I came to the wonderful Discworld of Terry Pratchett late. I was working in Switzerland at the time, and I picked up The Light Fantastic – the second Discworld novel – at a second-hand church sale. I loved those old church sales. They were reliable sources of marvellous fiction priced at 1 CHF (paperbacks) or 2 CHF (hardcover). In English, too. So I read The Light Fantastic and was instantly hooked.
Imagine a world that is a huge Disc, resting on the backs of four elephants, which in turn stand on the back of an enormous turtle, slowly swimming through space. The Disc is suffused with magic and has its own unique physics, as well as a vast cast of entertaining characters.
Here are a few of my favorites:
The 7-foot tall skeletal personification of Death rides a horse called Binky and is by far my favorite character. Death appears in almost every Discworld novel, speaks in small caps, and has the job of guiding souls from this world to the next. I first met him in The Light Fantastic, when he was summoned by a circle of quaking wizards. He had a toothpick in one skeletal hand. With cheese and pineapple.
One can scarcely think of a wizard with less skill and qualifications than the young Rincewind. Rincewind is cowardly, self-serving and completely uninterested in heroics of any sort. However, Rincewind has that ineffable thing called luck on his side, and saves himself and the Disc on numerous occasions.
Twoflower and Luggage
Twoflower is the Discworld’s first tourist, an optimistic and naïve person who is convinced in the fundamental goodness of others (even in the city of Ankh-Morpork, where he meets and hires Rincewind). He is followed by Luggage, a vicious and homicidal travel chest made of sentient pearwood with hundreds of little legs.
The principal witch of the series is Granny Weatherwax, who lives in a cottage in the mountain country of Lancre. Although she mostly despises people, she has taken on the role of protector and healer. She takes her role very seriously, not even afraid of taking on Death himself to do what she thinks is right.
The City Watch
Where would the Discworld books be without the bumbling and democratic City Watch of Ankh-Morpork? The Watch comprises dwarves, a werewolf, a secret king, a troll, a zombie, and, of course, the hardened Captain (later Commander) Sam Vimes, boss of them all.
The books are all ostensibly fantasy, but Terry Pratchett used this medium to poke fun at and illuminate our own world. You can read them on whatever level you wish. One thing is certain – you will not be unmoved. And you will guffaw. Often.
Sir Terry Pratchett wrote 40 Discworld novels before passing away at the age of 66 on 12 March, 2015, from complications resulting from Alzheimer’s disease. Goodbye, Sir Terry, and thank you for the fantastic legacy of Discworld. RIP.