How Discworld Novels Helped Us Through Rough Times

The 40+ Discworld Novels of Sir Terry Pratchett and biography written by Marc Burrows

In 2021, I found Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Reading Order Guide 3.0* and realized I’d read only 17 of the 40+ Discworld books. My science advisor (husband) was looking for something to read, so I suggested Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. Some of these books have descriptions of magical time and space dilation (perhaps even quantum mechanics), which I found screamingly funny. Now that I had a roadmap to read all the books, I proposed doing it together.

I handed my husband Guards! Guards!, beginning his journey through Discworld with the Watch Novels. This book starts one of the lists or paths recommended by the author on the graphic order guide. I only had 17 of the novels, so I was buying two to five paperbacks at a time and staying ahead of him by skipping books I’d already read (he reads faster than I do). We stayed with novels and ignored children’s, science, and illustrated books, as well as short stories.

Going through Discworld using the recommended order of books helped us keep a grip on Pratchett’s vast world, so I really recommend using the reading lists.

What are my favorite Discworld reading lists, novels, and characters?

I know my favorite novel list and then it gets hard to prioritize. It’s a three-way tie for both second and third place:

  • Watch Novels
  • Industrial Revolution
  • Death Novels
  • Witches Novels
  • Rincewind Novels (I had the original Science Fiction Book Club editions for the first three in this list–yes, I got them in the 80s!)
  • Ancient Civilizations
  • Tiffany Aching (YA is a hard sell for me because lots of fantasy YA has poor world-building. But this was Pratchett and these novels were done after Discworld was well established, so no problem. My husband, though, couldn’t get through the first book. However, one of my favorite novels is in this list.)

Boiling down my favorite novels is even harder. Here’s the smallest list I could make:

  • Night Watch (Watch Novels, and my absolute favorite)
  • Guards! Guards! (Watch Novels)
  • Going Postal (Industrial Revolution)
  • Thud! (Watch Novels)
  • Making Money (Industrial Revolution)
  • Maskerade (Witches Novels)
  • Hogfather (Death Novels)
  • Equal Rites (Rincewind Novels)
  • The Shepherd’s Crown (Tiffany Aching; When I read the dedication “To Esmerelda Weatherwax–mind how you go,” I knew what would happen. This is the last Discworld book that Sir Terry Pratchett wrote.)

For my favorite characters, however, I’m not giving you a list. There’s going to be crossword and word search puzzles that have the names of my favorite characters.

What sort of rough times did we have?

2022 was so bad that it spilled over on both sides into December 2021 and January 2023. At the time I’m writing this on Feb 1st, I’m hoping that life will slow down. 2022 had way too many emergencies, too many calls in the night, too many rushes to get on clothing and out the door, etc.

Now when I say “rough times,” what we went through in 2022 may sound familiar to many people who have elderly parents (my father is 91 and my mother is 89, with dementia) and in-laws (my husband’s younger brother and sister in Louisiana) with health problems. I have already complained in the newsletter about our 2022 confluence of bad luck.

This post, however, is about the Discworld novels. In the beginning, we could leisurely read pages before going to sleep (oddly, none of the novels have chapters except the Tiffany Aching YA books). As the year progressed, we came to depend upon these stories to relax us and allow us to escape the craziness in our own lives. Every couple of pages had a sentence or two that might cause us to snicker aloud. Often, we’d read snippets of our stories to each other for laughs or, sometimes, for admiration of its relevency. See, Discworld is a mirror reflecting the absurdity of our own world. My husband enjoyed how the quirks of the Unseen University reminded him of his time at Oxford. The situations in Discworld are satirical of modern times. And, in 2022, absurdity ran rampant. Not just in our own spheres of influence but in government, media, corporations, law enforcement and crime. The Discworld novels allowed us to step back, gain some perspective, and laugh–sometimes.

When a nighttime call (from my Dad, from memory care, from EMTs, etc) woke me and I couldn’t get back to sleep, I’d pick up my Discworld novel and read for a while. I certainly did this during the weeks my husband and I tried to take care of my mother ourselves. I had night watch, so to speak, and had an alarm under my cot if she approached the front door of their apartment. If it went off, I’d have to jump up and catch her at the front door before she got out. She usually did this around 2:00 a.m. I’d have to argue with her about leaving and convince her to go back to bed. It was sometimes an hour before I was back to my cot and wide awake. Thank goodness for my current Discworld novel.

Want to Learn More About Sir Terry Pratchett?

I highly recommend the biography The Magic of Terry Pratchett, by Marc Burrows. It’s available at Amazon.com (3 formats), Barnes & Noble (3 formats), and Kobo (ebook only).

Pratchett’s whole life is covered in this book, so I’ll just provide a tidbit interesting to readers of fantasy. For a while, Terry Pratchett was Britain’s best-selling living author until J.K. Rowling caught up and surpassed him. The British press desperately tried to pit them against each other:

Occasional attempts to goad him into agreeing that Rowling had been influenced by the Discworld were always skilfully [sic] batted away. They were both, after all, fantasy writers. Neither had invented the idea of a school for wizards, and both were borrowing from the same sources–centuries of fiction about magic, mythical creatures and strange worlds.

Only once did Pratchett succumb to commenting about Rowling, based upon a June 2005 profile on Rowling by Time magazine. In it, she says that she wasn’t a fan of fantasy and hadn’t originally thought she was writing fantasy. Her work was a subversion of fantasy. This allowed Time to go off on a rant and say that, prior to Rowling, fantasy had been stuck in ‘an idealised, romanticised, pseudofeudal world where knights and ladies morris-dance to “Greensleeves”.’ Pratchett wrote a letter to The Sunday Times.

The letter focused largely on the Time feature itself, rather than Rowling specifically, but did include one undeniable broadside at the author–did someone writing a book about wizards, dragons and goblins really not think she was writing fantasy?

Unfortunately for Pratchett, this riled up the Rowling fans. But he had more things to worry about. As a writer, I was surprised to see how hard it was for him to break into the US market. I had bought some of his early books through the Science Fiction Book Club, apparently the only way he could sell them in the US for a while.

Also, many of you probably know that Pratchett died in 2015 from an obscure variant of Alzheimer’s Disease, called posterior cortical atrophy (PCA). It’s a particularly insidious variant and, at the time, very few doctors were familiar with it. The biography goes into the differences between the two, the difficulty of getting diagnosed properly, and why the British National Health Service (NHS) would not supply him with the necessary medications to slow it down. He was on his own and, luckily, an author who sold more than 85 million books had the ability to buy the drug on the private market. He was angry, though, about the “tens of thousands of patients” who couldn’t do that–so he allowed his disease and the NHS stand on the particular drug to be highly publicized. He also donated a million dollars to Alzheimer’s research. Because of him and his notoriety, PCA is much more recognizable and treatable today.

GNU Sir Terry Pratchett

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Resources

* Discworld Reading Order Guide 3.0. Credits: Krzysztof Kietzman, Jakov Olekstein, Diana Nock and others. All versions licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International. Wikimedia Commons has full size version and cropped version (can be printed and read on standard size paper).

Explanation of “GNU Sir Terry Pratchett” is at Urban Dictionary. Or you could read Going Postal (one of my favorites).

A great resource is the official Terry Pratchett Discworld site. They have an algorithm for choosing your first book. After I played with it, I realized they were producing the first book in each of the book lists I have above. You’ll still need the map to stay with the list you’ve started.

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