Many nerds I know are introduced to Tolkien from an early age. My father instead encouraged me to read the works of Terry Pratchett, and while I couldn’t get to grips with the Bromeliads or the Johnny series, the Discworld had me enraptured from the age of about seven or eight. I lost my father when I was fifteen, now at Grinshill in Shropshire there stands a memorial bench with the inscription “These hills are in my bones” Dad being an avid climber and Discworld fan, it felt right.
Before placing the bench, I emailed Corgi (Pratchett’s publishers at the time) requesting permission for use of the quote. I was not expecting Sir Terry himself to respond with a sincere and an empathetic sentiment, but before I could send him pictures and a heartfelt thank you, the computer became irreparable, and the e-mail account was lost. It is my one greatest regret.
Last week you tied the vote for this week’s Top 10 topic at one vote each, so I have taken this opportunity to share my genuine love and respect for a man who never knew me, but changed my life forever. De Chelonian Mobil.
10) The Fifth Elephant
“It wasn’t until ten years ago that they replaced trial by ordeal here with trial by lawyer, and that was only because they found that lawyers were nastier.”
I do love politics! And while I enjoyed that Thud brought a dramatic close to the ancient dwarf/troll war, The Fifth Elephant tells a richer story by far, one of deep politics, and how one murder hundreds of miles away can tip the scales of ancient nations and ignite the sparks of a war long since descended into courteous spite. Set this argument between vampires, werewolves and dwarves, and now you’re in Uberwald my friend!
So much happens in the Fifth Elephant that it could take a long time to go through all of the themes it introduces to the world, but I’d like to particularly pick up on the deepening madness of Fred Colon. The burdens of leadership sit better on some shoulders than others, and Fred’s Shoulders have a lot to carry as it is.
9) Lords and Ladies
“I never said nothing…”
“I know you never! I could hear you not saying anything! You’ve got the loudest silences I ever did hear from anyone who wasn’t dead!”
I love the subversion of classic myths. The witches rarely fall into my favourite and most memorable Pratchett list, but Lords and Ladies is a solid exception. Assault Morris dancing, the power of cold iron over glamour and temptations, and the raw “primality” of myth.
Elves in the Discworld have a love for pretty things, and have a penchant for stealing them away to their dead realms to play with, but all anyone ever remembers afterwards is that they were beautiful, and that they sang so sweetly. As someone who has no taste for the fey in their prissy and austere form, this kind of gruesome trickster is the sort of mythology that I really got behind as a teenager.
8) Small Gods
“And it came to pass that in time the Great God Om spake unto Brutha, the Chosen One:”
Such is the power of belief that in its’ absence gods simply wink out of existence, and Om has not been truly believed in for some time. Thanks to the heartfelt devotion of his most dimwitted observer he manages to manifest himself as a turtle, and set wheels in motion to reignite some real blood and thunder godliness into his church. If only his latest prophet weren’t such a kind and gentle soul.
Small gods is a fantastic tale of how bureaucracy can get in the way of an organization’s true purpose, and it also spells out some very clear messages on Pratchett’s opinion on organized religion and faith in general.
7) Thief of Time
“Truly it is written, “We live and learn.””
I actually have a bonsai mountain!
Besides the point, this book is about time, pure and simple. Its’ perceptions, and what might occupy the seconds in between seconds. It might also be about what makes anything… anything? What about a composition of nothing creates something worth note.
As Death prepares for an apocalypse comprising only a single moment doomed to last for an eternity, the most skilled Monk of Time from the monastery of Oi-Dong, Lu-Tze, along with beleaguered apprentice Lobsang Ludd journey to Ankh-Morpork to destroy the device that holds the moment in place, a great glass clock that counts the very tick of the universe.
All of this is very cool, but let’s consider the fact that the most profound piece of wisdom imparted by this book is that a little old man with a broom is more capable of toppling an army than is the opposing army, amongst all of the other pearls of knowledge imparted by dear Mrs Cosmopilite.
6) Night Watch
“That nice Mister Swing measured me up with his callipers, and his geometry, said I was prime copper material.”
Regular readers of my series DMing 101 or my more recent articles on films know that I have a huge soft spot for a decent villain, and Night Watch has plenty of high calibre villains to pick and choose from. The lunatic cut throat Carcer, the meticulous Captain Swing, paranoid and delusional Lord Winder, the shrewd tyrant Lord Snapcase, and the beast that dwells in the hearts of all men, and haunts the twisted streets in Sam Vimes’ mind.
This is really a tale of revolution, and history, and a hard boiled egg, and like many of Pratchett’s works carries hard messages with it in the midst of comedic observations and very real characters.
5) Going Postal
“Where’s the sense in promising to achieve the achievable?”
Only one thing I like more than a villain, and that’s a conman. Moist Von Lipvig is such a contemptibly likeable sort. That his every move is in some way engineered to wangle his way out of a sticky spot, and that he manages to save the day – and the AM Royal Mail service – by stacking lie upon lie, raising antes and pushing luck (and more than a few envelopes) only makes me love him more.
The theme of words having power takes a whole new tone in this addition to the series, as the sentiments contained in the abandoned letters of the post office have a unique potency that seems oddly pleading.
I’d also like to take this moment to throw my opinion into the ring: Moist Von Lipvig for Patrician after Vetinari, jus’ saying.
“I’m not a thief, madam. But if I were, I would be the kind that steals fire from the gods.”
“We’ve already got fire.”
“There must be an upgrade by now.”
No villain surpasses Mr. Teatime. No sane man could be so mad as to put thought into the assassination of a mythological being, and no madman, no matter how sane, could pull it off. Mr. Teatime kills the Hogfather, the Discworld’s answer to Santa. And like Om in Small Gods, the key is belief.
The idea that Death takes up the role of the Hogfather to keep the story alive is humorous, no questions there, but what really made me laugh in Hogfather was the resultant manifestations that sprung up from excessive amounts of belief being set loose on the world, such as the Eater of Socks, the Verruca Gnome, and of course the Oh-God of Hangovers. The summoning of childish nightmares to hunt down Teatime’s hired muscle has also inspired a lot of my crueller moments as a Dungeon Master.
3) Feet of Clay
“Not any more, sir.”
“Oh? How did you leave the guild?”
“Through the roof, sir. But I’m pretty certain I know what I did wrong.”
What is life, and when does it start getting access to civil rights? The golems in Ankh-Morpork created a king, but their attempts to forge another of their kind proves disastrous, even murderous, and the creature ends up tied into a plot to assassinate the Patrician, and replace him with a pliable figurehead to be manipulated by the guilds: Sergeant C. W. St.John “Nobby” Nobbs.
All right, this one worked it’s way further up the list than Hogfather because I have a slight bias towards the first Discworld I ever read, but I do love a good intrigue story, and it was this book that sparked my interest in etymology and the study of latin.
2) Reaper Man
“Why does everyone run toward a blood-curdling scream?” mumbled the Senior Wrangler. “It’s contrary to all sense.”
What happens when Death is forcibly retired? During the transitory period in which the job is passed down to a rather shabby newer model, the Disc finds itself suffering an over abundance of life. This results in the Unseen University Alumni venturing into the bowels of a monstrous, hulking supermarket that begins parasitically feeding on the city of Ankh-Morpork, along with a colleague whose death has been temporarily postponed due to lack of attendees in the afterlife.
In the mean time, Death educates himself on important things in life, such as the value of a hard day’s graft, the wisdom of old ladies, and new socks. When his replacement proves to be little more than a cruel, lifeless killer, he beseeches the omega, the end, Azrael, the death of all, to have mercy upon all living things.
Also the Death of Rats makes his first appearance, a lot to love in Reaper Man, a lot to love indeed.
1) Interesting Times
“Oh loot and pillage! Loot and pillage! I’ve had it up to here with loot and pillage! Is that all you think about is looting and pillaging?”
“There used to be ravishing too…”
Without question, my favourite Discworld tale is that of the half dozen little old men who conquer the Disc’s most ancient and entrenched empire. I scarcely know where to begin describing what I love in this book. I’m a fan of Rincewind’s many journeys, but my favourite of all is barrelling around the Counterweight Continent fulfilling the ancient prophesy of the Great Wizzard by actively and purposefully avoiding any and all involvement therein. And then doing it all again on FourEx.
A few moments of note:
- “Disembowel meself honourably” Dibhala San
- The argument with the Quantum Weather Butterfly
- Every word out of Truckle the Uncivil’s mouth
- Remote control terracotta soldiers
- Grand Viziers are the worse people
Interesting Times is an incredible read, and I recommend it to anyone, no matter their experiences with the Discworld hitherto. Only know that it’s all Twoflowers fault to begin with, and it will all make sense in the end.
It was hard enough narrowing down a list so full of prime contenders to a mere 10 entries, but I’m fairly pleased with what I’ve managed. But Pratchett’s monumental creation is far bigger than just its’ books. There are maps, almanacs, a wealth of art and even an album by Steeleye Span (seriously check that out). Here are a few of my favourite pieces of extra-literary Discworld lore…
Oh you have no idea how much I wanted Discworld Noir for this spot but I can never seem to finish it before getting stuck, and subsequently distracted. Eric Idle adopts the voice of Rincewind as he is sent out into the world to re-enact a banded together series of stories that are vaguely reminiscent of Reaper Man, except that this time Death elects for the life of a Holy Wood star rather than a simple farm hand.
Sir Terry was directly involved with the production of the Discworld computer games, and his pro-active attitude to rock throwing and general staff-abuse produced three fantastic point and click adventures that bring new life and depth to his irreverent novels.
Soul Music (The Animation)
Was I alone in disliking most of the live action interpretations of the Discworld books? A rant I’ll save for a less insensitive time, but no small-screen development was ever better than the cartoon of Soul Music. Name a better person to voice Death than Christopher Lee, I defy you.
Soul Music is a superb book, but I find that whenever I read it now, it’s the animation that springs to mind. Excellently scored with a range of styles spanning decades of culturally significant (or at least culturally dominant) music styles. Watch, enjoy, and agree with me that more, many many more need to be made.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my top 10 picks, I know you’ll all have your own, and please do share your favourites with us in the comments down below. In the mean time it’s your turn to have your say in next week’s top 10 list!