Dive into Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld


Discworld is a comedic fantasy series with shockingly earnest moments. (Courtesy of Instagram)

In many ways, literature is a lot like dining. We savor the classics like fine dining at a five-star restaurant (complicated, well-reviewed and a fascinating experience). We gobble down cheap pulp fiction like junk food — not worth a lot, perhaps, but still a good time to be had. And while there are so many literary dishes to be sampled, my favorite books are the ones that feel like home-cooked meals, that we burrow into when we need comfort. And to me, there’s no more comforting food than Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. 

Discworld is a comedic fantasy series spanning 41 books, all taking place on the titular Discworld, a massive disc set on the back of four elephants, standing atop a giant turtle who is swimming through space. The series isn’t one linear narrative, but instead jumps around to a variety of locations and characters, including the witches of the Ramtops, the City Watch of Ankh-Morpork or the wizards of the Unseen University. 

The series is perfect for fantasy lovers — featuring the wizards, witches, dragons and trolls expected in such a genre — but even for non-fantasy enthusiasts, Pratchett delivers a great time. Pratchett might be the funniest writer in the English language; from witty wordplay to ridiculous scenarios, Discworld will quite literally have you laughing out loud as you’re reading (prompting some strange looks from passersby if you’re reading the books in public). Often plots take vaguely parodic forms, satirizing everything from “Macbeth” to “King Kong.” 

Like many great comedians, however, Pratchett’s jokes are just surface for deeper, more complex and serious topics. Over the course of the series, Discworld tackles themes of identity, politics and religion. The books also contain some of the most memorable and likable characters in all of fiction, ranging from a wizard who only ever managed to learn one spell, to an all-powerful god who finds himself trapped in the body of a tortoise. 

While under-respected on this side of the Atlantic, Pratchett is beloved across the pond. He consistently ranks as one of the best-selling British authors of all time, and in 2009, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for “services to literature.” In a 2003 BBC poll which asked British citizens to vote for their favorite books, Pratchett tied with Charles Dickens for the highest number of books on the list.  

Delving into a 41-book series might seem daunting. The books don’t need to be read in the order in which they were published; there are several different “series” within Discworld. I wouldn’t recommend starting with the first book, “The Color of Magic,” (neither would Pratchett, who once said that it served as a poor introduction to Discworld, a result of it being one of his first-ever books). So where to begin?

You could begin with “Mort,” which tells the story of Mort, a young man who, after being rejected for apprenticeship from almost every profession, is chosen by Death (the Grim Reaper himself, one of the most common recurring characters in Discworld) to serve as his assistant. 

Alternatively, another great starting point is “Wyrd Sisters,” a parody of “Macbeth” which deals with a coven of witches who run into trouble when the king is assassinated and replaced with his much more villainous cousin. 

My personal favorite series within Discworld, however, deals with the City Watch, a group of police trying to solve the mysteries of Discworld’s biggest city. The first book, “Guards! Guards!” finds the group trying to solve a series of homicides. How do you solve mysteries in a city full of wizards and werewolves, dwarves and dragons, gargoyles and golems? That’s the problem Captain Sam Vimes and his ragtag group of fellow officers have to figure out in this ultimately heartwarming tale about the way people can grow. 

Regardless of where you start in Discworld, and whether you read one book or all of them, I highly recommend you pick up a book and dive in (most major booksellers carry copies; alternatively, you can also find some at Fordham’s library). Pratchett lays out a buffet of some of the most entertaining plots, funniest lines and colorful characters in all of fiction — it’s almost impossible to resist digging in.