
|14||Lords and Ladies||1992||The Witches, The Wizards||Shakespeare (especially A Midsummer Night's Dream), UFOs, fairy lore, the mythopoetic men's movement|
|15||Men at Arms||1993||The City Watch||Came 148th in the Big Read||Cop novels, gun politics, racism, "kings in hiding"|
|16||Soul Music||1994||Media, Death, The Wizards||Came 151st in the Big Read||Rock music, Beatlemania, punk subculture, Woodstock Festival , Welsh language, The Blues Brothers|
|17||Interesting Times||1994||Rincewind, the Wizards||Imperial China, Maoism, Lemmings|
|18||Maskerade||1995||The Witches||Opera, The Phantom of the Opera|
|19||Feet of Clay||1996||The City Watch||Cop novels, I Robot, robots, golem mythology, atheism, race relations, heraldry, slavery and serfdom|
|20||Hogfather||1996||Death, The Wizards||Came 137th in the Big Read||Christmas, mythology, Mary Poppins|
|21||Jingo||1997||The City Watch||War, diplomacy, imperialism, xenophobia, multiculturalism, Lawrence of Arabia, jingoism, Captain Nemo, the Cthulhu Mythos, the John F. Kennedy assassination|
|22||The Last Continent||1998||Rincewind, The Wizards||Australia (Mad Max, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Aborigines, Dreamtime), evolution, creation|
|23||Carpe Jugulum||1998||The Witches||Vampires, existentialism|
|24||The Fifth Elephant||1999||The City Watch||Came 153rd in the Big Read||Diplomacy, Eastern European folklore and literature, Political-conspiracy novels, global economy, national myths, homophobia, The Fifth Element|
|25||The Truth||2000||Media, The City Watch||Came 193rd in the Big Read||Watergate scandal, newspapers, organized crime, yellow journalism, oligarchy, Pulp Fiction|
|26||Thief of Time||2001||Death, the History Monks||Came 152nd in the Big Read||Martial arts, Eastern monastic mysticism, quantum physics, teaching, the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse (& the Beatles), chocolate lovers|
|27||The Last Hero||2001||Rincewind||Published in a larger format and fully illustrated by Paul Kidby||Legends, Prometheus, Dungeons & Dragons, Apollo program|
|28||The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents||2001||Miscellaneous||A YA (young adult or children's) Discworld book; winner of the 2001 Carnegie Medal||The Pied Piper of Hamelin, Beatrix Potter|
|29||Night Watch||2002||The City Watch, the History Monks||Received the Prometheus Award in 2003; came 73rd in the Big Read||Cop novels, Les Misérables, time travel, revolutions|
|30||The Wee Free Men||2003||Tiffany Aching||The second YA Discworld book||Folklore, mythic Scotland (e.g. Braveheart), The Smurfs|
|31||Monstrous Regiment||2003||Miscellaneous, the City Watch||The title is a reference to The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women||Folk songs, Joan of Arc, crossdressing during wartime, the Napoleonic and other wars, single mothers, Taliban, feminism, pacifism|
|32||A Hat Full of Sky||2004||Tiffany Aching, Witches||The third YA Discworld book||The history and folklore of witches in Britain, mind controlling aliens in science fiction|
|33||Going Postal||2004||Moist von Lipwig||Politics, cons, corporate crime and business practices, monopolies, libertarianism, the postal system and stamp collecting, the Internet, cracking and phreaking, fraternal organizations, alternative medicine, golems|
|34||Thud!||2005||The City Watch||Cop novels, politics, affirmative action, race relations, chess and tafl games, The Davinci Code|
|35||Wintersmith||2006||Tiffany Aching, Witches||The fourth YA book.||The Snow Queen, Orpheus, Persephone, Sleeping Beauty, The Snow Maiden|
|36||Making Money||2007||Moist von Lipwig||gold standard vs. fiat currency, computer simulation, fraud, golems|
Four of the short stories along with Discworld miscellany (e.g. the history of Thud and the Ankh-Morpork national anthem) have been collected in a compilation of the majority of Pratchett's known short work named Once More* With Footnotes.
The first two were drawn by Stephen Player, based on plans by Pratchett and Stephen Briggs, the third is a collaboration between Briggs and Kidby, and the last is by Paul Kidby. All also contain booklets written by Pratchett and Briggs.
Terry Pratchett also admitted: "There are no maps. You can't map a sense of humour."
The diaries feature background information about their themes. Some topics are later used in the series; the concept of female assassins and the character of Miss Alice Band were two notable ideas that first appeared in the Assassins' Guild Yearbook.
The Discworld Almanak - The Year of The Prawn has a similar format and general contents to the diaries.
A list of adaptations in pre-production include:
There have been several BBC radio adaptations of Discworld stories, including Wyrd Sisters, Guards! Guards! (narrated by Martin Jarvis), The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, Mort and Small Gods. On 27 February 2008, BBC Radio 4 aired the first of a five-part, weekly adaptation of Night Watch.Audio books Most of Pratchett's novels have been released as audio books. For the unabridged recordings, books 1-23 in the above list, except for books 3, 6 and 9, are read by Nigel Planer. Books 3 and 6 are read by Celia Imrie. Book 9 and most of the books from 24 onward are read by Stephen Briggs. Abridged versions are read by Tony Robinson.Comic books The Colour of Magic, The Light Fantastic, Mort and Guards! Guards! have been adapted into graphic novels.