“In a distant and second-hand set of dimensions, in an astral plane that was never meant to fly, the curling star-mists waver and part…
For the intrepid young hero seeking adventure, one must look no further than that of Sir Terry Practchett’s Discworld saga. Satire and comedic in nature, it’s an adult fantasy series that can be enjoyed at any age.
But the thing is, when a series is over forty books long, picking it up can become more than a little intimidating. I mean – where the actual heck does one start???
Well, grab yourself a Rat-Onna-Stick [a staple of Ankh-Morpork’s
questionable street cuisine] and a pint of Scumble [fingers crossed you survive] and your Discworld passport [literally available online at the Discworld Emporium] and settle in for today’s discussion as I bring you, fresh outta the Disc; The Noobs Beginners Guide to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Universe.
The Discworld Universe
Discworld, a literary experience thirty-two years in the making, is comprised of forty-one [yes – forty-one!] primary installments. But hey, don’t let that intimidate you; there are also companion novels and handbooks, non-fiction novels, maps [yes – plural], children’s stories, graphic novels and even a cook book.
So yeah – it’s safe to say that you have been living under a rock [fair warning: the rocks talk], ignorant to a cultural phenomenon. Don’t worry – I’m here to set you on the path of your own journey across the Disc. [Whether or not you travel Rimwards, Hubwards, Turnwise or Widdershins we’ll have to see].
What sets the Discworld apart from other fantasy works such as the Lord of the Rings is the fact that these novels aren’t so much a series than a collection of mini-series and stand-alone novels set in the same universe. Even starting at the Colour of Magic, the plot doesn’t actually continue of stretch across the other installments. Instead, the Discworld novels are comedic fantasy adventures that run almost parallel to each other, with common themes and motifs.
Episodic in feel, characters pop in and out for cameos while cliches and classic literature are parodied as Terry comments on issues relevant to our own society with his iconic wit and humor. You can read the saga chronologically or, you can read them separately. You know, sort of a one-book-stand kind of thing. But, we’ll get to that later…
So, Wait – What’s A Discworld? Is This A Flat Earth Thing???
No. Yes. Okay, kinda? You know what – I’m going to let Terry explain this one…
“It is primarily a story about a world. Here it comes now. Watch closely, the special effects are quite expensive.
A brass note sounds. It is a deep, vibrating chord that hints that the brass section may break in at any moment with a fanfare for the cosmos, because the scene is the blackness of deep space with a few stars glittering like the dandruff on the shoulders of God.
Then it comes into view overhead, bigger than the biggest, most unpleasantly-armed starcuriser in the imagination of a three-ring film-maker: a turtle, ten thousand miles long. It is Great A’Tuin, one of the rare astrochelonians from a universe where things are less as they are and more like people imagine them to be, and it carries on its meteor-pocked shell four giant elephants who bear on their enormous shoulders the great round wheel of the Discworld.
As the viewpoint swings around, the whole of the world can be seen by the light of its tiny orbiting sun. There are continents, archipelagos, seas, deserts, mountain ranges and even a tiny central ice cap. The inhabitants of this place, it is obvious, won’t have any truck with global theories. Their world, bounded by an encircling ocean that falls forever into space in one long waterfall, is as round and flat as a geological pizza, although without the anchovies.
A world like that, which exists only because the gods enjoy a joke, must be a place where magic can survive.” – Terry Pratchett, Equal Rites 1987.
Basically Terry Pratchett was riffing off the whole Flat-earth-thing before it was cool. Don’t stress though, while the idea of the Disc sounds super complicated it’s actually pretty easily grasped.
The short hand?
You have this flat, disc-like world carried on the backs of four elephants who stand upon Great A’Tuin’s frost dusted shell which drifts onwards through space. Destination? Unknown. It’s a world brimming with heroes, wizards, witches, dwarfs, dragons, vampires, elves and a would-be city watch where nothing is to be taken too seriously.
Reading Tip: If the idea still sounds complicated? Might I suggest starting out with one of the companion novels? I’d highly recommend The Complete Discworld Altas or The Complete Ankh-Morpork City Guide as a gateway book and a lesson in the Disc’s world building. You’ll get all the inside gossip and an extensive grasp on the Disc at large. Also, these books are brimming with maps, illustrations and must read guides that make for a real treat.
Okay, So Just How Do You Read This Series Then???
There are three main ways to read Discworld. let’s start with the most straight-forward, obvious way shall we?
Basically, you start at the Color of Magic then the Light Fantastic and see how far you get through this deliciously witty world. [I’m going to be real and admit that you’re probably not going to make it through all 41 novels in one year alone].
I guess it goes without saying that by reading Discworld in it’s chronological publication order, you’ll witness Terry’s maiden voyage across the Disc while being introduced to some of the Disc’s key players and locations. Fair Warning: the Colour of Magic is one of the weaker installments. While I loved the idea of an expedition across the Disc and the escapades that ensue, others have said that it can be hard to follow or boring – you see there isn’t exactly a plot.
I would allow at least the first three books before DNFing if you’re struggling.
LET YOUR MIND FREAKING ADJUST PEOPLE.
But, you will witness Terry hone his craft as his plotting, humor and the overall structure develop. You’ll meet an iconic cast of characters as the saga unfolds before you.