I started listening to the Discworld audiobooks in the winter of 2017. Three-and-a-half years later, I have completed the the 41st book in the series, the last book published before Terry Pratchett’s untimely death.
I initially confused Discworld with a different book I saw on my brother’s bookshelf as a child — Ringworld or something like that. The cover had someone riding a dragon and an island city floating in the clouds? I didn’t expect the humorous wizzarding antics of Rincewind in the first novel at all, but it was a refreshing change of pace and escape from current events, so I settled in for a good long listen thinking it would be some good fun.
Humor is not the whole of these books, though. The insights to come caused me to pause the audiobook at several points, rewind, replay, and then pause again so I could think for a bit, completely taken aback at the insight Pratchett just threw at me. Across the scope of the world he created, the author explores a wide variety of topics, from philosophy and religion, gender and sexual identity, science and language, the role of police in society, racism, artificial intelligence, war, exploration, the effects of industrialization and the advancement of technology, musical history, theatre, and on and on.
There is in truth no past, only a memory of the past. Blink your eyes, and the world you see next did not exist when you closed them. Therefore… the only appropriate state of the mind is surprise. The only appropriate state of the heart is joy. The sky you see now, you have never seen before. The perfect moment is now. Be glad of it.Thief of Time
He riffs on folktales and modern history alike as a jazz musician plays with melody and rhythm, twisting and distorting what we know to have happened with what could have if parts of our world seeped into the world of The Disc and landed on curious and unprepared minds.
These are not thinly veiled lectures with the author proselytizing from a pulpit. Instead, he shows us a mirror, and through his character’s observations and actions, points out a few things we may not have noticed about ourselves, our history, and our language.
Discworld is a world, and a mirror of worlds.The Last Continent
He dissects the English language with the dexterity of a surgeon and explores how events evolve into myth, legend, and folklore and then are forgotten. He digs them back up, slaps a fresh coat of paint on them, and gives them context and purpose in a modern world.
He celebrates the entertainment of fantasy while making fun of its overused tropes — the life of a hero, the reader’s expectations of a high-fantasy adventure, the scantness of a woman’s armor. On the surface, a witch looks very much like the witches we’ve been taught to expect, but what makes Discworld such an amazing achievement never lies on the surface.
Whenever I find myself at the end of a long series of books I end up with a bittersweet feeling and a void. I can go back for a re-read and catch things I missed on the first go, but I’m sad that there won’t be anymore Discworld books. There’s an emptiness of what would have been written.
The final book speaks to this in the afterward, describing the years Terry Pratchett lived with the knowledge that he would soon die, and of the focus and determination that this brought to his writing. But he covered that, too. Death and our relationship with him, was described in great detail throughout the series and remains one of my favorite characters.
“That’s not fair, you know. If we knew when we were going to die, people would live better lives.”Reaper Man
“IF PEOPLE KNEW WHEN THEY WERE GOING TO DIE, I THINK THEY PROBABLY WOULDN’T LIVE AT ALL.”
I have never read anything quite like this, and while I’m sure my friends are sick of me recommending these books, I can’t help it. I realize 41 books is a commitment, but I think they’ll be better off for it. I know I am.
I think these books are important. I want my children to read these. I want my wife to read these. I want my parents to read these. I want to talk to someone about this stuff who gets it. I want to reminisce about moments both funny and profound. I want to have deep conversations at the pub about metaphysical quandaries regarding the speed of light and the speed of dark. I want to share this with someone!
I don’t know how to end this, so I’ll just say that through these books, Pratchett has been a comfort, a like mind, and a friend in dark times. I’m glad to have shared his headspace for awhile.
“Do you not know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken?”Going Postal
GNU Terry Pratchett.