Who hasn’t heard of the Discworld?
Oh you haven’t! Where have you been? The Dungeon Dimensions, Fourex, Brigadoon?
So here it is folks, Discworld for beginners.
It would be wrong to say that the Discworld series are a collection of novels, plays, animations, badges, maps, audio books, radio broadcasts, cookbooks, calendars, diaries, sculptures, quiz books, portfolios and t-shirts. Well not wrong exactly, just too clumsy. In truth with the Discworld author Terry Pratchett created a phenomenon. So just what is the Discworld, and why is it so popular?
Imagine the deep dark recesses of space. Imagine a pinprick moving amongst the stars. Look closer and see that the pinprick is in fact a turtle; a very large turtle. A gigantic turtle called Great A’tuin. Look on the turtles back, standing on his, or her, shell are four massive elephants, and on their backs in turn, is a large flat disc. Look at the disc, no it’s not a pizza of planetary size; look closer and you will see mountains, rivers, seas, islands and continents. This is the Discworld.
Well, who would live on a world like this? Quite simply, people like you and me, worryingly like you and me, trolls, dwarves, gods, imps, werewolves, wizards (and at least one wizzard) and witches.
The stories told by the Discworld series are nothing special, they are for the most part simply stories with heroes, villains, magic and loads of people who get in the way or, in the case of the Ankh Morepork City Watch based stories, get killed in interesting ways. What makes the stories different from all the rest are the characters that are involved and the locations visited.
Take for example Ankh Morepork (in fact I could do you a good deal on the city, just A$ 1M and its yours), known as the Big Wahoonie, and comprised of the once proud city of Ankh and its slobby cousin Morepork. Separated by the R. Ankh, the only river that you can walk across without the aid of ice, the city is ruled by the Patrician, Lord Vetinari, who IS NOT A DICTATOR, but somehow manages to balance the powers of the City Guilds, with the needs of the people and the hazards of running the biggest city-state on the Disc; he does this by letting all the concerned parties plot and scheme amongst themselves, while making sure that each one would find itself in a weaker position should the Patrician be ‘retired.’ The city is the home of a vast population of people and a growing ethnic population of dwarves, trolls and the undead.
The city is policed by the City Watch, under the command of Sam Vimes, an incorruptible officer of the state, who believes in the law, and isn’t afraid to break it to enforce it. Directly under him is Carrot Ironfoundersson, the discs tallest dwarf, a foundling who was brought up by dwarves and who just happens to possess all the qualifications to be the missing heir of the city. Though everyone knows the city monarchy died out (thanks largely to one of Vimes’ ancestors who executed the last king). Carrot’s right-hand woman, and partner, is sergeant Angua, who also happens to be a werewolf. The Watch is an equal opportunities employer, human, troll, dwarf, golem, zombie, Corporal Nobbs (officially human) – all are welcome.
While the Watch is the police force, much of the actual policing is done by the guilds themselves, thus illegal clowning is dealt with by the Fools’ Guild (err, my dues are in the post, honest), uncertified begging is dealt with by the Beggars’ Guild, and illegal robbery is dealt with by the Theives’ Guild, which is why it is very important to get your receipt from your robber. Often it is the interaction between these guilds, Vetinari and the Watch that provides most of the fun.
The city is also the home of Unseen University, home and school of wizards and technically subject to the Patrician’s authority – just don’t mention it in front of the High Chancellor. The university is staffed by a weird bunch (what is the collective noun for a group of wizards? A charm, a spell or, more likely, a lunch) including the Bursar, who retains his grip on sanity, sometimes, by imbibing untold dried frog pills, the librarian, once human but now quite happy to be an orang-utan, Ponder Stibbons and his creation Hex, the Disc’s first computer and sometimes Rincewind, wizzard, lover of mashed potato and blessed with a hyperactive survival instinct (coward? No cowards here, look there he goes…..)
Outside of the city, past the cabbage fields and up in the Ramtop Mountains, you come to the little kingdom of Lancre. This is witch country, indeed the queen was once part of the local coven, and home to Nanny Ogg, much married and well travelled, Nanny is author of the Joy of Snacks (banned in most countries, even from being sold in plain brown wrappings) and a rather jolly cookbook and guide to etiquette (you can buy this, even if you don’t cook its worth the read). Just outside Lancre, down Bad Ass way, you come to the cottage of Granny Weatherwax, the witch by which all other witches compare themselves. Granny is powerful, but so far has remained just this side of cackling. Rounding out the coven is Perdita (real name Agnes) X Nitt, a junior witch in training (she gets to make the tea, and get in the way of Granny and Nanny when they are both right about something, but in opposite ways).
The witches of the Disc, particularly Granny and Nanny, are often held up by modern Pagans as examples of just what traditional witchcraft is all about. I am not going to argue and indeed recommend them as reading for all Pagans out there.
As you can see the cast available to the honourable Mr Pratchett, is large and varied, it also grows with each book. While the characters alone are a source of enjoyment, the stories themselves are, especially as the series has progressed, deadly serious and often reflect the bigger picture of the real world. As such many books contain a message, but delivered in a very enjoyable and often chuckle inducing way.
Oh there is one player we must mention; Death. Death, in common with many other concepts on the Disc is a being. Seen as a tall skeleton with a hooded robe and extremely sharp scythe (swords for royalty), Death lives in his own domain (large house, large grounds, skeletal fish in the pool, lots of hour glass and omega designs and everything coloured in shades of black or bone-white) with his servant Albert (greasy fry ups a speciality) and lately the Death of Rats (rodent skeleton with robe and scythe, performs the Duty for rats, also mice, hamsters and probably shrews). Death rides a white horse called ‘Binky’ and is fond of both cats and curry (though not in the same way). Death always does the Duty, except in those instances that fall to the Death of Rats. Death’s granddaughter (it’s a long story) Susan, a teacher and sometimes governess, has been known to step in, reluctantly, on those few occasions when Death has been inconvenienced. Death always speaks in capitals and is not unkind, just inevitable.
To be honest I could write books on the Discworld, so rather than bore you any further
(Oy!! Wake up at the back!!) I will instead refer you to the excellent L-Space website.