Sat
Apr 27 2013 11:00am

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Might Be The Highest Form of Literature on the Planet

Terry Pratchett Discworld Brandon SandersonI’m embarrassed by how long it took me to discover Terry Pratchett. I avoided him during much of my early reading career—I’d read the works of fantastical humorists before, and while I’d always enjoyed the experience, it wasn’t something I intentionally sought out. I didn’t realize I was missing out on what are arguably the best books fantasy has to offer.

It’s hard to describe Pratchett to the uninitiated. His works mostly take place on a fictional world shaped like a disc, and the stories tend to be murder mysteries or thrillers mixed with a healthy dose of satire on the human condition. Like the best works of fantasy, a journey with his trolls, witches, and crusty night watchmen provokes inspection of our own world. But what other authors do with light allusions, Discworld does with a sledgehammer. And with light allusion too. Then it steals your wallet.

Discworld is story, humor, and philosophy all in one. Nowhere else have I been made to laugh so much while being forced to think so much, all while being given a wonderful plot. The closest thing to Pratchett out there is Shakespeare. Yes, really.

Here’s the core of my argument, then. Pratchett isn’t just funny, Pratchett is transcendent. There are lots of funny writers. Some are hilarious. A few are good at making you think at the same time. But most humorists, while brilliant, have trouble with story. If I put their book down, I remember the laughter, but feel no urgency to return. Those narratives don’t get their hooks in me—they don’t have that pull, like gravity, that a good plot builds. In short, they don’t make me think—bleary-eyed at 3:00 a.m.—that I need to read one more chapter.

Pratchett, on the other hand, routinely makes me lose sleep. His best stories (I suggest Going Postal or The Truth) have excellent narrative urgency, but add to it a level of riotous wit. Then, if that weren’t enough, they kick you in the head with moments of poignant commentary—unexpected, brazen, and delightful.

This has to be the highest level of fiction. It does everything that great fiction does—but then makes us laugh too.

Pratchett is by no means under-appreciated. His sales are solid, he has heaps of fans, and there’s also that whole “being knighted” thing that happened to him. However, I can’t help but notice a distinct lack of top-level literature awards in his pocket. One British SF Award, one Locus Award, but no Hugos, Nebulas, or World Fantasy awards (often considered the top three prizes in science fiction and fantasy) let alone any mainstream awards. Could it be that we’re so comfortable with Pratchett that we take him for granted?

Maybe it’s the humor. Long-standing wisdom in Hollywood states that comedies, no matter how brilliant, don’t take top prizes. If you want to sell tickets, you make people laugh. If you want to win awards, you make them cry. As the poet once said, “I can’t get no respect.”

I spent years in a graduate literature program learning what makes great writing, and the only conclusion we came to was that the future of graduate literature programs was safe because nobody is ever going to agree on what makes great writing. However, there are some things that the true greats seem to share.

One of these is conscious use of language. Pratchett has that—boy does he. Each and every word is chosen with precision, stuffing in jokes like kids playing chubby bunny.

Another is subtle use of literary allusion. Again, Pratchett is a genius at this, though instead of alluding to Greek epics (well, in addition to the Greek epics) Pratchett’s allusions tend to center on pop culture and history. (Have a look over at the fan annotations for one of his books on L-Space to get a feel for the level of allusion, often in the form of puns, you’ll find in his books. http://wiki.lspace.org/mediawiki/index.php/Annotations.)

Another measure of great writing is great characters. While it would be easy to dismiss Pratchett here because of the numerous one-sided caricatures who populate Discworld, those aren’t often the meat of the stories. The protagonists at the very center have real heart, emotion, drive, and growth. I find Vimes, Pratchett’s unpretentious captain of the city watch, one of the most complex and endearing characters in fiction. (Night Watch is the height of the Vimes storyline, if you’re interested.)

And then they’re funny. Really, truly funny. The clown makeup distracts us. It makes us smile and draws our attention away from the majesty of the features. I maintain that what Pratchett does is not just great, but unparalleled.

In five hundred years, it won’t be the Nobel laureates who are being studied. It’s going to be this guy.

Thank you, Sir Terry.


Brandon Sanderson is the author of Elantris, The Mistborn Trilogy, The Way of Kings and, with Robert Jordan, the New York Times bestselling The Gathering Storm, Towers of Midnight, and A Memory of Light, the final volumes to the epic Wheel of Time.

72 comments
wingracer
1. wingracer
I agree completely, despite not being a huge fan of Sir Terry. Not that I don't like his writing, just that his stories are not the kind of thing I usually like to read. But every once in a while, I feel like something a little different and I have never been disapointed (and frequently blown away) when that something different was a Pratchett novel.

Of course what I really want is for the author of this article to get back to writing novels, haha.
Kieran B
2. Isengrim
I read "The Colour of Magic" almost 15 years ago, and I'll keep reading them for as long as Sir Terry keeps churning them out. Great author and a great series.

The Carpet People is a pre-Discworld book of his, later re written in part when the Discworld books took off. Mixes his off-beat style and humour with a more "standard" epic fantasy story. Well worth a read.
Helen Cousins
3. naath.sedai
PTerry has in the past turned hown Hugo nominations; so perhaps that is why he's never won it?
wingracer
4. Darth_katie
Brandon, you totally nailed all the reasons I love Discworld. Fantastic! The Thief of Time was the first discworld book I ever read, and it's still my favorite.
wingracer
5. David Z. Aarons
A few months ago, Sir Terry announced that he intends to leave the Discworld series to his daughter Rhianna, who will continue the series after he's gone. Though I'm not familiar with her work (she's mostly written for games thus far rather than prose fiction, and I haven't yet played anything she's worked on), I'm sure the series is in good hands, and I'm happy to know that the vibrant, often ridiculous universe Pratchett has created will continue. It'll be interesting to see a new writer's voice in the Discworld. But somehow, this announcement struck me pretty hard on a very personal level.

I can't overstate the importance of the Discworld series in my life. There have been times when it's been hard to smile at anything. I've had struggles with depression on and off for years. But pulling out one of Pterry's books, whether it was a new release or one of the rather well-loved copies of an old favorite, has always been able to pierce whatever darkness I'm dealing with. I can't help but laugh at his wit and humor or relax in the warmth and humanity of his characters.

As a person, I've always been grateful to have them when I needed them. As a writer, I've been inspired by the strength of their storytelling. These are humorous fantasy novels with heart and soul and plots that are as tight and finely-tuned as they are playful. Pterry looks at people and their quirks and habits through a warped lens, and somehow sees us all more clearly for it. I agree with Brandon that Pratchett's work will be important and remembered; he reminds me of no one so much as Dickens in his ability to densely interweave great stories and characters with humor. His point of view, sense of humor, creative voice, and immense intelligence have shaped me ever since I first discovered one of his books at the library as a young teen.

Posterior cortical atrophy. A rare form of Alzheimer's. When I read those words back in 2007, it felt like a punch in the chest to me. It HURT. And I've never met this man. The Discworld series is older than I am, and he's written it all a world away from me. I don't claim that the impact on my life was anything like what it must have been for Pratchett himself and his family. But as a reader, you develop strange connections to writers. Stories are personal. They come from places in our minds that we need to share, but no one else can ever see quite as we do. They're affected by our perspectives at both ends. A story is shaped in the telling, and shaped again in the reading. And when you hear or see or read a story that resonates with you just the right way, there's this inexpressible intimacy and joy about it. "This was written for me." An express line from the mind of the author to yours. Communication as symphony. As a storyteller, that's the endgame for me, the ultimate goal I want to achieve. If even one person can read one of my stories and get that connection out of it, I'll have succeeded as a writer. I've enjoyed countless books and stories. I've loved many. But the list of storytellers that I've felt this kind of kinship with is relatively short. Some of the names on that list include J.R.R. Tolkien, whose work has defined and altered my life since I first pulled The Hobbit off a shelf and began a journey into the fantastic that I expect will last my entire lifetime. Brandon's on that list too, since he shattered the boundaries in my mind of what fantasy was capable of. Terry Pratchett has always been a staple of that list. And the connection I've always felt to him is very strong and very personal.

The only way I can properly describe it is by comparison, I suppose. Tolkien, for example, has always felt like something between a heroic ancestor and a creator god to me, haha. He effectively invented modern fantasy. The scale of that is incalculable for me as a fantasy writer. This one man built the foundation for more or less everything I will ever do, and he did it so beautifully and powerfully. Looking over his work, it feels impossible for me to ever achieve something of the magnitude he did. Pratchett, by contrast, feels accessible. He's building from that same foundation, but he's always felt almost like a grandfather to me. A master craftsman with the wisdom to see people and the space between them and the finely-honed skill to show me what he's seen. A deeply intelligent man with a biting wit and cuttingly blunt honesty cushioned by warmth. To imagine losing him, even from afar, was painful by itself. To imagine a mind as brilliant and clever as Pratchett's set upon by a disease that attacks cognitive ability was a vicious irony. Pratchett has maintained an admirable positivity in the face of his disease, and he's written several books since his diagnosis by dictation. And to some extent, I've always been aware of the inevitability of the situation. Sooner or later, he'll have to stop writing. And sooner or later, I'll have to say goodbye to one of my heroes.

Outside my own family, I've never lost any of the people who truly inspire me. Either they're still alive or they passed away before I was born, or before I was old enough to know who they were. I've never had to experience the loss of one of my creative heroes in a direct, raw way. I'm not looking forward to it. And the announcement of passing the torch somehow brought that closer in my mind, made it more real to me than it had ever previously seemed.

I'm not sure I have a point with all of this, haha. If I do, it's a fairly obvious one, like "Mortality sucks, and I don't like it!" I don't like that our time is limited. Strangely, it's somehow easier to accept my own temporary nature than Pterry's, haha. But even so, I wish we all had more time. If I'm lucky, I still have a lot of life ahead of me; years in which I can say all that I feel I need to say and do the work I'm passionate about. And I hope when I'm done that I have a legacy like Terry Pratchett's to leave to the next generation.
Michael Grosberg
6. Michael_GR
Humor doesn't always get snubbed: Mark Twain is a counterexample. And to hazard a guess, Pratchett will be as famous and as appreciated as Twain a hundred years from now. Although a better comparison to Pratchett would be Dickens - The later Discworld novels owe a great debt to Dickens and especially to The type of Humor found in The Pickwick Papers.
Shelly wb
7. shellywb
@6, I think though that Twain became a giant when humor (and emotional scenes) were not looked down up the way they are now. Things changed in the 20s and left us a bit poorer for it IMO. Were Twain to arrive today, I have the feeling that people would call him a guilty pleasure rather than a genius.
wingracer
8. Dianthus
I've loved Sir Terry's work for years, being a big fan of British humor in general (Monty Python, Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Eddie Izzard)
I read Douglas Adams first, so I used to equate them (except one's sci-fi, the other fantasy). I guess that's not really fair cuz Adams wasn't doing the same kind of world building. Still, there seems to me a similarity in tone.
We lost Adams far too soon, and Sir Terry's diagnosis came as a terrible blow. Still, their work will stand forever as a testament to their genius and humanity.
Blake Cates
9. ShamrockJack
When I was growin up in the early eighties my mother read these books to us at night. That started a love affair with his work that lasts until today.

Sir Terry was the best selling author in England for a long time, until something called "Harry Potter" came around.

Cheers, Brandon.
wingracer
10. John Gersten
Simply put, the man is our age's Chaucer. His stories cover every element of the human experience with grace, humor, understanding, love, and deep, deep wisdom. I can think of no higher praise for a writer, and Pratchett deserves it all, and more.
wingracer
11. Bertrand Dunogier
Great piece of text. Terry Pratchett has never received the credit he does deserve, and you explain really well what makes him different.

I would like to translate this article to French, for my country mates benefit. Would that be alright?
Philip Thomann
12. normalphil
At some point Prachett became the modern author whose works I think of most in my daily life. It was also the point that I realized I even had one of those.

So I really agree with this article.
wingracer
13. Corlanthis
To this day, Guards Guards is the only novel I've ever finished, then IMMEDIATELY turned back to the first page to read a second time through. I enjoyed it just as much multiple times around as I did the first, Prachett is simply amazing.
Ammon Lauritzen
15. allaryin
I read The Colour of Magic about 25 years ago when I was too young to really appreciate what I was discovering. It was just the next fantasy novel on the shelf at my local library. But it is the only one I remember picking up that year. It was wacky and forn and nonsensical... and it changed me somehow. While the earliest Discworld books are far from Sir Pterry's best, they lit a fire that smouldered quietly in the corner until I rediscovered him in my early 20's.

Since then, I've read it all. I've played the games, I've listened to the audiobooks and watched the movies. There are two entire shelves in my livingroom dedicated to Discworld alone.

I devoured Small Gods. As silly as it sounds, it changed the way I think about belief.

On a business trip one time, I took a copy of The Truth with me and read it twice. I can't think of another author whose work I have ever reread in the same year, much less the same week.

Sam Vimes is the greatest and perhaps deepest character in modern literature. He is brittle and human and caring and ferocious. He is the kind of father every child deserves - and serves as an example for me in my dealings with my own children.

Like so many others, I was stunned when I read about the Alzheimers announcement. Everything he has published since then has been the sort of thing I grab up and hold onto because I worry it might be the last.

Thank you, Brandon, for taking the time to share with everyone. I find it oddly fitting that you were the one to write this ;)
wingracer
16. Avedon
I totally love him. Heart and humor, it's the best.
wingracer
17. ColinC
I started with Mort and that will always be my favorite. Even so, Small Gods, Guards Guards, Soul Music, all of them phenomenal.

I absolutely agree with everything you've said here, Brandon. My literature degree hasn't introduced me to more than two authors with a wit and perspicuity comparable to PTerry.
wingracer
18. Krosan
I was stunned, too, when I heard about the Alzheimer's diagnosis...

That said, I feel that the Discworld is in good hands. Rhianna doesn't have a ton out there yet, but what I have encountered from her has been solid gold. The Overlord games, especially, had a very Disc-ish feel of absurdity about them.
wingracer
19. WJLIII3
Vimes? Complex? Interesting, compelling, sure...but complex? He's just a cop, man. Just straight Murdoch, getting too old for this shit, but somebody's gotta do the protecting.
wingracer
20. Slightly Lions
Thank you for posting this! Its great to see my second favorite author lauding my favorite author so highly.

I really like Vimes, but the character that has really come to life over the series to me is Death (no pun intended). Both Reaper Man and The Hogfather flesh him out so well (Again, no pun intended. . .), making me cheer for the grim reaper, while laughing myself sore.
wingracer
21. pootle
Good timing, as I've just finished reading most of them again in strands and the best are definitely 'Going Postal' and 'Night Watch'. They sort of work as stand-alone novels more than any others. It's a shame we haven't had the 100% definitive witch novel (although they are good collectively, they just haven't got that perfect peak).

(Didn't re-read the Terry Does Culture series because they're too scattered (you know, Terry Does Films/ Pop/ Newspapers/Football) but they're ok. Although the best of that lot are Terry Does Classical History in 'Pyramids' and Terry Does Religion in 'Small Gods'. Also haven't got round to the Death n Susan set yet, so I might do them. The only ones I actively dislike are 'Monstrous Regiment' (the leads all noble cyphers instead of characters) and 'Sourcery' (takes itself too seriously))

Reading them in strands brings out some interesting features - he really has a lot of contempt for Colon, for instance. And Granny is quite a terrifying bastard, possibly one of the most mentally vicious people in the whole series. And he got bored of the wizards early on but still writes them out of nostalgia.

The best best things, (apart from Sending Home) are the lethal puns. Is this a military coop? Frogs croaked in the rushes but were taken out of the final edit.
wingracer
22. Gardner Dozois
NIGHT WATCH is not only the high point of the Vimes series, but one of the best fantasy novels of the last twenty years. I was stunned by how powerful and poignant it was while still genuinely remaining a "comic novel." I think it's Pratchett's masterpiece, although a lot of his other books, GOING POSTAL, GUARDS, GUARDS, I SHALL WEAR MIDNIGHT, the Granny Weatherwax books, are very fine as well.
lake sidey
23. lakesidey
There's nothing I can add that many above have not said better, but I still want to say it again: Thanks, Sir PTerry. For Granny Weatherwax and Vetinari and Death and Vimes and Susan and Carrot and Nanny Ogg, who surprised me time and again when I thought I knew them. And for others such as Lu-tze and Moist, who came late to the party but took all of one book each to make me a devoted fan.

Nearly every book made me laugh (The Truth, Witches Abroad, Interesting Times, The Fifth Elephant, anything with Rincewind or Vimes or Granny), and most made me think. Some even made me try to be a bit of a better person. Night Watch has to be one of the most brilliant books I have ever read, technically speaking, yet it is not my favourite - if I had the difficult task of choosing a Pratchett to praise, I would hem....and haw....and hedge between Thief of Time and Going Postal.

If anyone out there reading this hasn't visited the Discworld yet....how I envy you! You have SO MUCH to look forward to...go to it!

~lakesidey
Gary Glasscott
24. MonktonGaz
For the last 20 years, Pratchett has been the only author whose books I'll buy on his name alone, knowing I'll enjoy them.

My first Discworld book was Wyrd Sisters. Having been forced to read Macbeth years ago in school, I loved Pratchett's treatment and was hooked on him from that point.

It's hard not to love the big hitters, Vimes and Granny. I love both because while they are worshipped by their peers, and respected (or feared) by others, they themselves see themselves as just doing their job.

Vimes' argument with the Patrician at the end of Night Watch, and Granny's argument with her sister in Witches Abroad ("I had to be the good one!") flesh these guys out with a depth it is hard to find in other novels of this type.

I have to be honest, here, and state that his novel with Neil Gaiman, "Good Omens" whilst not a Discworld novel is equally wonderful and should be read by all!
wingracer
25. Hedgehog Dan
Small Gods might be the best fantasy book about humanity and belief.
(Or might be just the best fantasy book.)
adrian bellis
26. Nilrem
I can't really add much to what has already been said, except that since discovering the Discowlrd nearly 25 years ago now (suddenly I feel old:p), at School, it's been the only series of books that I have consistantly enjoyed, time after time, after time.
Partly it's the humour, partly it's the number of references (it seems every time I reread one of the books I get another one), but mainly the writing.
Even books I didn't enjoy much at first, on later reading have been thoroughly enjoyed, and somehow I've managed to end up with a lot of them in multiple formats (from tatty paperbacks, to Hardbacks, Omnibus editions, and pocket format).
wingracer
27. Kroms
I do enjoy Pterry's work as much as the next guy, and greatly hope and suspect that books will be read for generations to come, but I think this article, despite being heartfelt, strums heavily on hyperbole. William Shakespeare was and is in a class of his own.

Pratchett is more similar to Charles Dickens, I think. They both lovingly satirize society, chide without being preachy, and provide insight without being pretentious. Their characters are satirical, but believable. They use humour to get serious messages across. Most importantly, they talk about what it means to be human, using the tropes of their chosen genres to do that.

I love them both in bounds, in other words, but I still stand by my belief that neither is William Shakespeare, who I think earns his reputation through the soliloquies in Hamlet alone.
wingracer
29. James W Clark
I'd usually be tempted to defer to Mr. Sanderson's perspective/opinion on the basis of his grounding in the experience and craft of storytelling, but I think we've gone too far here.

Terry Pratchett is a gifted and talented author who, in overcoming his maladies, has demonstrated a depth of humanity and resolve that is admirable and worthy of emulation. In addition, as stated above, his work is subtle, amusing and thought-provoking.

Still, he is a man with feet of clay... but, this does not diminish his achievements, rather enhancing them. We, the readers, have seen him strive to go past the ordinary, the trite and the crass; every book is a study in what it means to aspire to greater heights of craft, or to cleave more closely to the truth that is or that should have been.

Perhaps in that lies the magic of his work, when you travel through the Discworld, you are not charting lines on a map, you are treading in the trails he has left behind. You can see the digressions and the meanderings for what they are (enjoyable as they often are), but you know that the trail leads ever upwards and that with a guide of such quality and assurance, you will never find yourself lost upon less rewarding paths.

So, lets celebrate the many twisting miles those careful footprints have still to take us and enjoy the next book, the ones after that and the ones that his successors will leave us.
wingracer
30. Sue Kenworthy
Thank you for one of the best reviews of terry's writing that I have come across. I am a long time fan and often have difficulty explaining to other people just what the attraction is. I love that I can read a book that makes me laugh out loud, has me researching quantum physics, revisiting Greek mythology or Shakespeare and questioning my subjctive view of the world. As a Discworld Convention attendee and organiser I'm often asked to give a summary for the uninitiated, and in future I'll be referring people to your review because you have said it better than I ever could.
Michael Walsh
31. MichaelWalsh
"I can’t help but notice a distinct lack of top-level literature awards
in his pocket. One British SF Award, one Locus Award, but no Hugos,
Nebulas, or World Fantasy awards (often considered the top three prizes
in science fiction and fantasy)"

In 2005 he declined a Hugo nomination. See page 2 here:
http://www.fanac.org/worldcon/Interaction/x05-hnom.pdf

And in 2004 he was Guest of Honor at the 2004 Worldcon in Boston - not a shabby honor!
wingracer
32. BenA
I will always remember laughing out loud at Gaspode negotiating Laddie's dinner in Moving Pictures. I think that was the first time I ever found something so amusing I had to go back a page just so I could read the setup and the entire scene again.
wingracer
33. Dean B.
Help, tor.com family. I have always wanted to read Pratchett's Discworld series, but never knew where to dive in. Any suggestions for, say, the first 10-20 books I should sample? Thanks!
T C
34. Freelancer
I don't laugh out loud while reading. Or cry out loud, or shout, groan, whimper, etc. From physical responses alone, an external observer wouldn't know if I was reading MacBeth, or an auto repair manual.

Unless I'm reading Pratchett. His stories tie on the strings, and his characters play puppeteer. They poke at you, squint at you, they weigh and measure you. They engage you like few others. And all the while, they're pretending they don't know you're there watching.

Most storytellers get their plot rolling, and intend to head for the destination, whether you choose to come along or not.Terry's stories grab you by the arm, look you in the eye, and say, "Let's go have some fun!"

People occasionally wish they could read their favorite book for the first time again. While he is not my favorite author, I could never wish this with Pratchett's stories, for each reading of them at different points in my own life have had different impacts, and I wouldn't give those up.
wingracer
35. Rentawitch
This piece should be compulsory reading for all prize judges!
I love Terry Pratchett's works so much that I moved to live in Wincanton where resides the only Discworld Shop (made of bricks and mortar).

And for all these fans on here who may not be aware, there are two events a year in Wincanton which are free* to attend. One at the first May bank holiday and the second at 'Hogswatch' usually held last weekend in November or first in December. Check out www.discworldemporium.com for details or look on Facebook.
Vicky.
*free but you have to source your own accommodation and food.
wingracer
36. Glamage
Amen.

In a 100 years people will still be reading Pratchett.
wingracer
37. PeggyOgg
This is an exceptionally good review of Terry's work. I'm glad some clever chappie can put into words just how I feel about Discworld. I love the novels and all the characters. I have trouble reading now so I listen to them over and over again on audio. I close my eyes and I'm there with Granny Weatherwax or Commander Vimes, laughing at Terry's descriptions of things which incidently are lost in movies.
Like Rentawitch, above I enjoy the Discworld events at Wincanton which has been twinned with Anhk Morpork, a DW city since 2002.
Soon Lee
38. SoonLee
Dean B. @33:

Well, there is a reading guide because there are a number of sub-series within the Discworld novels. With most writers, I'd normally recommend reading in publication order.

But Pratchett's writing has evolved over his career, his early Discworld novels are more straight-up sword'n'sorcery parodies but over the course of his career, his stories, while still containing funny, have gained more depth. So while the early Discworld novels are not his best, if you read in publication order, you'll get a good sense of the evolution of his writing.

Which to start with? If not in publication order, how about starting with "Guards! Guards!" or "Pyramids"?

http://www.au.lspace.org/books/reading-order-guides/the-discworld-reading-order-guide-20.jpg
Peter Ahlstrom
39. PeterAhlstrom
I thought Pyramids was great, but I wouldn't call it a starting place for anything, since it stands completely on its own in a way few of the others do. Personally, I started with book 3, Equal Rites, and while I haven't read it again recently, I really enjoyed it. I then moved to book 4, Mort. Only later did I read the first and second book, and I'm not sure I would have been as eager to continue if I'd read those first.

I also give a huge thumbs-up to The Wee Free Men as a starting point if you like reading YA (and even if you don't care much about YA).

If I were to recommend one of the unconnected books as a starting point, it would have to be Small Gods.
wingracer
40. LeonieRogers
Just LOVE Terry Pratchett's books! I've been reading them (and re-reading them) for years. At this very moment, I'm revisiting Tiffany Aching as she meets the Nac Mac Feegle.

Granny Weatherwax and Vimes are probably my two favourite characters though. Vimes is so complex and real, and the situations he negotiates are so well thought out and gripping, that I find myself dragged anew into the stories each time I re-read them.

However, one scene from a discworld book that has left me with possibly the most bizarre and enduring mental image, (and a desire to giggle wildly everytime I recall it), is the description of Nanny Ogg dancing, in Witches Abroad.

Great post on Terry Pratchett - he is truly one of the greatest writers of our time.
Alana Abbott
41. alanajoli
That annotations wiki page is *insane.* And also brilliant. And incredibly useful to those scholars who will be studying Sir Terry in the future. :)

You're definitely preaching to the choir here, but it's a great sermon regardless!
Soon Lee
42. SoonLee
PeterAhlstrom @39:

You have seen my cunning plan! "Pyramids" is a stand-alone so someone who reads it can appreciate it without needing any other knowledge of Discworld; and it does a great job in conveying the vibe of Discworld.

With most of the other ones being sub-series, even though they may be read as stand-alones, they are best read in publication order, which brings me to my other recommendation: "Guards! Guards!" is the first of the Night Watch sub-series.
wingracer
43. Wortmauer
Dean@33: I'm with Peter on Team Small Gods. Love love love that one. Really though, IMO reading order doesn't matter that much. The books with connected storylines*, you may as well read in order, but even if you don't, they stand alone very well and they don't really spoil each other.
* And in a sense even the standalones are connected by characters such as Death and Dibbler.
wingracer
44. Marc Letford
I have read TP's works since Colour of Magic and havent missed one since. One of the joys for me is the tumultuous descent into utterly ridiculous situations and the moment you realise that the real world issue being parodied is even more ridiculous. Bliss.
wingracer
45. pabkins
YES! He is one of the greatest authors ever! Whenever I am in a reading funk TP is my "go to" in order to get out of it. Everyone should have to read his work - I say it should be school required reading!
wingracer
46. Joy V. Smith
Terry Pratchett's books are consistently good; they are intelligent and funny, and I can reread them over and over, which is why they take up more than one shelf in my bookcases. My favorite characters include Vimes, Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Greebo, Angua, Carrot, DEATH, ...
Maryann Cook
47. Mir
Wonderful article. Sam Vimes is one of my favorite characters of all times. When I heard about Sir Terry's illness I decided then and there to read everything he's ever written and have kept that resolution. He's one of the finest writers and satirists working today.
wingracer
48. Kate123
Vimes Cycle in chronological order:

Guards! Guards!
Men at Arms
Feet of Clay
Jingo
The Fifth Elephant
The Truth*
Night Watch (time-travel story that mostly takes place years before the cycle starts, so you could read it first, but then you'd miss the fun of recognizing the younger versions of certain characters (Vetinari!) before they're actually introduced)
Thud (possibly the best book I've ever read in any genre)

Going Postal* and Making Money*

*not really Vimes books, but concern important developments in the city

In my opinion, the most recent Vimes book, Snuff, was absolutely dreadful, so read at your own risk. I think it must have been ghost-written because all the characters were totally off.

Small Gods is also quite good, and explains some of the religious history of Discworld. It takes place several centuries before the Vimes books, in a different region of Discworld. The witch books also take place in a different region; I'm not sure if they're in the same time period as Vimes.
wingracer
49. StarSirius
My copies of Carpe Jugulum, Monstrous Regiment and The Fifth Elephant are falling apart from so many readings, even though I have these on my Kindle.

It's a rare book for me to return to, time and again, but Pratchett has that perfect balance of humor, drama, and humanity that I always pull something new and different each time I read.

Most of my one-liner stash is from Terry Pratchett. And I am naming my next pet Greebo....
wingracer
50. Gardner Dozois
For those who haven't read Pratchett, I wouldn't recommend starting with THE COLOUR OF MAGIC. I did, wasn't impressed with it, it being a series of Monty Python-like sword & sorcery parody jokes one after the other, put it down, and didn't pick up another Pratchett for years. Got back into him by reading the WEE FREE MEN books, from there into the Granny Weatherwax books, and then finally mopped up all the rest of them. No, good as he is, and he's as good at his best as anyone working in fantasy today, he has feet of clay like every other writer. The fact is, his first couple of Discworld books weren't really all that good, and ERIC was downright bad, the only Discworld book I've actively disliked and found a chore to read. His later books are much richer, more complex, and more satisfying.

I was also somewhat disappointed with SNUFF, particularly as I had liked some of the other Sam Vines books quite a bit indeed.
wingracer
51. CHip137
pabkins@45: I suspect there are many of us who rely on PTerry for a dose of stability/sanity/consolation/...; I keep the latest in reserve for black moments, and Michelle Sagara (occasional F&SF reviewer) has written of doing the same.
wingracer
52. Edorion
I first discovered Sir Pratchetts work (world?) by serindipity. I bought a grab bag of books through the SFBC. I can't remember any other of the titles today in that group, but one. A thin book with an odd looking cover, it sat unread for months and I considered donating it to one of the local charities that get books when I am done with them- unread. I relented, cracked it open and my world changed. It was a little book named...." Jingo". Deepfully insiteful and insidious - Sir Pratchett uses humor like a master magician uses props, but instead of hiding rabbits, he hides deep and sharp social comentary on a silly place called Diskworld. I was an instant fan and have devoured most of T. Pratchetts books in the years since. My favorites include Thief of Time, Hogfather, Men At Arms, and The Last Continent. Death is one my favorite characters and flash back to Monty Python's Meaning of Life whenever he speaks.
wingracer
53. Edorion
....and most importantly HAPPY BIRTHDAY Sir Terry and wishes for many more!
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54. RebeccaH83
Thank you for the great article. This is exactly how I have felt about PTerry since someone gifted me with Equal Rights back in middle school.
PTerry gives us poignant characters, amazing stories and true laughter. I am especially thankful to him for the strong female roles he is not afraid to portray throughout his series - Angua, Susan, Tiffany, the Witches and many more. These will be my children's bedtime stories as they give a real, honest look at the world and allow us to laugh at it.
wingracer
55. The Sandman
As much as I love the Discworld series, and I love it quite a bit, I don't think any book from it qualifies as Sir Terry's best work.

In my opinion, that would be Nation.

I suppose one way to put it is that it's the Everest to the Discworld's K2.
Brian R
56. Mayhem
@Gardner @50

I must admit I found Eric much more enjoyable in the original illustrated format. When reissued as a standalone novel it lost most of its charm, where the imagery and text nicely built off each other.
I see it as an early experiment at a simpler book for young adults, wrapped in discworld trappings.
wingracer
58. aartoo
At least a better choice than one by those grimtards would have been.
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61. turricaned
I think a bit of hyperbole is forgiveable in this case, because I can't argue with a single point in the article. Having been a fan of Pterry since the age of 12, I feel I've been privileged to see him go from being a top-drawer humourist, through becoming a master of razor-sharp satire, to the point where he's ended up - in my opinion probably the most accessible and insightful humanist philosopher of the last hundred years or so.

Now if some people want to call that hyperbole, then they're more than welcome to, but let me try to explain just a fraction of my reasoning there. If any one of you know what it's like to have had at least one special teacher when you were growing up (and I hope everyone's had at least one), then you'll remember that the crux of what made them great is invariably making the process of learning entertaining enough that it doesn't feel like a lesson. As others have alluded to, Pratchett does this in spades. Another mark of a great teacher is that their enthusiasm for their subject is infectious - it makes you want to be enthusiastic too. Pratchett does this not just with one subject, but with a whole plethora of them! To give just one example; on a later reading of Soul Music in my late teens, a friend of mine pointed out the gag where a raven called Quoth refuses to "do the N-word", then handed me a copy of Edgar Allen Poe verse which I devoured in short order. Without that gag I'd probably never have become a fan of Poe and his contemporaries (or at least not as soon), and been a lot less well-read as a result.

But it doesn't stop there though - another privilege of having grown up with Pratchett's writing is the way in which re-reading it at a later point in life opens up whole new layers of the novels that have been waiting patiently for discovery, and never makes you feel like an idiot for having missed them in the first place. An example of this is Pyramids, which had my wife cackling hysterically during the opening scenes because they consist of a pitch perfect parody of "Tom Brown's Schooldays", which I had never read. The tack-sharp satire of Small Gods and Jingo, along with later works like the von Lipwig stories, gets thrown into stark relief when re-read with a bit more life experience - but Pterry being Pterry, it never feels like you've been bludgeoned over the head with it.

I won't gush over the brilliant characterisations, because others have already done so here - all I can do is agree wholeheartedly.

I will go on record as stating that even the "Pterry Does Culture" series has hidden depths. Going back to Soul Music, I initially read it as a music-mad teenager and loved it for the pop culture puns, then came the aforementioned Poe revelation - but it was re-reading it after a while away in my mid-20s that I grasped that there was a very subtle and powerful philosophical angle to it too. Namely that the secondary plot intertwined with the misadventures of The Band With Rocks In is a study of Death - who has been conscious of every passing on the Disc, and present at many since the beginning of life - actually experiencing bereavement on a personal level for the very first time. And, being the loss of his daughter, it's arguably the worst possible kind of bereavement for a sentient being to suffer. Juxtaposed with this is Susan, as a teenager, also experiencing a shattering bereavement for the very first time. Others may feel differently, but I think this is devastatingly clever and poignant as a concept - and when I first realised this it hit me with the emotional equivalent of a well-aimed half-brick in a sock.

One last thing - all great artists, including Shakespeare, Dickens, Mozart and even Da Vinci (probably Leonard of Quirm too) have within their body of work a few formulaic clunkers and mis-steps. Mozart was famously not properly appreciated by supposedly learned folk until well after he was dead. All of these titans of yore did their work at a time when most of the population was functionally illiterate - whereas modern artists contend with the fact that with an educated audience, every bugger's a critic. I see no reason why Pratchett should not be considered among their number in the coming decades and centuries.
wingracer
62. Del
Terry Pratchett has one major flaw. His writingsets such a high bar that it will ruin you for any other writer.
wingracer
63. Darren Sant
In response to this article I say simply, "Amen."
Someone has finally understood the depth and breadth of Terry's work.
wingracer
64. MinoltaSnapper
I too say "Amen", and THANK YOU, for saying what I always thought I alone felt about Sir Terry's writings, and wondered why nobody else out there could see it. Particularly those idiot Literary Critics...
wingracer
65. Stypica
Welcome to the Disc, Brandon:)

P.S. Thank you for being so accessible at Phoenix Comicon. I sat in on most of your panels and was happy to find that not only were you an excellent author, but you present yourself as a very fine person indeed. :)
wingracer
66. Flargarton Flurgurton
Well, yes and no. Yes, everything you wrote here is true. No, because there's Stanislaw Lem. And I get the feeling that you've never read any Lem.
wingracer
67. threenorns
Terry Pratchett..... if i could meet one person EVER, it would be him.

the first book Discworld i ever read was "Pyramids" and i still remember the opening sequence, with Pteppic garbing and arming himself for a midnight assassin's run, turning to admire himself in the full-length mirror, then slowly falling backward from the weight of all that weaponry concealed artfully about his person.

also contains some of my absolute favourite quotes and characters:

“Broadly, therefore, the three even now lurching across the deserted planks of the Brass Bridge were dead drunk assassins and the men behind them were bent on inserting the significant comma.” was the sentence that introduced me to L-space type grammar - the idea that the english language could not only be bent, but twisted into a moebius shape fully visible only if you were standing three dimensions over and one up.


while i *adore* the witches - i'm getting married within the year and i will be wearing cherry red Doc Martens! - i have to say that You Bastard ranks as one of the Discworld's greatest unsung characters.

i mourn the loss of a shining literary light ("shining light" - more like a pulsar!) but it'd be much nicer to think that his mind is not dissolving - it's being pulled into another dimension where turtles play a much more significant role in geology.
wingracer
68. elcanche
And thanks to Terry Pratchett, for me DEATH WILL ALWAYS SPEAK IN CAPITAL LETTERS! :-)
wingracer
69. Tamar Lindsay
I didn't stay away as long as Gardner did, but I too hated the end of The Colour of Magic. I picked up the Discworld again with Equal Rites and continued as steadily as I could, given how hard it was to find the books in the USA at that time. Eventually someone told me about The Light Fantastic, and that healed the original rift. I have loved the books through countless rereadings for close to 30 years now, more if you consider that I liked Strata when it came from the (American) SF Book Club before I knew who Sir Terry was and again when I rediscovered it later. I have used the books as self-medication for panic attacks. They set the bar for almost everything I read, and there isn't much that even comes close. P.S. I'm posting this here, as I suspect others are, because I couldn't find anywhere on tumblr to put it.
wingracer
70. gordonofawesomeohio
That man reminded me of something important:
"WORDS IN THE HEART CAN NOT BE TAKEN"
thank you, sir terry
wingracer
71. Robert Persson
Reaper Man is a meditation on death that is anything but trivial. That book certainly deserves to be thought of as great literature.
wingracer
72. DubJoo
I first picked up a DW novel almost 25 years ago while staying with firends. They were out working during the day and I was a bit bored. I started (and finished) reading the Colour of Magic and thought "eh". the next day I read The Light Fantastic and was still pretty much unimpressed. My friends didn't have Equal Rites so on the third day (yes I am a quick reader, but they are also short books) I picked up Mort and have been hooked ever since.

His books are always a welcome haven for me when I can't decide what to read as I know, that no matter how many times I reread them, I will always find a new joke, nuance or point that I may have missed previously or am simply reminded of a favourite passage.

I have reread my original books so many times that I recently had to go out and buy new copies.

Apart from the characters (Vimes & Granny especially) I really love the way his books make me think about the world, myself and other people. His humour can make you laugh and cry at the same time and he has this wonderful ability to draw you in to the story so that yes, you do end up awake at 3:00 am saying just one more page.

I have been to five DW conventions in the past four years and have met some of the most amazing, funny, insightful and simply nice people I could ever have imagined (so much so that I ended up marrying one of them). Sir Terry's books have been part of my life for so long that they are like family.

I hope that he continues to write for as long as he can and look foraward to reading his books whether DW or not as soon as they are published.
wingracer
73. soumya mukherjee
amen
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74. melethor
I love the way you've spoken about him - I feel very much the same.

Something startlingly close to evangelism seems to develop inside devoted followers of the Discworld series - these books have such a profound effect on our lives and outlooks, so we push these books onto people because we feel that, somehow, the world might change for the better if we can get as many people as possible to 'just read these books'. I love that. It's a legacy. It's brilliant.
Michael Walton
75. tygervolant
The social commentary is what really sucked me into these books. The Truth and Going Postal, in particular, are marvelous satires, and Monstrous Regiment is no slouch, either. My hat is off, Sir Terry.

Now if you'll excuse me, I am reminded that it's been a while since I read some Pratchett. I must go correct that.
wingracer
76. Corieda Kotze
What he said!

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