Some time back in the 1980s, before Games Workshop started suffering from delusions of grandeur, their monthly magazine published an excerpt from The Colour of Magic. It was fantasy like nothing I’d ever encountered before. It was funny while still being fantasy! It had characters with punderful names, almost drawn straight from the Asterix comics, creatures that would not have been out of place in Lord of the Rings, wizards, and a magic box that ran around on hundreds of legs and ate people. It was, in short, genius. I had to have it – and every book from the author, just plain Terry Pratchett back then.
I COULD LEND YOU A VERY FAST HORSE
The Colour of Magic established a series that would run for decades. It introduced us to Death, IN ALL HIS BLACK-ROBED GLORY, Unseen University, the venerable twin cities of Ankh and Morpork, Cut-me-own-throat Dibbler, Trolls whose brains are supercomputers when chilled, witches, assassins, a librarian with a somewhat limited vocabulary and a love of bananas, vampires going cold-turkey, golems, Dwarfs, the Patrician, Moist von Lipwig, goblins… and that’s just scratching the surface of a flat world, carried on the back of four elephants, walking their eternal trail on the back of a giant turtle as it swims through space. All perfectly logical, when you think about it.
Curry with meat: 10p Curry with Named meat: 15p
The world Sir Terry Pratchett created, the Discworld, proceeded to fill a couple of books a year ever since. Through the lens of this wonderfully funny fantasy we’ve explored race relations, the impact of technological advances on society, life and death, religion, music, sport… It was a world driven by the rules of Story, of Narrative Inevitability, and influenced by every idea sleeting through the universe around it.
Many series suffer when they get past the opening trilogy. Much as I love The Dresden Files, the amount of copy/paste that goes on explaining how magic works to the new user is frustrating. Although the events of one book often influence the direction the story takes the next you meet up with those particular characters, that feeling of “Yes, yes, I know all this, get on with it” never came up.
The Colossus of Ankh? I’ve got it here somewhere
Part of what kept the Discworld novels fresh was the changing cast of characters. One novel would focus on the Wizards, either the inept Rincewind or the equally inept but much better fed and paid Arch-chancellor and his minions, the Witches in the form of Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg (single entendres and proud) and sundry & diverse others, the Night Watch (Sam Vimes, Corporal Carrot, Sergeant Colon and Corporal Nobbs), Moist von Lipwig (If you want something done quickly, give it to a busy man), Death (and his grand-daughter, Susan), Cohen the geriatric barbarian and his horde… From one book to the next the story changed focus and brought more of the world to life. And the lead characters from one book guest-star in others along with a Disc-wide cast of recurring characters.
Show us your best ninj.
If you line up all the Discworld novels end to end, you can point to almost any one of them and say “Ah, but this is where the story really starts.” Of course, The Colour of Magic introduces the world and gets it all going. But Mort gives us the first proper outing of Death. Equal Rites introduces the witches. Guards, Guards! kicks things off for Sam Vimes and the Watch and, arguably, is where Ankh Morpork’s technological advancement starts.
One-off novels like Pyramids, Monstrous Regiment and Small Gods take the focus away from the main characters and shine a light on other areas of the Disc. The entire pantheon of Egyptian-themed deities playing a game of American football with the sun, commentary by a high-priest of an god with no interest in solar matters (“Yes, but why are you shouting into that bullrush?”). A camel called You Bastard with an exceptional grasp of theoretical mathematics. Fish and chips – for men.
Thunder rolled. It rolled a six.
My kids have howled with laughter at Where’s My Cow? a book about reading one book, which turns into another… That reminds me, I need a new copy of that. His works for children are just as funny, just as sharp, just as enduring, as anything he’s written for adults.
Good Omens, his collaboration with Neil Gaiman, is the book I’d take to a desert island, given the choice. If you’ve not read that one, or listened to the Radio 4 adaptation broadcast over Christmas, you’ve missed out, hugely.
Where is the flaming sword which was given unto thee?
Long story short, Sir Terry Pratchett’s books have been a part of my life for as long as I’ve known my wife. I’ll miss his wit, his invention, his ability to take a single sentence and make me laugh years after first reading it, to fill a book with some of the most contrived puns I’ve heard outside of I’m Sorry, I Haven’t a Clue (Yes, Soul Music, I’m looking at you here.)
There’s nothing wrong with this leopard, it’s just a little deaf.
He’s also one of the few authors to reduce me to tears, an experience I suspect I share with many of those who watched his Dimbleby lecture on Alzheimers and assisted dying, delivered by Tony Robinson from his script.
The death of Sir Terry this week closes the door on this chapter of the Discworld. From what I read, his daughter Rhianna will be taking on the mantle and continuing the series – in print and on TV as there is a CSI:Ankh Morpork in the works for the BBC. His final 3 tweets were beautiful.
Rest in peace, and take with you the knowledge that you have achieved immortality through your works. And say Hi to Douglas Adams.
I leave you with perhaps my favourite quote of all:
Right. So I’ve only got blue left.