How to Read Terry Pratchetts’ Discworld

Can you believe I have never done a Pratchett blog post? It is insane. But this journey of mine with discovering Terry’s writings has surprisingly become highly personal. If you follow me on Instagram you will know I am a Pratchett-Pusher. I can recommend all different books of his that satisfy different themes and genres. There is a lot to love about this under-dog author. He was Knighted for his services to literature, pretty good for a highschool drop out. His 3rd Discworld book won feminist awards, where he accepted them in a baffled manner questioning why a female author had not won the award. He was deeply interested in folklore, the progressions of science, and nature. This is evident through out all his books, creating rich highly realised worlds. His characters laugh at fantasy and science fiction tropes, with his early books calling out ridiculous features of these genres like chain mail bikini’s or lisping geeky Asian characters. But as his books progress, he begins to move away from the satire he used in the past the challenge readers and other authors but starts to call the spade a goddam-fucking spade. Characters like Tiffany Aching, and Sam Vimes, and Granny Weatherwax evolve into these complex masterpieces who allow him to advocate for his opinions on human rights, equality, equity, racism, classism and prejudice.

I. Was. Not. Prepared. Pratchett was woke way before other white folks realised they should be as well. He worked through his writing to wake people the fuck up to what was happening around them and stop being complacent. I have only been reading Pratchett since 2014, but he has now become my most owned author (78 books and counting). I still have the October 2018 release of the Discworld Library books to collect, more companion books, the Small Gods graphic novel, the other 4 Science of Discworld books… It is a collector’s journey and one I am happy to fill my book case with.

What folks say most often to me is WHERE DO I START? He has so many titles, so which ones fall into the Discworld universe, and which ones are stand alone? Is Good Omens everything that people say it is? Who is the BEST DISCWORLD CHARACTER? Tough questions. I think what I will do is create a series of posts, one per week to start dealing with this stuff. What I will offer now is likely places to start IF YOU WANT TO PURSUE DISCWORLD. There are many other ways to read Pratchett but I will not go into them here.

Option One, pursue a character that interests you most. Yes yes I am not recommending starting chronologically. Discworld books have been getting published for like 40 years, give or take. The more an author writes the more they improve. Pratchett himself says that latter books make better starting points as Discworld was more realised, it wasn’t just his joke on fantasy any more… it was becoming a rich and vivid world inhabited by interesting characters. If you like police serials, race relations, dwarves and trolls, you can not beat The City Watch Collection. Sam Vimes is this Clint Eastwood type who outsmarts the villains and occasionally has to beat them to a pulp. You watch him battle addiction, handle gender and race relations within the City Watch and his home of Ankh-Morpork, and fall in love balancing that with a stressful career and a volatile city. I think the best starting place is Men at Arms.

Men at Arms is the Second City Watch book and the 15th Discworld book. Guards! Guards! is the first City Watch book but I feel that Men at Arms is a better example of Terry’s writing, Sam’s character development and the reversal of overused fantasy tropes. Guards! Guards! does have dragons tbf, but Men at Arms has werewolves, trolls and dwarves.

It doesn’t stop there though, as Discworld is filled with amazing and varied characters.

Option Two, read the Tiffany Aching sequence. These books I believe are his best work. They are incredible and among my favourite books. I HAVE NOT READ THE SHEPHERDS CROWN YET. Do not spoil it for me if you have. That said I already sorta know what will happen. UGH. The Tiffany books were written and published towards the latter part of the Discworld collection. The 5 books are Terry’s best work. They deal with a variety of complex issues and follow Tiffany from a young child to adulthood. Aimed at a target audience of middle grade readers the reading age increases with Tiffany. THEY HAVE CHAPTERS. Have I mentioned not all of Terry’s books have chapters? It can be hard when you first begin your Discworld journey to pick where to place your book mark for the night. My advice is the take a paragraph break. They often switch to a different scene or character so it’s the most coherent choice.  The Tiffany Aching Sequence can be read chronologically, as well as on their own. You can invest in them and not feel ripped off by not reading other Discworld books. I doubt you will want to stop there though. They are quite good. The paper back of the Wee Free Men has new incredible art by Laura Ellen Anderson, an author in her own right and talented illustrator. Long time fans will recognise the Paul Kidby Art as the featured image, and he illustrated the original editions as well as the stunning gift editions, (which include maps of the Chalk as the end pages so seriously, they are an investment.)

If you need more convincing, Tiffany turns faerie tale tropes on their heads, works hard to become a witch, rescues her brother from faerie land even though he is annoying and sticky, has the anthropomorphic personification of Wintertime fall in love with her, reads dictionaries from start to finish because she didn’t realise you shouldn’t, and has a fleet of pictsie like folk work with her (tiny kilts and all). These might sound like lighthearted coming of age stories but you know what, they give me chills. Every time I think Pratchett has outdone himself, I am astounded at the themes dealt with in each new book I read and come away changed, knowing more about myself and the world.

Option Three, DEATH of Discworld. These are the books I collected after reading two Discworld books that left me a little confused (not good starting points.) DEATH is one of the most beloved Discworld characters and for good reason. He empathises with humans, finds them interesting and intriguing and is a comfort to those who have experienced death or are on deaths’ door. Many a reader with terminal illness wrote to Terry describing how his DEATH character comforted them. I for one hope he greets me like an old friend the day I die. It would not be so bad. ALSO SPOOKY COOL SKELETON DUDE LIVING IN A HOMEMADE GOTHIC BUBBLE-UNIVERSE. Where everything is black and shades of purple and grey, covered in skulls and filled with the scent… of… fried food? Yes DEATH has a human manservant, someone unlikely who resides there to help keep him on track. Because DEATH wants a day off, or an apprentice, or to become a MUSIC WITH ROCKS IN IT STAR or to spend more time with his Granddaughter who is like a cross between Wednesday Addams and Magenta from Rocky Horror.

There are 5 key DEATH books. Mort. Reaper Man. Soul Music. Hogfather (also a well loved yuletide film) and Thief of Time. The stories often focus on the humans of Discworld like Mort or Susan Sto Helit his Granddaughter.

Option Four, the Witch Trilogy. There are many many Witch books in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. Aside from the Tiffany Aching sequence there are witch stories which follow Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Magrat Garlic and later Agnes Nitt a voluptuous plus sized vocalist with a split personality. There is a trilogy within these books however. Wyrd Sisters, Witches Abroad and  Lords and Ladies. Lords and Ladies is one of my favourite Pratchett works. It was powerful, heart breaking and really drew on Irish folklore to discuss the gentry. Oh boy. These 3 books are awesome introductions to the Witches of Lancre, Pratchett’s writing and Discworld. It features cameo’s from DEATH and the Wizards of Discworld (who will feature in a totally different post).

Option Five, Chronological read… Well if that’s the way you swing than who am I to discourage you. You will watch Terry’s writing improve, his world building expand, his activism and opinions surface. It might take 5 books to really appreciate his writing as his early books are a little odd. For example… The Colour of Magic … THERE IS NO WRONG WAY TO READ DISCWORLD. (Just don’t read The Shepherds Crown first…) I think selecting a book randomly is THE MOST FUN but I will be embarking on my first chronological reread from April/May onwards. I have always read them randomly and pursued it at a leisurely pace but I get that lots of people enjoy the feeling of reading things in publication order. No issues there.

Hopefully this has given you some ideas on where to start. There is always more than meets the eye with a Pratchett book. There are wars and battles and folklore and MAGIC and demons and monsters and DEATH. There is a Faust retelling, Macbeth retelling, Cinder-fucking-rella retelling… No wonder this man was Knighted. Watch this space for more Pratchett Posts, and Book Bro posts about him and Gaiman. (feature image art by Paul Kidby; Dree Your Wyrd.)


12 thoughts on “How to Read Terry Pratchetts’ Discworld

  1. This is such an in-depth analysis of which road you could go to the Discworld on. You’ve done all the work for a novice 🙂

    Sir P is indeed a phenomenon of a person and I’m so glad I discovered him.

    I need the Witches Trilogy so badly after reading this haha ♥

    Liked by 1 person

      1. No. I’ve only read Equal Rites, Maskerade and Carpe Jugulum which feature the coven prominently and came to love them through that. But there were bits missing obvs, like how Magrat became queen 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Perfect. The next time I’m trying to convince a new Pratchett fan I’ll just direct them this way and then stand there staring pointedly at them until they pick an option and go for it.


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