Cover of an early edition of The Colour of Magic; art by Josh Kirby
|Genre||Fantasy / comedy|
Discworld is a comedic fantasy book series by the English 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, political and scientific issues.
Since the first novel, The Colour of Magic (1983), 37 Discworld novels have been published as of October 2009, 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. In addition, the series has been adapted for the theatre, as computer games, and as 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 on 23 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.
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.
The Discworld novels contain common themes and motifs that run through the series. Fantasy clichés are parodied in many of the novels, as are various sub-genres of fantasy, such as fairy tales (notably Witches Abroad), witch and vampire stories (Carpe Jugulum) and so on. Analogies of real-world issues, such as religion (Small Gods), business and politics (Making Money), are recurring themes, as are music genres such as opera (Maskerade) or rock music (Soul Music). Parodies of non-Discworld fiction also occur frequently, including Shakespeare, Beatrix Potter and several movies. Major historical events, especially battles, are sometimes used as the basis for both trivial and key events in Discworld stories (Jingo, Pyramids), as are trends in science, technology, and pop culture (Moving Pictures, Men At Arms). There are also humanist themes in many of the Discworld novels, and a focus on critical thinking skills in the Witches and Tiffany Aching series.
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. For the most part, the arcs occur in real time, with a year between publications equalling a year in the story. 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, but is constantly thrust into extremely dangerous adventures. In The Last Hero he flatly states that he does not wish to join an expedition to explore over the edge of the Disc -- but, being fully geared for the expedition at the time, clarifies by saying that any amount of protesting on his part is futile, as something will eventually occur that will bring him into the expedition anyway. As such, he not only constantly succeeds to stay alive, but also saves Discworld on several occasions, and has an instrumental role in the emergence of life on Roundworld (Science of Discworld).
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 (inspired by cultures of the Far East, particularly Japan and China); and The Luggage, a magical, semi-sentient and exceptionally vicious multi-legged travelling accessory, made from Sapient Pearwood. Rincewind has appeared in six Discworld novels as well as the three Science of Discworld supplementary books.
Death appears in every novel except The Wee Free Men, although sometimes with only a few lines, if any. 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). His dialogue is always depicted in small caps, a trait that other characters often remark upon.
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 dimension.
Characters that often appear with Death include his butler Albert; his granddaughter Susan Sto Helit; the Death of Rats, the part of Death in charge of gathering the souls of rodents; Quoth, a talking raven (a parody of Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven); and the Auditors of Reality, personifications of the orderly laws of nature. 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 conceptions of witchcraft), and act 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 but cunningly applied psychology (often referred to as "headology", or sometimes "boffo") 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 Fool; Jason Ogg, Nanny Ogg's eldest son and local blacksmith; 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 center around the growth of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch from a hopeless gang of three to a fully equipped and efficient police force. The stories are largely police procedurals, featuring crimes that have heavy political or societal overtones.
The main character is Watch Captain Sam Vimes, a haggard, cynical street copper who finds himself swept up in history as his inept cadre of law enforcement officials (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. As his influence grows, Vimes' social standing also grows from Watch Captain to Commander and eventually to Duke.
Other main characters include Carrot Ironfoundersson, (possibly) the rightful heir to the throne of Ankh-Morpork; Angua, a werewolf; Detritus, a troll; Cuddy, a Dwarf who appears in Men at Arms; Golem Constable Dorfl; 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 Havelock Vetinari, the 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.
Pratchett has stated on numerous occasions that the presence of the City Watch makes Ankh-Morpork stories 'problematic', as stories set in the city that don't directly involve Vimes and the Watch often require a Watch presence to maintain the story -- at which point, it becomes a Watch story by default.
The Wizards of the Unseen University (UU) 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 and the novel Unseen Academicals. In the early books, the faculty of 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 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; Hex, the Disc's first computer; the Librarian, who was turned into an orangutan by magical accident; the Dean; and the Bursar. In later novels, Rincewind also joins their group.
The Wizards have featured prominently in nine 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 blue, 6-inch tall, hard-drinking, loudmouthed pictsie creatures also called "The Wee Free Men" 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. Major characters in this series include Miss Tick who discovered Tiffany, Annagrama Hawkin, and Petulia Gristle.
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. 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, and becomes the Disc's first stamp collector.
The History Monks are a group of vaguely Taoist-like monks who have taken on the job of ensuring that history passes smoothly. 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, pumping it from the places where it's wasted (the sea or the desert) to places like cities where there's never enough time. 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 (Small Gods, Thief of Time, Night Watch).
|1||The Colour of Magic||1983||Rincewind||Came 93rd in the Big Read.|
|2||The Light Fantastic||1986||Rincewind|
|3||Equal Rites||1987||The Witches, The Wizards|
|4||Mort||1987||Death||Came 65th in the Big Read|
|5||Sourcery||1988||Rincewind, The Wizards|
|6||Wyrd Sisters||1988||The Witches||Came 135th in the Big Read|
|7||Pyramids||1989||Miscellaneous (Djelibeybi)||British Science Fiction Award winner, 1989|
|8||Guards! Guards!||1989||The City Watch||Came 69th in the Big Read|
|10||Moving Pictures||1990||Miscellaneous (Holy Wood), The Wizards|
|11||Reaper Man||1991||Death, The Wizards||Came 126th in the Big Read|
|12||Witches Abroad||1991||The Witches||Came 197th in the Big Read|
|13||Small Gods||1992||Miscellaneous (Omnia), The History Monks||Came 102nd in the Big Read|
|14||Lords and Ladies||1992||The Witches, The Wizards|
|15||Men at Arms||1993||The City Watch||Came 148th in the Big Read|
|16||Soul Music||1994||Death, Susan Sto Helit, The Wizards||Came 151st in the Big Read|
|17||Interesting Times||1994||Miscellaneous (Agatean Empire), Rincewind, The Wizards|
|19||Feet of Clay||1996||The City Watch|
|20||Hogfather||1996||Death, Susan Sto Helit, The Wizards||Came 137th in the Big Read; British Fantasy Award nominee, 1997|
|21||Jingo||1997||Miscellaneous (Klatch), The City Watch|
|22||The Last Continent||1998||Miscellaneous (Fourecks), Rincewind, The Wizards|
|23||Carpe Jugulum||1998||The Witches|
|24||The Fifth Elephant||1999||The City Watch||Came 153rd in the Big Read; Locus Fantasy Award nominee, 2000|
|25||The Truth||2000||The Ankh-Morpork Times, The City Watch||Came 193rd in the Big Read|
|26||Thief of Time||2001||Death, Susan Sto Helit, The History Monks, The Witches||Came 152nd in the Big Read; Locus Award nominee, 2002|
|27||The Last Hero||2001||Rincewind, The Wizards, The City Watch||Published in a larger format and fully illustrated by Paul Kidby|
|28||The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents||2001||Miscellaneous (Überwald)||A YA (young adult or children's) Discworld book; winner of the 2001 Carnegie Medal|
|29||Night Watch||2002||The City Watch, The History Monks||Received the Prometheus Award in 2003; came 73rd in the Big Read; Locus Award nominee, 2003|
|30||The Wee Free Men||2003||Tiffany Aching||The second YA Discworld book|
|31||Monstrous Regiment||2003||Miscellaneous (Borogravia), The City Watch||The title is a reference to The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women|
|32||A Hat Full of Sky||2004||Tiffany Aching, The Witches||The third YA Discworld book|
|33||Going Postal||2004||Moist von Lipwig||Locus and Nebula Awards nominee, 2005|
|34||Thud!||2005||The City Watch||Locus Award nominee, 2006|
|35||Wintersmith||2006||Tiffany Aching, The Witches||The fourth YA book.|
|36||Making Money||2007||Moist von Lipwig||Locus Award winner, Nebula nominee, 2008|
|37||Unseen Academicals||2009||The Wizards, Rincewind|
|38||I Shall Wear Midnight||2010||Tiffany Aching||Fifth YA book|
Pratchett has occasionally hinted at other possible future Discworld novels. These include:
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.
Furthermore, there are four "Mapps":
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."
Several Discworld locations have been twinned with real world towns and cities. Wincanton, in Somerset, UK, for example is twinned with Ankh-Morpork, and the town is the first to even name streets after their fictional equivalents.
Pratchett has also collaborated with Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen on three books using the Discworld to illuminate popular science topics. Each book alternates chapters of a Discworld story and notes on real science related to it. The books are:
Most years see the release of a Discworld Diary and Calendar, both usually following a particular theme.
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.
Other Discworld publications include:
Reading order is not restricted to publication order; however, each arc may be best read chronologically. Some main characters may make cameo appearances in other books where they are not the primary focus; for example, Carrot Ironfoundersson and Angua von Überwald appear briefly in Going Postal and Making Money. The books take place roughly in real-time and the characters' ages change to reflect the passing of years. No distinction will ever be clear-cut. Many stories (such as The Truth and Monstrous Regiment) nominally stand alone but, nonetheless, tie in heavily with main story-lines, and the meeting of various characters from different narrative threads (e.g. Ridcully and Granny Weatherwax in Lords and Ladies, Rincewind and Carrot in The Last Hero) indicates that all the main threads take place around the same period of time (end of the Century of the Fruitbat, beginning of the Century of the Anchovy); the only exception is Small Gods, which appears to be set several hundred years before any of the other stories. A number of characters, such as members of staff of Unseen University and Lord Vetinari, appear prominently in many different story-lines without having titles of their own. As it is, many of these "standalone" stories deal with the development of the city of Ankh-Morpork into a technologically and magically advanced metropolis that readers will find analogous to real-world cities: for example, The Truth catalogues the rise of a newspaper service for the city, the Ankh-Morpork Times, and Going Postal similarly deals with the development of a postal service and the rise of the Discworld's telecommunications system, called "the clacks".
Stage adaptations of 15 Discworld novels have been published. The adaptations are by Stephen Briggs (apart from Lords and Ladies by Irana Brown), and were first produced by the Studio Theatre Club in Abingdon, Oxfordshire. They include adaptations of The Truth, Maskerade, Mort, Wyrd Sisters and Guards! Guards! Stage adaptations of Discworld novels have been performed on every continent in the world, including Antarctica.
A Stage version of "Eric" adapted for the stage by Scott Harrison and Lee Harris was produced and performed by The Dreaming Theatre Company in June/July 2003 inside Clifford's Tower, the 700 year old castle keep in York. It was revived in 2004 in a tour of England along with Robert Rankin's The Antipope.
Due in part to the complexity of the novels, Discworld has been difficult to adapt to film – Pratchett is fond of an anecdote of a producer attempting to pitch an adaptation of Mort in early 1990s but told to "lose the Death angle" by US backers.
A list of completed adaptations include:
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. These were also repeated in January 2010.
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.
Musical releases include: