Terry Pratchett and the Discworld

The day after Terry Pratchett death wrote about the effect a man I had never met had on my life.  I also made a decision, I decided to go back and read every single Discworld book.  It could be argued reading them in order of publication is not the best way to do it, but it is what I decided to do.  Nearly eight months later I, this morning, finished The Shepherd’s Crown, his final work and the one which will end the Discworld series.  41 books later and I’m honestly not sure what I will read next but before I make that decision I want to talk about these books.

One thing that is clear from the start is that Pratchett’s skill as a writer is always there, but you can see it grow as the years pass by.  The Discworld starts as a mesh of ideas and slowly grows into a place that feels as alive as my next door neighbour (or at least when I last checked on them).  His stories are filled with recurring themes, in the broadest sense how we live our life and how we approach our deaths, but also focus on the small and seemingly trivial.  Popular entertainment like football and cinema are given the treatment of Pratchett’s wit with as much care and joy as huge ideas like slavery and democracy.  Sir Terry was smart, smarter than any stuck up Guardian columnist could ever realise.

Yet what makes these books really magic is their willingness to be exactly what Terry wanted them to be.  He never bowed down to said pricks and instead wrote what he loved and what his fan loved.  For every great observation, there is an equally childish pun.  For every beautifully constructed idea, there is a short footnote, introducing some small facet of Discworld life never to be heard of again.  For every Sam Vimes theory on economics, there is a Nobby Nobbs and Fred Colon reflection on what makes art, art.  Right from the start Sir Terry embraces fantasy and silliness and while it may have excluded him from some high-brow literary circles, it has cemented his place in many others hearts.

Now before I started this small quest I had read most of the Discworld books, but I didn’t own them all.  Some I had missed full-stop and others had been lent to people or left in hotel rooms across the world.  So this also became a rediscovery for me.  Characters that at a younger age I had less time for now rang more true and stories that I previously dismissed suddenly became my favourites.  I think this was most obvious in the witches.  Granny Weatherwax and friends did not hold the excitement of a Sam Vimes to a young Stuart and they were always my second choice.  However, in rediscovering them I realised that I was wrong.  Granny Weatherwax embodies the Discworld.  Curmudgeonly and prideful, she is flawed but at her heart a good person and she tries desperately to be exactly that.

Which is why The Shepherd’s Crown feels like the perfect ending.  A book that opens with the passing of Granny Weatherwax.  And of course, it isn’t finished.  You can tell.  There are stories that are hinted at but never told and many sections lack the sparkle that made Pratchett come to life.  But that doesn’t matter.  Because in other ways it represents everything that makes the Discworld work.  The idea of doing a good job no matter how hard it can be and that people, no matter their background, are basically not that bad.  It feels like a fitting end, the first draft or not.

As I grew close to the end I had a small romantic notion that maybe I wouldn’t read the last chapter.  That maybe if I stopped then there would always be a small part of the Discworld that I had never been in and which would remain a mystery.  Of course, I realised this was daft and finished it anyway because sometimes things to end.  The rights to the book have passed to Terry’s daughter Rhianna and she has said there will be no more.  They may be adapted for other mediums, and I pity any director given that task, but the Discworld as a story is over.

Except of course it’s not really.  In my head, it’s still trundling on.  Vetinari’s undertaking continues and Sam Vimes prowls the dark streets giving justice to those who need it.  Tiffany Aching is on the Chalk and Rincewind is probably running away from something.  While Death is, of course, eternal.  Because to me the Discworld is a real place and even when the stories aren’t told it hasn’t stopped.  I’ll always have the books.  I will read them when I’m happy and I’ll read them when I’m sad and even though I’ve essentially overdosed on them in the last few months I would not bet against me going back once more before the year is done.  This was my way of saying goodbye to the work of Terry Pratchett and instead it reminded me that that is something I will never be able to do.

One thought on “Terry Pratchett and the Discworld

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  1. Completely agree with what you have written Stuart! His writing evolved so much over the years, and Granny is my favorite too! Nanny Ogg is her perfect foil. I had new found appreciation for Rincewind on re-reading (another theme I agree with you on). For me ‘literature’, or ‘good writing’ is what I am happy to re-read and what holds different messages as we evolve. Thanks for sharing your insights.
    PS. I have not read Shepherd’s Crown for the exact same reason you did not want to finish the last chapter. It is my way of holding on.

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