It’s that time again! Thanks as always to Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl for facilitating TTT.
This week’s topic was a bit of a freebie, as I get to write about reasons why I love… well any bookish thing! I almost suffered from a bit of choice paralysis as there’s so many things I love about books and I get so much joy from basically every bookish part of my life. Then I thought about one of the things that’s brought me the most bookish joy, that’s been consistent in my reading life since I was eleven years old… DISCWORLD.
For those of you who don’t know, Discworld began as a sort of parody of your swords-and-sorcery fantasy – think Conan the Barbarian. There’s wiz(z)ards, witches, scantily-clad women, and it’s very joke, joke, joke. From there it developed into a whole fantasy world of its own that frequently parodies and references both fantasy conventions and the real world but is very much its own reality, with its own rules, geography, and very much its own heart.
If you haven’t read Discworld, hopefully this list will inspire you to pick it up. If you’ve read Discworld, hopefully this list will remind you why you love it (and maybe even spark a reread!)
THERE’S DOZENS OF BOOKS
One of the things I love more than anything in the world is when I read a book, love it, and realise that there are lots and lots more where that came from. Few series offer more books than Discworld. There are 41 main novels, and dozens of different related works, from The Science of Discworld series that uses the fantasy of the Disc to explain the real science of “Roundworld” (that’s us!), to the picture book Where’s My Cow? which asks us to consider where, indeed, is my cow, to Nanny Ogg’s Cookbook, which is part-recipe, part-self-help (oo-er), and chock full o’ Nanny. If you get into Discworld, you have a wealth of reading before you (and that’s not even to mention the games, both video and board, TV, audio, and even music adaptations…)
THEY ARE VERY, VERY FUNNY
There are very few authors who can genuinely make me laugh out loud, but Terry Pratchett not only succeeds, but succeeds consistently. The great thing about these books is that there’s a ton of different types of humour. From puns (such as the country of Djelibeybi, central to Pyramids) to observational (consider Vincent: “Miss Susan had privately marked him down as Boy Most Likely to Be Killed One Day By His Wife.” from Thief of Time) to advisory (“Give a man a fire and he’s warm for a day, but set fire to him and he’s warm for the rest of his life” from Jingo). Really, I can’t do them justice out of context, and there’s hundreds of examples I could cite, but really, just trust me on this one.
THEY ARE ALSO VERY POIGNANT
The thing about Discworld books is that, at heart, they’re about humanity, whether its what we typically think of as human-shaped, or dwarf-shaped, or Nobby-Nobbs-shaped (whatever shape that may be). It never shies away from addressing the hard parts as well as the funny parts. This is possibly never more evident than in Night Watch where Vimes chases a serial killer all the way into his past and has to reckon with some of the nastier things he experienced when he was still very young. The below section still makes me well up, even out of context.
“That’s a nice song,” said young Sam, and Vimes remembered that he was hearing it for the first time.
“It’s an old soldiers’ song,” he said.
“Really, sarge? But it’s about angels.”
Yes, thought Vimes, and it’s amazing what bits those angels cause to rise up as the song progresses. It’s a real soldiers’ song: sentimental, with dirty bits.
“As I recall, they used to sing it after battles,” he said. “I’ve seen old men cry when they sing it,” he added.
“Why? It sounds cheerful.”
They were remembering who they were not singing it with, thought Vimes. You’ll learn. I know you will.”Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
THERE’S SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE
The number of books in Discworld may seem intimidating, but the great thing is that Discworld easily divides up into several sub-series. Want a series of wacky capers about wizards and their escapades? The Rincewind books have that. Want witches and women-power? The Witches books. Something that examines humanity from the outside? The Death books. And for younger readers, the Tiffany Aching books are a great in point, as they feature many of the most loved characters but with a younger central character that might be more relatable. There’s even standalone novels such as Pyramids or Small Gods. If you like reading at all, there’s probably a Discworld book for you!
THEY’VE RAISED AWARENESS FOR ORANGUTANS
One of the best loved secondary characters in Discworld is the Librarian. Naturally, as a librarian, I’m a fan. The Librarian works in the Unseen University, where wizards go to learn their art. He’s deeply protective of his books, knows where everything is, and likes to keep things quiet. Also – he’s an orangutan. An unfortunate magical incident resulted in the once human Librarian becoming more hairy and orange and with a hankering for bananas. What started as a mildly silly throwaway joke in The Colour of Magic led to Terry Pratchett becoming a trustee of The Orangutan Foundation in 1994 and filming two documentaries about the plight that these amazing creatures face. Their association with the Discworld novels has led to various fundraising events in relation to these, including at Discworld conventions.
THEY MAKE DEATH SEEM LESS SCARY
Death is a major character in the Discworld novels. He appears in the form that he often does in Western media – black cloak, scythe, skeleton. But this Death is a more complex beast. He doesn’t do the killing – he’s just there to help people go from alive to… whatever comes after alive. Throughout the Discworld novels Death spends a lot of time marvelling at and trying to understand humanity and their various idiosyncrasies, whether by assimilating into their culture (Reaper Man) or trying to spread a little
Christmas Hogswatch cheer (Hogfather). The portrayal of Death really resonates with people. In this article* Pratchett notes that:
Within a year or two, I started to get letters about Death. They came from people in hospices, and from their relatives and from bereaved individuals, and from young children in leukaemia wards, and the parents of boys who had crashed their motorbikes.Point me to heaven when the final chapter comes… – Terry Pratchett
I recall one letter where the writer said the books were of great help to his mother when she was in a hospice. Frequently, the bereaved asked to be allowed to quote some part of the Discworld books in a memorial service.
They all tried to say, in some way, “thank you,” and until I got used to it, the arrival of one of these letters would move me sufficiently to give up writing for the day.
Death the character is so important to people because he helps, in a small way to make Death the concept, the actuality, less scary. The thought that maybe, there might be a friendly, smiling (he can’t help it) face between Here and There is somewhat comforting. Perhaps he said it best himself:
LORD, WHAT CAN THE HARVEST HOPE FOR, IF NOT FOR THE CARE OF THE REAPER MAN?Death – Reaper Man – Terry Pratchett
*I’m sorry for linking the Daily Mail. Really.
THEY DO JUSTICE TO RATS
Rats are some of my favourite creatures. I’ve been keeping them as pets for almost eight years. They’re friendly, funny, intelligent animals that in my opinion don’t live nearly long enough. In Discworld, rats get their own Death. Death of Rats – also known as the Grim Squeaker – is a character that can express more with a single SQUEAK than many characters can in a lengthy monologue. There’s also the titular Educated Rodents in Amazing Maurice, a standalone YA Discworld novel. These rats taught themselves to read from the rubbish among which they live, giving themselves names in English such as Dangerous Beans, Hamnpork, and Darktan. This book really gets the mischievous, smart, and fun character of rats right, and does a lot to make them more appealing than most media manages.
THEY HAVE SOME AMAZING WOMEN
Some of my favourite female characters come from the Discworld. Number one among these is Susan Sto Helit, Death’s (adopted) granddaughter. I love her principally because of her self-confidence, which is earned throughout the series, but apparent from the first time she appears in Soul Music. I love the arc that she takes from there, through Hogfather, to Thief of Time (my favourite Discworld novel) where she works to find her place in the world as someone both human and not-quite-human at the same time.
Although Susan is my favourite, it’s only by a hair. There are so many great female characters in Discworld, including Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat, the witches, along with Tiffany Aching the young witch-in-training. There’s Adorabelle Dearheart, fearless head of the Golem Trust, Agnes Nitt, part-witch, part-opera-singer, Corporal Angua, werewolf and member of the Watch, and so many others. It’s true that Pratchett definitely has a type of female character – ballsy and practical and perhaps a bit sneering at traditional femininity – and I think it’s absolutely valid to critique him on that basis. However, I’ve found a lot to identify with in his female characters and I think in general they have a lot of depth and complexity.
THEY HAVE REAL CHARACTER GROWTH
One of my favourite things Pratchett does is develop a character over the course of a number of books. The transformation of Vimes from down-on-his-luck, alcoholic, beat cop to member of the nobility, husband, and father from Guards Guards to Snuff is incredibly well-realised, and I love that while Vimes does grow somewhat more comfortable with the changes in his status, he never loses his allegiance to the common people. He’s still Vimes inside, no matter what happens. There’s a similarly great transformation in Tiffany Aching, who goes from not really knowing she has witch potential, to struggling with her power, to finally having a great deal of control over it (full disclosure: I have not read The Shepherd’s Crown yet as I am in denial that the series is over). Even Rincewind shows some development, starting off as merely terrified, and becoming both resigned and terrified. You can tell Pratchett knows his characters inside-out and it makes the characters feel incredibly real, even in the most fantastical situations.
THEY BRING PEOPLE TOGETHER
Ten years ago in September, a friend came to my room in university halls to stay overnight. We got talking about Small Gods as it was on my shelves. We’ve been a couple pretty much ever since. I’m not saying it wouldn’t have happened without Discworld… but it didn’t hurt 🙂