On March 12, 2015 a huge blow was dealt to the world of fantasy literature when it was announced that famed author, Sir Terry Pratchett had passed away at age 66 after a difficult, eight-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
Shortly before his diagnosis, Pratchett wrote in his 2006 novel, The Last Continent:
“It is said that your life flashes before your eyes just before you die. That is true, it’s called Life.”
A zealous and imaginative writer throughout his career, Pratchett lived true to this creed completing over 70 novels, over 40 of which make up his massive fantasy opus known as the Discworld series.
So what is Discworld? Well as the name suggests it is a series of stories that are set on a flat, disc-shaped world that rests on the shoulders of four great elephants, who in turn stand on the shell of an intergalactic turtle (stay with me here). Discworld is arguably the most multifaceted and inventive fantasy series ever written. Devotees quickly fell in love with its detailed accounts of complex societal struggles, loveable emotional characters, and his trademark balance of quirky humor and serious drama.
Discworld kicked off in 1983 with The Color of Magic, which introduced his first pair of protagonists: the bumbling wizard Ricewind and the hapless tourist Twoflower. This novel (and the five sequels that followed) spawned four concurrent series, which in turn led to a plethora of short stories, scientific and historical books, and illustrated and young adult novels, all set on this enigmatic world.
While some may feel compelled to start at the beginning, part of the brilliance of Discworld is that it allows readers to jump in almost anywhere as the various major or minor connections blend seamlessly into the overall story. Illustrated here.
Personally, I started with Guards! Guards!, the eighth Discworld novel, and first in the City Watch series, which tells the fantastic story of Discworld’s largest city, Ankh-Morpock, on the day it is attacked by a long-thought extinct Draco Nobilis (aka: a Dragon).
Pratchett’s world is detailed and intricate, loaded with dry humor and slapstick as he dissects the familiar fantasy tropes and turns them upside-down in his own unique style.
Beyond Discworld, Pratchett has also written an abundance of stand-alone novels, each brimming with his brilliantly askew view of the universe.
For beginners, I recommend Good Omens, which he co-wrote with his fellow fantasy author and close friend, Neil Gaiman. Hilarious and poignant, there’s really too much going on to accurately describe the plot of Good Omens, but I’ll say it involves witches, prophecy, the apocalypse, romance, fast cars, an emotional angel, a fast-talking demon, and two bumbling Satanists who have misplaced something very important… the Antichrist!
It’s easily one of my favorite books and one I’ve happily read multiple times. It is a great introduction to this type of storytelling that perfectly showcases the strengths of these clever writers.
Mr. Pratchett faced his diagnosis bravely, and was persistent in writing to the best of his ability in his declining years. He leaves behind his wife, Lyn Purves, and his daughter, Rhianna Pratchett (known for her work as a video game writer), as well as a legacy of 85 million books sold worldwide that is sure to endure for years to come.