I mentioned before that I have an all-or-nothing approach to reading books where if I read the first in a series I’ll become obsessed and read them all. So way back in September of 2007 I was on holiday and picked up the first Discworld book by Terry Pratchett – a series of (currently) 36 books. I’d heard for years that they were pretty good but was always daunted by the fact that he’d been writing two of them a year for over 15 years so it would be a lot of work reading them all. No sooner had I read the first book – The Colour Of Magic – than I started the second and knew I was hooked.
So here I am 10 months later and I’ve just finished the 22nd book in the series! As you can see from the picture that’s quite a lot of books. I’ve been buying them from Amazon Marketplace for a pound and have really enjoyed them.
I’ve not been much of a fan of fantasy novels but the thing that appeals to me about the Discworld books – apart from the humour which has made me laugh out loud many times – is the way Pratchett uses the fantasy world he’s created as a way of making you think about our world and the things we accept and consider normal. In a reality where the world sits on the back of four elephants standing on top of a giant space turtle, where magic, a Guild of Assassins, witches, flying carpets, a scythe carrying Death with a dark sense of humour and the Death of rats is normal, he manages to show how chaotic and senseless our world often is.
For instance any member of the Guild of Thieves who robs you makes sure to leave you a receipt (which you can present to another member to ensure you don’t get robbed too frequently) but anybody committing a robbery who’s not a guild member or breaks the guild rules can be assured of an early “retirement” at the hands of the guild. Where crime is organised and self-governing people know where they stand and don’t have to live in fear. It’s crazy, but not as crazy as the world in which we live.
Pratchett is very good at making observations about the belief system of us humans, how we make sense of the world and how our imagination is what brings things into existence. In Hogfather he talks about how as children we have to believe in little lies like the Toothfairy and the Hogfather (a somewhat rougher version of Father Christmas) so that when we grow up we can believe in the big lies like justice and mercy. If we don’t believe in them – despite not being able to show any evidence that they exist – then how do we make them come to be? Once you get past the magic, the trolls, the elves (who’re evil in his world), etc. you realise that Pratchett is a keen observer of the human condition.
The books centre on the city of Ankh Morpork and the people who live in and around it. While you don’t have to read the books in sequence you do feel some progression of the various characters as they come in and out of the story lines. Death – probably the most interesting character – starts off as the cold grim reaper but as he watches humans he starts to grow fond of them, tries to better understand them and changes through the series (I was going to say he ‘warms to them’ but that wouldn’t really fit the image of a tall skeleton in a black robe!).
How Pratchett manages to come up with fresh and interesting stories for each book I don’t know – it’s an incredible feat of writing. But I’m still enjoying them and looking forward to catching up to him in the next year. He may be able to write two books a year but I can read a lot more than that!