Three years and two days ago, Terry Pratchett left us, but, he left behind a legacy. A legacy known as The Discworld – a series of books, beloved the world over for their quirky characters, bonkers world, and fantastical adventures.
The thing is, is that The Discworld as a whole is 41 books long (not including mini stories and spin-offs), and that’s a bit daunting, even to the most avid of readers. There’s talk of adaptions of The Watchman, already adaptions of three other books, none of which connect to each other. So where does one even start with a series that big? Is it the same characters the whole way through? And just what the hell is The Discworld all about exactly?
Well, this guide is going to help you with all that and more! I’ll start at the beginning.
What is The Discworld?
Simply put, The Discworld is a literal disc world, which floats through space. Not like a giant frisbee, of course not, that would be stupid.
It sits on top of the Great A’Tuin, a giant turtle, with four elephants on top of its shell. The Discworld sits directly on top of the elephants.
Yes, you read that right. A giant turtle flying through space, with four elephants on its back, with the Discworld on top of that. It sounds mad, but that may be one of the sanest parts of this weird and wonderful series.
“The philosopher Didactylos has summed up an alternative hypothesis as “Things just happen. What the hell”.”
Who are the main characters?
That would depend on which book you read. Each Discworld novel revolves around a different set of people – yes, there are some recurring characters, who have their own little ‘mini-series’ inside the entire series, but mainly, most characters turn up for one book and leave again.
But, if you are lucky, you can read about a couple of recurring characters. Characters such as:
Rincewind, a doddery (failed) wizard from the Unseen University who is utterly useless at magic, yet is somehow always dragged into the most ridiculous and dire circumstances. He has been described by scholars as ‘the magical equivalent of the number zero’. He’s also known for turning small, tiny problems into horrendous disasters.
“Rincewind tried to force the memory out of his mind, but it was rather enjoying itself there, terrorizing the other occupants and kicking over the furniture.”
Starring in 8 different books, including the first ever, The Colour Of Magic, and making appearances in a few others, he’s a great place to start. Through Rincewind, you’ll meet a few other recurring characters, such as the Unseen University Wizards, Moist Von Lipwig, and my personal favourite, DEATH.
I swear I’m not weird, or that I’m trying to be some sort of edge-lord, DEATH Himself is my favourite character in the entire Discworld series.
DEATH is who you expect – the skeleton in the black cloak and the scythe, who reaps dead souls. But he isn’t a completely flat character, he’s actually quite funny, and has a soft side. A soft side which loves humanity, kittens, and curry. A soft side, which leads him to adopting a human daughter, recreating his ‘world’ in humanities image, taking on a human apprentice, and ending up with a granddaughter with half his powers.
DEATH’s first appearance is also in The Colour Of Magic and continues through five more books. He was my first big Discworld character, as my first hit of Discworld was with the adaption of The Hogfather, which remains to be my favourite book of the series. He’s a lonely character, one desperate for friends and happiness, to understand humanity as a whole. But he’s a fun character to follow, utterly fascinating, brilliantly funny in a deadpan way, but with the obvious dark edge (and scythe) to look out for when the moment calls for it.
“OH, THERE HAS TO BE SOMETHING IN THE STOCKING THAT MAKES A NOISE, said Death. OTHERWISE, WHAT IS 4:30 A.M. FOR?”
Then, if you want to get out of Ank-Morpork, the most famous city on the Disc, or a book for a younger reader, then look no further than Tiffany Aching and the Wee Free Men.
Tiffany is a 13-year-old witch at the start of her story, and she befriends the Nac Mac Feegle. They are an army of tiny, blue, drunk, Scottish ne’er-do-wells, and her series follows their adventures as she learns more about being a witch, and the troubles the Feegle can cause along the way.
“Zoology, eh? That’s a big word, isn’t it.”
“No, actually it isn’t,” said Tiffany. “Patronizing is a big word. Zoology is really quite short.”
There are a lot of other characters throughout the Discworld, which is to be expected with a series this long, but all are as loveable and brilliant as the previous. There won’t be one you won’t find captivating, I’d recommend any and all of them, even the ones I haven’t read yet. I have such faith in Sir Terry that I know I will love anyone he puts in front of me.
But where do I start with all this? There are so many books!
Wherever you want to, is the simple answer to that. There is no real order in the Discworld, you can read any book at any time, and still know what’s going on, even if you haven’t read that recurring characters back story.
As I said earlier, I started with The Hogfather, and by that, I mean that I watched the adaption Sky One produced about ten years ago. Blasphemous, I know, but I’ve since rectified this situation.
The Hogfather is the 20th Discworld novel, and 4th in DEATH’s series, and yet it made perfect sense as I watched and read the book. DEATH’s granddaughter, Susan, is one of the main characters, and while it would have helped to have read Mort first, her lineage is explained in-book, as is anything else you may be sat there thinking ‘huh?’ at.
The same goes for any other book you want to read in The Discworld, if there are no recurring characters, then you start afresh, if there are, they always mention anything relevant to the plotline so you aren’t left behind. The lore of the Discworld stays the same, so all you ever have to remember is what A’Tuin is, and that the people of the Discworld live similar lives to ours, only their world is filled with magic, and is a little more violent than our own.
So, essentially, you can start anywhere, and go on from there. You could follow Rincewind, or DEATH, or the Ank-Morpork watch, or Tiffany. You could pick and choose whichever book you fancy. Or, you could do the simple thing and read from A Colour Of Magic, all the way through to The Shephard’s Crown in order if you like. It’s up to you.
Personally, I pick and choose, depending on my mood. But that’s just me. There’s no right or wrong way to read Discworld.
The Hogfather, that one I will crow about until the end of time if I’m honest. I adore the book and the adaption – watch the adaption and read the book every Christmas. It’s got a special place in my heart, and always will. If you like unconventional Christmas stories, inappropriate people playing Santa (aka The Hogfather himself), assassins with the most questionable sanity ever, and badass women, definitely go for this book.
Going Postal, this one was another I watched the adaption of first, simply because I only just found the book last month in a shop. But this book follows the aforementioned Moist Von Lipwig, a con artist forced to save the post office. And by save it, I mean having to build it from the ground upwards. Assassins try to kill him, Gollems try to help him, and the post office saves him. All in all, a brilliant story, definitely one to read when you’ve got a bit of time on your hands – the book is a brick.
Mort, a shorter book, but a fun one to read if your interest in DEATH has been piqued. It follows Mort, a boy apprenticed by DEATH himself, and what happens when the powers go to his head. A wonderful way to get to know DEATH a little better, and while Susan does not appear in this book, it gives a great explanation as to why she is like she is.
Really though, pick whatever you want. There’s a book for every occasion, and an audiobook adaption for every one, all read by the wonderful Tony Robinson, who just adds to the books perfectly.
You mentioned adaptions, which ones can I watch?
The Hogfather, to start with. Starring David Jason as Albert, Michelle Dockery as Susan and Marc Warren as an unforgettable Mr Teatime. It’s almost word perfect from the book, with very few scenes missed out, and runs at 3 hours long. It’s where I started so I cannot recommend it enough. I’d say watch it at Christmas though, it is set during Discworld Christmas after all.
The Colour Of Magic, also starring David Jason, this time as Rincewind. Sean Astin stars beside him as Twoflower, the first tourist of the Discworld, and Tim Curry as Trymon, a power-hungry wizard from the university. This also combines the sequel The Light Fantastic so you won’t be left hanging, and is incredibly enjoyable. It’s not as good as The Hogfather, but still, a great way to spend 3 hours.
Going Postal, no sign of David Jason in this one, but still an all-star cast of Charles Dance, David Suchet and Claire Foye. Again, 3 hours long, but absolutely brilliant to watch. Funny, great comedic timing, and just generally brilliant. I loved watching this one.
The Watch, I can’t speak for these ones yet, as they haven’t actually started filming. This has been in development since 2011, with stops and starts all over the place, but I have faith. From what I can tell, the scripts have been written, overseen by Terry Pratchett himself before his death, and his daughter is apparently going to be overseeing the BBC’s production of it. Who knows though, it’s taken 7 years to get this far, so you’d probably be better reading the books first.
And, because I can, Good Omens. Yeah, I know that this isn’t a Discworld novel and that it’s actually set on Earth during the apocalypse and is co-written by Neil Gaiman, but come on guys, this is one of my favourite books, I had to mention it! BBC and Amazon Prime have joined forces to adapt Good Omens, overseen by Neil Gaiman, on a promise to Sir Terry before he died so I can promise accuracy in this one. And the cast, oh the cast, it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
David Tennant as Crowley.
Michael Sheen as Aziraphale.
Sian Brooke as the mother of the Antichrist.
Jack Whitehall as Newton Pulcifer.
And guests such as Mark Gatiss, Reece Sheersmith, Josie Lawrence, Miranda Richardson and Nick Offerman. Could this be any better? No. No, it cannot! It comes out next year on Amazon Prime and is going to be aired on the BBC later in the year. Filming wrapped just last week, and I am beyond excited to see this adaption come to life!
Anything else to add?
Apart from saying that The Discworld is one of my favourite novel series of all times, that Terry Pratchett is a genius and that you all need to read his books ASAP? Nope, I think that’s it!
Phew, this was a long one, but I guess I’m that passionate about Discworld! If you’ve got any questions you’d like to ask me about the series, leave a comment below and I’ll give my best answer. Or leave a comment if you have a Discworld book you’ve read and loved, I’d love to know where to go next in this world!
Until next time guys, happy reading, and enjoy your trip to The Discworld!