A Writing Entry – I Heart Discworld
This is another entry about stuff I read, and I also think that what one reads affects how one writes. I’m certainly no Terry Pratchett, but I am a fan of his Discworld books and how he writes. So if you like Terry Pratchett too, maybe you could check out my novel on Smashwords (30 pages for free!) although I write more epic fantasy than these particular books.
Terry Pratchett has written more than Discworld novels, but I think those are his most famous set of novels. I think that these are some of the best books I’ve ever read, although as I may have mentioned before not always truly fantasy. If you are not familiar with Pratchett, you should be.
The Discworld is a flat world that sits on the back of four elephants that stand on the back of A’Tuin, the great Sky Turtle. Discworld exists on the edge of what is possible (and perhaps over that edge). There is, of course, magic (eight colors worth). There are various magical critters such as dwarfs, trolls, vampires, werewolves, witches, wizards, and occasionally faires and other invasive species. However, sometimes the magic of the world is not entirely relevant to the story. There are over twenty books in the series these days, and follow six major threads.
1) Rincewind – Rincewind is the world’s worst wizard (he put the word “wizard” on his hat and spelled it “wizzard”) and Chaos’s pawn. He is hapless, mostly witless, and quite a fast runner. His existance actually detracts from the total magical capacity of the world. Rincewind appeared in the first Discworld books. The plots generally revolve around Rincewind trying to avoid trouble and failing spectacularly. Generally people really like Rincewind or really don’t. I’m actually in the middle. I’m not a fan of this thread, but I’ve enjoyed individual books a lot.
2) Unseen University – This is where all the wizards in Discworld go to learn to be wizards and is in Ankh-Morpork, the largest city on the topside of the Disc (and an analogue for London). Wizards, with one exception (who has finally made a return to the series), are male (eighth sons of eighth sons; the eighth son of a wizard is frighteningly powerful so wizards are celibate). A friend once said to me that the main characteristic of wizards is an astounding lack of common sense. This is generally true. Most of the faculty are more interested in eating than teaching or doing magic. When they do perform magic, it involves candles, chanting, arcane sigils, wizardly staffs, and fireballs, or worse, research. Promotion tends to be a cutthroat business, but the current Headmaster keeps a crossbow in his hat, so he’s managed to not only stay but discourage other wizards from removing him. Also, the Librarian is an orangutan and probably has the most common sense. Many of the plots revolve around the absurdity of academia taken to the logical magical extreme. In my opinion, this is the weakest thread, but I do love the Librarian.
3) Witches (including Tiffany Aching) – In contrast to wizards, witches are without exception female. Witches can be in the cities, but the books focus on the witches in the rural areas. That same friend said to me the main characteristic of witches is a huge amount of common sense, more than anyone else in the Disc. While wizards do magic in a spectacular fashion, witches almost never do magic, and when they do, they do magic with willpower instead of props. Interestingly, many of the discussions of magic in these books are about what witches can’t or won’t use magic for, rather than what they do use it for. They also do ride broomsticks. They take care of the sick, the infirm, the elderly, those who can’t take care of themselves, and they guard the borders and edges of life and reality (see Lord and Ladies and The Wee Free Men for a discussion of elves and other invasive species). Witches can and do marry, but not always. Witches learn to be witches from other witches, although witches are not good in groups. Witches have different ways of being witches, from those who really can’t stand people to those that practically run entire villages as the matriarch. Pratchett started a sub-thread for young adults featuring Tiffany Aching, who starts at age 9 learning to be a witch with the help of the Nac Mac Feegles, who are angry Scottish smurfs. Personally, the “Witches” thread is the one I’ve enjoyed the most.
4) Guards – These books concerned the Watch of Ankh-Morpork. The Watch has gradually gone from a disruptable remnant of better days to an effective police force. The evolution of the Watch Commander, Samuel Vimes, has occurred at the pace of the police force. These books generally, to me, have the least element of fantasy about them, despite having dwarfs, trolls, and other non-human creatures on the force. Part of that is because Vimes insists that anyone on the Watch is a cop first, and whatever species they are after. I thought they first couple of books were a little weak, and while I generally enjoy the “witches” more, I think some of the “guards” books are the best I’ve read in the series. Feet of Clay is simply awesome.
5) Death – In the Discworld, Death is an anthropomorphic skeletal human who speaks in capital letters. Death has become more sympathetic with the humans and developed some odd quirks over the books, although to be fair when we first meet Death, he’s named his white steed “Binky.” Death even has a granddaughter named Susan who appears in the later books. Death books tend to have more to do with magic than some of the other threads. Reaper Man is Pratchett’s take on “Death Takes a Holiday” and Soul Music is one of the most pun-tastic books I’ve ever read.
6) Other – Some of the books don’t fit into the other threads, although sometimes they overlap. These usually concern Ankh-Morpork in general, but sometimes other parts of the Disc. These are uneven in the quality, but Small Gods may be my favorite book of all.
I think Pratchett has gotten better throughout the series, although the author is now suffering from Alzhemier’s. It’s really a great shame. He does a great job with characters that while they have very pronounced personalities and quirks are still believeable. Sometimes he integrates a lot of the magic of the world in his stories (see Sourcery), and sometimes he deals with more modern themes (such as racism) using the fantasy setting (see Thud!). Overall, an awesome series of books.