Tuesday 17 March 2015

In Memoriam: Sir Terry Pratchett. Discworld Highlights

With about forty books in the series, it is very difficult to do justice to the best bits of Terry Pratchett's Discworld, but here I go with a small selection of my personal favourite bits. Of course my lists will be far from exhaustive, and if you think I've missed out something special, please do let me know in the comments below!

Katie's Top 10 Discworld Books

  1. Night Watch: In which Samuel Vimes, commander of the City Watch, finds himself in his own past, tracking down a dangerous criminal and having to guide himself through a turbulent time in Ankh-Morpork's history. But all he wants is to get home to his wife and newborn baby.
  2. Reaper Man: Death is missing. Presumed... gone.
  3. Maskerade: The Discworld's take on opera and musical theatre in general, and The Phantom of the Opera in particular.
  4. Guards! Guards!: This is where the Discworld series Gets Really Good. Introducing Samuel Vimes, Carrot Ironfoundersson, and many other beloved characters. Also, there are dragons.
  5. Hogfather: The Discworld Christmas Special. The Hogfather (similar to our Santa) goes missing, and a most unlikely substitute steps in, with hilarious results.
  6. Monstrous Regiment: One of the stand-alones. In a far-off country, a band of recruits join a long-running war. But they all have secrets, and all are running to or from something...
  7. Men At Arms: In which the City Watch starts to expand, and faces new challenges.
  8. Feet of Clay: Another City Watch book, concerning golems, and a dwarf defying cultural norms. 
  9. Going Postal: A criminal is offered a choice: execution or rescuing the Ankh-Morpork Post Office.
  10. Carpe Jugulum: Concerning vampires.

Katie's Top 10 Discworld Characters

Lord Vetinari, by Paul Kidby

  1. Lord Havelock Vetinari: The Patrician and tyrant of Ankh-Morpork. Cold, sinister and morally ambiguous. Somehow he always seems to be masterminding and working towards the same ends as our heroes, but that doesn't necessarily make him a good guy. Certainly not a nice guy.
  2. DEATH: The archetypal Grim Reaper. Skeleton, robe, scythe... horse called Binky, granddaughter Susan, lover of cats, and COULD MURDER A CURRY.
  3. Samuel Vimes: Recovering alcoholic and head of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch. Hard-bitten and cynical, has been "brung low" by being a good man trying to keep order in a lawless city. Probably the best-rounded character of the series, and the one with the most growth from start to end.
  4. Granny Weatherwax: Witches don't have leaders. Granny Weatherwax is the leader that the Lancre witches don't have. Shrewd, stubborn and no-nonsense, her witchcraft contains little magic and more "headology." The good witch, after her sister turned bad, and very resentful of the fact.
  5. Carrot Ironfoundersson: At well over six feet tall, it wasn't until Carrot was sixteen that his father, a dwarf, explained that Carrot was adopted. Carrot arrives at Ankh-Morpork to join the City Watch (voluntarily!) with big ideas about Upholding the Law and Making a Difference. Simple, but don't let that fool you into believing him to be stupid. Carrot grows in wisdom but retains his innocence through the series.
  6. Nanny Ogg: The "Mother" of the Lancre coven, to Magrat's "Maiden" and Granny Weatherwax's "... Other One." Nanny has been married three times, loves to drink, laugh and sing The Hedgehog Song. There is nothing her mind can't make grubby.
  7. Susan Sto Helit: DEATH'S granddaughter (adopted.) Susan takes over when DEATH is otherwise occupied. Normally, though, she works as a governess. She knows what children are like, and has a very matter-of-fact way of teaching them how to face life.
  8. Rincewind: The worst wizard in the history of forever, and an absolute coward. Rincewind spends his time running away from one misadventure and falling headlong into another.
  9. The Librarian: He was once human, but a magical accident turned him into an orang-utan. He won't be changed back. Jealously guards his library, and woe betide you if you should accidentally use the m-word around him. Ook.
  10. Lady Sybil Ramkin: Head of the Sunshine Sanctuary for Sick Dragons, and later wife to Samuel Vimes. She is a scruffy, outdoorsy sort of rich person, big-hearted (and generally big) and matter-of-fact. She and Vimes balance each other out perfectly.
DEATH by Paul Kidby

Assorted Awesome Moments (contains spoilers.)

1. Guards! Guards! On apprehending their villain, Captain Vimes gives the order: "Throw the book at him," to the young and keen Lance-Constable Carrot, who has no concept of metaphor.
2. Guards! Guards! again - the scene where Vimes confronts a mob wielding a small, sickly swamp dragon, in a callback to Clint Eastwood. "Am I feeling lucky?"
3. Wyrd Sisters: The three witches moving the entire kingdom forward in time.
4. Moving Pictures: The reversal of the classic King Kong scene.
5. Maskerade: Granny Weatherwax plays poker with DEATH, for the life of a newborn baby. And wins. The fact that DEATH let her win does not detract from this scene's awesomeness, but instead enhances it.
6. Witches Abroad: Granny Weatherwax is imprisoned between mirrors, but has no trouble finding her real self among all the reflections. "This one," she says, pointing to herself.
7. Soul Music: DEATH'S fiery motorcycle ride.
8.Carpe Jugulum: "I ain't be vampired. You've been Weatherwaxed."
9. Night Watch: As a student at the Guild of Assassins, Havelock Vetinari failed his stealth exam, because the examiner marked him as absent.
10. Night Watch: Vimes ordering the resistance to dismantle their barricade... then rebuild it the other end of the street. Properly, this time.
11. Night Watch: (Guys, just read the whole book, will you?) Vimes facing down the rioters with nothing but a cigar and a mug of cocoa.
12. The Monstrous Regiment: The gradual revelations of each character's true identity.
12A: The Monstrous Regiment: Related to the above, Sergeant Jackrum is a single-handed awesome moment in every scene. "Upon my word, I am not a violent man." You never spoke a truer word.
13: Thud! "THAT! IS!! NOT!!! MY!!!! COW!!!!!" Nothing, nothing, will stop Sam Vimes from reading his son a bedtime story.
13A: Thud! Vimes's inner Watchman versus the Summoning Dark, "an invisible and very powerful quasi-demonic thing of pure vengeance." Truly, Samuel Vimes has come a long way since we first met him, passed out drunk in the gutter.
14. Unseen Academicals: Lord Vetinari's version of drunk. More sober than most people's sober. (And yet, not knurd, which is the exact opposite of drunkenness, and another thing entirely.)
15. Unseen Academicals: Mr Nutt's polite address to a hostile crowd, his acknowledgement of his alien nature and the problems therewith, and, "come on if you think you're hard enough."

Assorted wit and wisdom

Granny Weatherwax by Paul Kidby

“Things that try to look like things often do look more like things than things.” - Granny Weatherwax, Wyrd Sisters
"Here’s some advice boy. Don’t put your trust in revolutions. They always come around again. That's why they’re called revolutions." - Sam Vimes, Night Watch
Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder.
Elves are marvellous. They cause marvels.
Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies.
Elves are glamorous. They project glamour.
Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment.
Elves are terrific. They beget terror.
The thing about words is that meaning can twist just like a snake, and if you want to find snakes look for them behind words that have changed their meaning.
No one ever said elves are nice.
Elves are bad. - Lords and Ladies
Technically, the city of Ankh-Morpork is a Tyranny, which is not always the same thing as a monarchy, and in fact even the post of Tyrant has been somewhat redefined by the incumbent, Lord Vetinari, as the only form of democracy that works. Everyone is entitled to vote, unless disqualified by reason of age or not being Lord Vetinari.
And yet it does work. This has annoyed a number of people who feel, somehow, that it should not, and who want a monarch instead, thus replacing a man who has achieved his position by cunning, a deep understanding of the realities of the human psyche, breathtaking diplomacy, a certain prowess with the stiletto dagger, and, all agree, a mind like a perfectly balanced circular saw, with a man who has got there by being born…
 - Unseen Academicals
His mind was grinding through the problem. She was a witch. Just lately there'd been a lot of gossip about witches being bad for your health. He'd been told not to let witches pass, but no one had said anything about apple sellers. Apple sellers were not a problem. It was witches that were the problem. She'd said she was an apple seller and he wasn't about to doubt a witch's word. - Wyrd Sisters
A good bookshop is just a genteel Black Hole that knows how to read. - Guards! Guards!
"There have been...accidents.""What kind of accidents?""The kind of accidents you prefer to call...accidents." - Maskerade

Nanny Ogg by Paul Kidby

"Well, basically there are two sorts of opera," said Nanny, who also had the true witch's ability to be confidently expert on the basis of no experience whatsoever. "There's your heavy opera, where basically people sing foreign and it goes like, 'Oh oh oh, I am dyin', oh I am dyin' oh, oh, oh, that's what I'm doin',' and then there's your light opera, where they sing in foreign and it basically goes, 'Beer! Beer! Beer! Beer! I like to drink lots of beer!' although sometimes they drink champagne instead. That's basically all of opera, reely." - Maskerade
"Commander, I always used to consider that you had a definite anti-authoriarian streak in you.""Sir?""It seems that you have managed to retain this even though you are authority.""Sir?""That's practically zen." - Lord Vetinari and Sam Vimes, Feet of Clay
"If you have to look along the shaft of an arrow from the wrong end, if a man has you at his mercy, then hope like hell that man is an evil man. Because the evil like power, power over people, and they want to see you in fear. They want you to know you are going to die. So they'll talk. They'll gloat. They'll watch you squirm. They'll put off the murder like another man will put off a good cigar. So hope like hell your captor is an evil man. A good man will kill you with hardly a word." - Feet of Clay
A selection of Punes, or Plays on Words

Samuel Vimes by Paul Kidby

  1. He hated being thought of as one of those people that wore stupid ornamental armour. It was gilt by association. - Night Watch
  2. They had dined on horse meat, horse cheese, horse black pudding, horse d'oeuvres and a thin beer that Rincewind didn't want to speculate about. - The Light Fantastic
  3. "Rincewind, all the shops have been smashed open, there was a whole bunch of people across the street helping themselves to musical instruments, can you believe that?" "Yeah," said Rincewind, picking up a knife and testing its blade thoughtfully. "Luters, I expect." - The Light Fantastic
  4. The land of Djelibeybi (lit. Child of the Djel). The setting for most of Pyramids.
  5. The duke had a mind that ticked like a clock and, like a clock, it regularly went cuckoo. - Wyrd Sisters
  6. The Ramkins were more highly bred than a hilltop bakery, whereas Corporal Nobbs had been disqualified from the human race for shoving. - Men at Arms
  7. FABRICATI DIEM, PVNC - motto of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch
  8. Thunder rolled. It rolled a six. - Guards! Guards!
  9. Mrs Evadne Cake was a medium, verging on small. - Reaper Man
  10. "I thought dwarfs loved gold," said Angua. "They just say that to get it into bed." - Cheery Littlebottom, Feet of Clay.

From the archives: Previous reviews of Discworld books. 

The Colour of Magic and Interesting Times. (July 2014) This post is more ramblings than an actual review.
Unseen Academicals and Monstrous Regiment (September 2012)
The Fifth Elephant (March 2011)
Feet of Clay (March 2011)
I Shall Wear Midnight (October 2010)

And one non-Discworld book by Terry Pratchett:

Dodger (October 2012)


  1. DAMMIT. I totally forgot to include Dodger as a possible entry point to Pratchett's writing in the video I made over the weekend...

    Also, that quote about throwing the book is my all time favourite thing and never fails to make me laugh forever.

    1. I think that was the point when I decided that the Watch books were going to be my favourite subseries, if I hadn't already reached that point. SO GOOD!

  2. I really want to point out that Vimes is a recovering drunk, not a recovering alcoholic.
    "I believe you were an alcoholic, Sir Samuel."
    "No," said Vimes. "I was a drunk. You have to be richer than I was to be an alcoholic."
    I won't though... :)

    1. Okay, smartypants! You are quite right and I beg his pardon.


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