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Review: Discworld by Terry Pratchett

By / June 3, 2011 / no comments

The Discworld is an immense series of comedy fantasy novels by British author Sir Terry Pratchett set on a flat world held up by four elephants and pulled along by a great space turtle. They are hugely popular and include recurring characters such as vengeful gods, a failed wizard, the first ever tourist, his ever present luggage, Death and his Granddaughter Susan. They range in their settings, some set in war torn and uncivilized continents whilst others in the more magical kingdoms overseen by gods and monsters.

Now, is a bit of a review on the ENTIRE series as a whole, rather than a specific novel.

As a rule the various Discworld novels stand separate from one another, some following a character chronologically as they partake in random and unfathomable adventures, whilst others tell more independent stories of singular characters and experiences. Pratchett’s first novel in the Discworld series, The Colour of Magic, was published in 1983.

The books are steeped in cliché and parody many fantasy and literature tropes as part of their comic edge. References to famous works – including Shakespeare and Beatrix Potter – major world events, historical battles and contemporary culture pepper all these books and are written in such a way as to mock the more conservative and traditional ideals of Western society. Novels such as Making Money parody the business and economic world, whilst Soul Music takes several swipes at rock music and fame. The characters are larger than life – or death in some cases – and filled to bursting with personality. Death has a particular love of cats, whilst the failed wizard Rincewind has been possessed by an impotent spell, neither of which facts has any particular impact on the arcs and narratives of these stories, but are so well engrained in the characters that regular readers will spot even the slightest of mentions.

Much of this is due to Pratchett’s excellent writing skills. His ability to build a world so intricate and detailed yet hectic and unpredictable it has seen him likened many a time to J.R.R Tolkien and his world of Middle Earth. Like Tolkien Pratchett’s writing also flows gracefully through each book; unbroken by chapters and unbidden by huge mysterious, it simply glides from one strange coincidence and odd incident to the next, collimating in acts of unparalleled heroism, mystifying magic and terrifying danger.

The beauty of Pratchett’s world – the ever stinking river of Ankh Morpork – and the effortless likeability of his characters – Rincewinds distain of bravery – have led to the Discworld becoming one of the most popular book series in existence. New releases often sprint to the top of bestselling lists, whilst film, radio and TV adaptations of the stories run riot across alternative mediums. Pratchett’s popularity seems never to wane, and understandably so, as I have yet to read a Discworld book I haven’t liked.

Pratchett often seems to write almost poetically, the rhythm of his words and the structure of the novels causing the pages to ease by. Whilst being long enough to hold an intriguing story the books also know when to stop and a redundant story line or unimportant character can be dropped with a single sharp and witty sentence.

Of course not every book is of Pratchett’s highest standards, his universally most popular stories being those involving Rincewind and Death, such as The Colour of Magic, Eric and Mort. Many believe that his earlier novels far exceed the more recent productions, yet Pratchett has stated that he has “a few more books left in him”.  As a series the book’s biggest flaw is its consistency. Some books are hilarious, and these tend to be the ones with the strongest and most long lived characters, whilst any deviation from this often seems a little disappointing. The other characters seem simply to pail in compression. Oftentimes the jokes can seem a little repetitive; as there are only so many ways you can mock a single character or belittle a theory. Sometimes this makes the jokes seem predictable and they stick out like a sore thumb in the normally fluid text.

The more recent books criticisms aside, the series continues to please most readers. Aimed at the “young adult” audience the books have been read by many much older than this and Pratchett has even written several children’s books which have been similarly as popular.

Some readers may find that the books fail to capture the true nature of fantasy writing, making magic and monsters seem frivolous and subsequently spoiling the epic potential of some of the stories. These are books to be read with a cool head and a light heart; you will not find stories of damsels and heroes between these pages unless she turns out to be a gold-digger and he a violent fool. If approached correctly this premise sparkles with originality and wit. Yet some will find it far from satisfying to their literary taste buds.

If such parodies, as are popular across various mediums these days, do interest you however then Pratchett’s work will certainly please. They are easy reads with just enough substance and an indulgent use of metaphors and mockery yet the strength and likeability of the characters carry the stories through their most ridiculous arcs and back into what can almost resemble a sensible ending.

The books seem to strike the balance between narrative and comedy perfectly, not taking themselves too seriously. Barely a paragraph goes by without a titter of inner laughter, although they are hardly books to split your sides. The comedy is intelligent and often comes with having read other books in the Discworld series.

It is quite the commitment to decide to read the Discworld series as much of the enjoyment comes from reading more than one book. Yet the characters and world is addictive and you find yourself searching for the next novel soon after closing the first. They are books that are loved by many but will have little impact on your life and philosophies, they are unlike many fantasy series as they are not epic stories of knights and monsters yet they have stayed (relatively) consistently popular for almost thirty years, it takes more than some fly by night comedy or exuberant myth to withstand demand as high as that.

About the author

Ben

Blog editor, admin and founder of BestFantasyBooks.comYou'll find me on the BestFantasyBook forums and spending my spare time reading fantasy books and writing lists for this site. In fact, I have no spare time -- running this site IS my spare time!

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