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Terry Pratchett's Discworld

(probably) Sick , (certainly not) Sad (Disc-)World.


Terry Pratchett : that's a name that seems to separate the world in two categories : those who never read anything by him and those who're eagerly waiting for his next book. Actually it seems to be very few people who can read a good Discworld novel without getting hooked - it's a mystery to me how one can *not* be laughing out loud after having read one.

There is actually another way to laugh with Terry Pratchett's books : start telling someone of the first category about the Discworld and some of its best known characters, and they'll immediately look at you as if you're on something really really weird - or if you just escaped from a lunatic asylum ( on a side note, if one reads a Discworld novel and comes back to you saying : "Yes, it has some good moments, but what's the point?", RUN AWAY . This kind of person would complain that "Starwars" lacks of down-to-earth realism).

If they don't, good point : that means that they have a strong, nonsensical (in the good meaning of the word) - and a bit disillusioned - sense of humor, so you can probably convert them to it, and they will be forever grateful to you for having brought them a brand new oasis of delirium.
Though Discworld is not only about fun. If you're looking for a second level of reading, it's there too. I do think I enjoy Pratchett's books that much because I share a lot of his views on the world, humanity and topics such as religion, as revealed ironically (though to be honest, if I had to be a character of Discworld, it would be either Vetinari or Death, rather than Samuel Vimes, which Pratchett admits to be one of the characters he feels the closest of).

But let's not be obnoxious with philosophic contents. Laugh is never lost, that would be my motto when referring to these books. And I also believe that taking yourself too seriously doesn't mean you're more aware of what really matters. Saying serious things in a funny way is a lot more effective than trying to lecture as if you were the only one who knows the Truth (with a capital T).

Rincewind, Twoflower and a couple of others on the Luggage

Which is why I should stop digressing here and talk more about Pratchett exhilarating world.

What kind of crazy world is that?

Granny Weatherwax,
a king's ghost, etc...
It's a world as flat as a pizza, with continents instead of tomatoes, and oceans as the melting cheese on it - thus its name of "Discworld". At the center of the disc is a giant mountain, on top of which various Gods are watching, playing silly games and occasionally beating each other like a gang of snorty kids that they are. I wouldn't dare to say that aloud if I lived on the Disc, though, since they're also very bad-tempered and touchy.

The disc lies on the shoulders of four giant elephants, that stand on an even more gigantic turtle's back. For the record, the turtle's named A'tuin, and she's (yes, she's a she) swimming across the space endlessly - well, at least it would be better that she never ends, for the inhabitants' sake... Oceans constantly fall over the edge of the disc, and a small sun rotates around and under it to create day and night.

One major place in the Disc is Ankh-Morpork, its biggest town (about one million, err, 'souls', if you admit a far stretch to that word...). There would be a lot to say about it, but 'scum of the universe' seems to be a good start. The Ankh is the river separating the town in two, and it's so polluted by human - or not - activities that it's easier to walk on it rather than swimming into it, but it's still even healthier to keep away from it.

What kind of people can live in a place like this?

Now that this unusual background's set, let me introduce you some of the Discworld's most famous characters.

Rincewind is a mage. Well, he's supposed to, pretends to, and at least that's what's written on his hat. But he was never able to learn a single spell, except one that had actually chosen to hide in his brain until the time would come (time of what? Read "The colour of magic" and "The Light Fantastic" to find out). His main - and probably only - talent is to run away from trouble as fast as he puts himself into it - unwillingly, of course. One who's favorite line is probably "Better be a living coward than a dead hero". Strangely, though, he saved the day - and the year and the whole turtle - more than once in his time.

Death (TALKS LIKE THIS) has no less than 4 books yet focused on him. Yes, him. Not that it's so easy to figure out the gender of a skeleton wrapped into a black robe, but you'd better know, just in case. He usually can be seen by mages, witches and cats. He's very fond of cats, has a daughter - adopted -, a house with a whole room to store hour-glasses of the living ones, a N-dimensional library for self-writing biographies, and a garden (all in differents colors of black). A recent add to this being a corn field.
All in one, he's a very likeable character. Don't confuse cause and consequence : he never kills anyone, he's just the one who makes sure that people go where they should go when they do die - and the answer is different for everyone.

Death : a merry fellow
(well, he tries...)

Granny Weatherwax is a witch. She doesn't look like you imagine a witch, though - despite all her efforts and at her old age, she's got all her teeth white and strong, a wart-less skin, and she still stands tall and proud. More than proud, rather arrogant, the arrogance of those who know they're (almost) always right - and never bothered to play it down to look more likeable. If you imagined a red-haired beautiful sorceress with big breasts hardly tied in a sexy leather bikini, you were all wrong too...
Her bad temper is often smoothened by Nanny Ogg, sister in sorcerhood, who looks more like the old witch type. But instead of living alone with a black cat in the deep dark forest, she has more children and grand-children than a man can tell, and has had her full share of the pleasures of life (she probably also had the share that Granny Weatherwax turned down). But she does have a monstruous cat. The third witch of the trio is the young, a little bit air-headed and helplessly romantic Magrat Garlick. Not as helpless as she looks, fortunately. She's a witch, after all, and that takes a certain mind and inner strength.

The City Watch at work
(the dragon isn't a member)
Samuel Vimes is Ankh-Morpork's City Watch leader. Kind of. He's more like that old cop that has seen too much, doesn't believe in anything anymore, yet keeps on doing his job with a sense of duty that nobody else understands. When we first hear about the Guard, it has just gone from four to three members and is hardly more than a joke. That changes, though, with the incoming of new blood, along the Guards trilogy, beginning with a plot featuring a dragon.

Vetinari is Ankh-Morpork's patrician. Based on the Medici most manipulative leaders, he would probably convince Machiavelli himself to give up counselling. Unlike previous kings and rulers of the city, he doesn't seem to prove any special perversion, taste for blood or even ambition. It's thus a bit unexpected that he managed to keep being the master of this mess - and alive -, and doing pretty well actually. That comes from a peculiar, err, dare I call that a quality? He's just totally, cold-bloodedly pragmatic in his view of the city working, and disillusioned about humanity. I don't think he ever had illusions about humanity at all, in fact. So he can pretty much predict, and counteract if necessary, any move from his enemies, citizens or whatever, and make it all work. Oh yeah, and he hates mimes, which means he can't be that bad.

Portraying numerous characters exhilarating yet likeable is one of Pratchett's talents, and it's a pity I don't have enough time to introduce them all.

I am convinced, now where do I start my Pratchett lessons?

Unlike some other novel series I won't name, Discworld is quite regular in quality. Here are my favorites so far (I haven't read them all because I read the French - excellent - translation and we're only as far as "Men At Arms". I'm not confident enough in my english to think I could get the hints and jokes if I have to focus on "what the he** does this word mean and where's my dictionary?!" ) :

Apart from the Discworld novels and resources, Terry Pratchett also wrote a handful of books, mainly sci-fi, as well as a guide to understand real cats, "The Unadulterated Cat" (another reason why I like Pratchett's books and the Discworld's Death : I'm a cat person. Really. Meeoww). They are all fun, but I especially recommand "Good Omens", an exhilarating parody of "The Omen" (as you figured), co-written by Neil Gaiman (another guy with his very own vision of Death, by the way. His is a cute and friendly teen girl, but that's another subject).

Some links about Discworld

Links checked / revised in December 2002

- note : I usually only link general sites with rich content, which ensures that
even if you don't find what you're looking for on it,
you will at least find there more complete lists of links -
To complete your search, you can also check The Ankh-Morpork Webring.

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