The L-Space Web: Analysis

Terry Pratchett's Discworld

Terry Pratchett's Discworld

author: Kneidinger Marcio
at: BRG Rohrbach, Austria
special field: English

Table of Contents

  1. The Author himself
  2. Bibliography
  3. The structure of the multiverse
  4. The Disc
  5. Discworld Inhabitants (and other creatures)
  6. The Discworld® novels in the literary world
  7. Resources

1. The Author himself

Terry Pratchett was born 28 April 1948 Beaconsfield, Bucks. His major source of education was, on his own account: Beaconsfield Public Library (though school must have been of some little help).

He attended High Wycombe Technical High School. At this time he had no real vision of what he wanted to do with his life, and remembers himself as a "nondescript student".

His first success with writing took place with the publication of The Hades Business (a short story) in the school magazine when he was thirteen, and then commercially when he was fifteen.

After the first year he ventured to try journalism, and when a job opportunity came up on the Bucks Free Press, he left school in 1965.

While with the Press he still read avidly, took the National Council for the Training of Journalists proficiency class and also passed an A level in English while on day release.

Thanks to his self illustrated book, The Carpet People, Terry Pratchett met his future agent and later friend, Colin Smythe. The book was published by the latter in 1971.

Terry left the Bucks Free Press and started to work for the Western Daily Press on 28 September 1970, a year later he returned to the Press as a sub-editor, and on 3 September 1973 he joined the Bath Chronicle.

In 1980 Terry was appointed publicity officer for the Central Electricity Generating Board (now PowerGen) with responsibility for three nuclear power stations, where he was working when the first of the Discworld novels was published in 1983 (his paperback publisher at the time was New English Library)

In the same year Pratchetts agent was able to interest Corgi in The Colour of Magic, and then got NEL to forego their option to publish his next book (as Sourcery sort of flopped).

In September 1987 (after finishing Mort), Terry decided to devote himself to full-time writing, rather than merely doing so in his spare time after work.

Pratchetts success was immanent when, in 1996, he managed to have, for the third time, books (Hogfather and Maskerade) in the no.1 positions in both lists (hardcover and paperback) simultaneously (two weeks running).

As far as Britain is concerned Terry is now the decade's best-selling living fiction author, with over ten and half million sales during the 1990s , and now running at over a million and a quarter books a year. During the four years' existence of the British BookTrack's weekly best-selling chart, over 60 titles have been constantly in the top 5,000 best-selling titles, and the author with the most titles in this listing is Terry with twelve.

Terry has also written a number of short stories, three of which have Discworld themes although there are fewer of that genre around than one might expect.

When he took up his position with the Western Daily Press in 1970, he moved, with his wife Lyn (whom he had married in 1968), to a cottage in Rowberrow, Somerset, where their daughter Rhianna was born.

The family moved in 1993 to south west of Salisbury.

Other activities of Terry Pratchett include his work for the Orang-Utan Foundation (he even went out to Borneo with a film crew to see orang-utans in their native habitat + every book bought gives £1 to the Foundation);

Terry has also done a year's stint as Chairman of the Society of Authors, and was chairman of the panel of judges for the 1997 Rhone-Poulenc Prize.

With his fiftieth birthday came an appointment as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen's 1998 Birthday Honours List in June, "for services to literature".

In July 1999 he received an honorary Doctorate of Literature (D.Litt.) from the University of Warwick, and in 2001 one from the University of Portsmouth.

In his report on himself on the jacket of Carpe Jugulum, Terry noted that he lives behind a keyboard in Wiltshire, where he answers letters in a desperate attempt to find time to write. He used to grow carnivorous plants, but now they've taken over the greenhouse and he avoids going in. He feels it may be time to get a life, since apparently they're terribly useful. On the jacket of The Fifth Elephant and The Truth, however, he's decided that he doesn't want to get a life, because it feels as though he's trying to lead three already.

2. Bibliography

  1. non Discworld related work

  2. Miscellaneous

  3. The Discworld® novels

... more? yet to come ... (hopefully)

3. The structure of the multiverse

As the name already suggests, the multiverse is everything.

Roughly speaking, the system can be divided into three parts:

  1. Reality

    Here all the different universes (including our own and the Discworld universe) reside, or whatever it is that universes do.

    We are talking about a place where Great A'tuin the world turtle, with the disk on it's (sex actually unknown) back, swims through space, together with all the other standard empty void features.

    It offers sights far more impressive than those found in other universes built by Creators with less imagination but more mechanical aptitude. It exists right on the edge of Reality. It is allowed to exist either because of some impossible blip on the curve of probability, or because the gods enjoy a joke as much as anyone else. More than most people, in fact.

    Chaotic as it sometimes appears, the Discworld clearly runs on a special set of natural laws, or at least on guide-lines. There is gravity, cause-and-effect and eventuality - things happen after other things. After that, it becomes a little more confusing. The following theory can be gingerly advanced:

    The DW universe occupies an area of space where reality is extremely thin, where the 'should be' no longer has the veto it has in the rest of the universe. It creates an extremely deep well in Reality in much the same way as an incontinent Black Hole creates a huge gravity well in the notorious rubber sheet of the universe.

    The resulting tension seems to have created a permanent flux which, for want of a better word, we can call magic. There are several secondary effects, because the pressure of reality is so weak. Things that might nearly exist in a 'real' world have no difficulty at all in existing in quite a natural state in the Discworld universe -- The rules are relaxed.

    On the disc it is known that there is life beyond it, but any other than the stranded Thetis, a very interesting creature made out of water, who fell off the rim of his own world, is not known to the disk-astronomers. They naturally assume that other worlds might also be on the backs of turtles, and that these are flat, although nobody knows for sure.

    In any case, there are loads and loads of distant stars and just about any constellation the true astronomer could wish for.

  2. The Dungeon Dimensions

    The place can most accurately be described as nothing, where, yet unnamed  horrors lurk. For Aeons already they try to break through the barrier into reality, something to do with energy levels. Anyway, it is a well known fact that unpleasant stuff always strives to infest nice places, for one reason or another.

    I like to think of the D. D. as the space all around an enclosed rubber ball (reality), with pressure constantly striving to "invade" the space the ball is occupying. Of course the ball then must be kept from deflating, e.g. by some force within.

    The Discworld, as it exist only on the very edge of reality, is itself only able to exist because of it's enormous magical field, stretching the borders fabric to the extreme and subsequently thinning out the enclosing barrier. An extraordinarily large outburst of magic near one of those "hot spots" might, together with high background magic, might cause the fabric of reality to rip. Like sharks the things, or rather the Things, will sense the portal, gather around it and try to enlarge the hole, so they can slip into, as Discworld inhabitants would put it, our world .

  3. Backstage (as I call it, for want of any better name)

    No living creature, (you can't count Death or other anthropomorphic personifications as properly alive, or proper creatures as such) has the ability to enter the background realms. There have been cases where people have set foot upon this place, but only with assistance of those that are authorised to inhabit it. It is true that Twoflower, the disc's first tourist, managed to somehow visit these lands, but he was practically dead anyway. Rincewind did get him out of there, but he's a wizard and he was assisted by some interestingly potent nomad potion.

    The gods don't usually go there, but I think they could.

    Time, space an matter are all messy, kind of functioning properly, but also able to be manipulated in every way.

    As mentioned before, all the anthropomorphic personifications dwell here. The Toothfairy or the Hogfather (very similar to Santa Claus) and of course Death are just some of the innumerable, self aware lifeforms have come up with. More specific details will follow later on.

    Then there are the Auditors. They exist on consensus, and generally work as a trio. An Auditor is visible as an hooded grey robe that hangs in the air with nothing appearing to be inside it.

    They are some sort of sub-bosses, responsible for running the universe seeing to it that gravity works and the atoms spin (or whatever it is atoms do).

    In order to stay immortal they try as hard as they might to not have any personality whatsoever. Their opinion of an proper universe is a bunch of rocks flying around in orderly curves and therefore they hate life. It is irregular and was never meant to happen. Most of all they despise humans, lacking a sense humour in many ways.

    It's the things you believe that make you human, and these things then abode in the backstage area. In their blind delusion (not proper delusion, after all, wouldn't that be like showing personality?) they even called upon the Guild of Assassins to inhume the Hogfather, in the process entering reality (which is strictly forbidden) and, excuse my French, really screwing things up once in a while (once they even suspended Death for evolving a personality).

    As far as I was able to find out the Auditors only answer to Azrael, who is locked up in time. What he has done or what his exact function is (except for probably being bored), I don't know.

    As the able mind can twist time and space according to it's eventual need, the area behind, or rather exceeding reality, can be used to reach the most distant universes. An example is the death of all the reapers (there are other worlds too) who was once consulted by Death.

    Observed schematically (again) backstage and reality are divides by an rubber sheet, stretched thin in some places but very durable.

Furthermore there is L-space: In every library (at least on the disk) there is a portal to L-space. Mainly it serves as an connection between libraries, any library, any time in the past. Nobody has yet been able to grasp the whole of it, with the biggest expert on the subject probably being the Librarian of Unseen University (the disk's biggest college of magic). Unfortunately he was turned into an orang utan and refuses to be turned back human again (the long arms and the increase in strength turned out to be of great help when dealing with magic books. Anyway, he enjoys the privilege of scratching himself wherever he wants to in public).

... indeed, if the L-Space theories are correct, the Library contains every book everywhere, including the ones that never actually got written.

I think L-space might also work as a link between the three parts of the multiverse (and anywhere else).

4. The Disk


Great A'Tuin the turtle comes, swimming slowly through the interstellar gulf, hydrogen frost on his ponderous limbs, his huge and ancient shell pocked with meteor craters.  Through sea-sized eyes that are crusted with rheum and asteroid dust He stares fixedly at the Destination.

In a brain bigger than a city, with geological slowness, He thinks only of the Weight.

Most of the weight is of course accounted for by Berilia, Tubul, Great T'Phon and Jerakeen, the four giant elephants upon whose broad and star-tanned shoulders the disc of the World rests, garlanded by the long waterfall at its vast circumference and domed by the baby-blue vault of Heaven.

Astropsychology has been, as yet, unable to establish what they think about..."

Terry Pratchett, The Colour Of Magic (London:  Corgi, 1985, p.7)

First of all: The Discworld is only able to exist because every improbability curve must have its far end.

And now every encounter (no matter by whom) with that world, cursed with an creator with more imagination than mechanical aptitude, results in a very frustrating experience.

4.1 topographical features

To start with some history: many people think the appearance of the Discworld as described in the novels was an invention of Terry's.

But the myth that the world is flat and goes through space on the back of a turtle is, with variations, found on every continent. In Hindu mythology, for instance, we find the idea of a lotus flower growing out of Vishnu's navel.

Swimming in a pool inside the lotus flower is the world turtle, on whose back stand four elephants facing in the four compass directions. On their backs is balanced the flat, disc-shaped world.

On the Discworld the elephants face outwards. The spinning of the disc does not harm them, because that's how the universe is arranged.

The shell of the turtle is slightly smaller than the world, but the flippers, head and tail are all visible from the Rim, looking down (as Rincewind does in The Colour of Magic for instance).

The Discworld revolves (plus the elephants change their direction once in a while), with the sun and moon orbiting it very complicatedly. This enables the disc to have seasons. Because of the DW universe - turtle, world, sun, moon - moving slowly through the multiverse (including our own universe) there is the really huge subject of different constellations cornered in The Light Fantastic. I think it is enough to say that there even is a constellation called The Small Boring Group of Faint Stars (it lies between The Flying Moose and The Knotted String).

Discworld Mapp

About one hundred million years before the present day, in the Borassic era, the proto-continent had split into two vast land masses:

Howondoland and Lauragatea;

A generally confused banging-about as the spin direction changed raised most of the mountain ranges visible today.

It was the second, smaller continent of Lauragatea which, some thirty million years before the present, lost the even smaller and deeply mysterious continent known only as XXXX, which left the Counterweight-Continent remaining.

Viewers from space can appreciate in full the Discworld's vast, 30000 mile circumference, garlanded by the long Rimfall, where the seas of the disc drop endlessly into space. The Discworld, which is 10000 miles across, gives the impression, with its continents, archipelagos, seas, deserts and mountain ranges, that the Creator designed it specifically to be looked at from above.

At the Rim it is about thirty miles thick, although it is believed to be considerably thicker towards the Hub, possibly to accommodate the internal layer of molten rock which powers the volcanoes and allows the continental plates to move. Exactly how this molten state is maintained, and how the water that pours ceaselessly over the rim is replaced, are but two of the unfathomable mysteries of the world. A tenable theory is that the heat is generated by vast masses of Octiron (magic metal) under pressure. The Octiron theory also accounts for the disc's vast standing magical field.

The Hub, dominated by the spire of Cori Celesti , is never closely warmed by the weak sun and the lands are therefore permanently locked in permafrost. The Rim, on the other hand, is a region of sunny islands and balmy days. From the Ramtops highest peaks you can see all the way to the Rim Ocean that runs around the edge of the world, since the Discworld, being flat, has no horizon in the real sense of the word.

Stretching below there are the Sto Plains which stretch all the way to the Hub and end, in the area of Ankh Morpork, at the circle sea. On the other side of the Ramtops there are vast land masses, but so fare only Genua and a few small countries have  been discovered.

Then there is Klatch (the continent): this is detailed elsewhere, but here and now we might not be far wrong in thinking of Klatch as the Discworld's Africa, with a collection of 'Mediterranean' countries shading into the large, and more or less unexplored, plains of Hersheba  and Howondoland.

There have been other continents, which have sunk, blown up or simply disappeared. This sort of thing happens all the time, even on the best-regulated planets.

4.2  geographic aspects, + miscellaneous

There are two major, Hubward and Rimward, plus two lesser directions, Turnwise and Widdershins, on the Discworld.

The central turning point of the Discworld and it's stories is the double city of proud Ankh and pestilent Morpork. It is more or less built on itself and out of itself, as it has been subject to numerous floods, fires and invasions over the past centuries.

The city is ruled, for about 200 years already, by Patricians, the current one being Lord Vetinary. It is the melting pot for anything and anyone on the disc, even dwarfs and trolls live peacefully next to each other. Due to the effort of the current Patrician just about anything is run by the guilds. This results, for instance, in severe punishment (e.g. hanging) by the guild of Thieves if a thieve is caught without a licence. The City Watch, which is steadily increasing in numbers and resources, more or less sees to it that everything is working properly according to the law. Also the premium college of magic, Unseen University, is located in this great stinking glob of a city.

The next important region is Überwald and it's surrounding area. It runs from the Sto Plains up to the Peaks of the Ramtops. This is more or less wild country.

Here the ancient families of Werewolves and Vampires dominate the political game. Underneath the surface the dwarfs dwell and mine, above, in the even more barren lands, the trolls live. Over generations these two already wage war.

On the other side of the disk, in the Hublands, the barbarian tribes solely inhabit the ice-lands.

At the distant pinnacle of Cori Celesti, the never ending neighbourhood squabble between the Gods and the Ice Giants is ensued. There, a spire of green ice (ten miles high) supports the realm of Dunmanifestin, abode of the disc gods. Only the most "important" gods are allowed to live at that place so similar to our Olymp where they indulge in their games.

this is an excerpt out of an interview with Terry concerning geography:

"I've never thought that any parts of Discworld corresponded exactly to places on Earth. Lancre is 'generic Western Europe/US rural', for example -- not the Ozarks, not the North of England, but maybe with something of each.

The Sto Plains are 'vaguely Central European'; Klatch, Ephebe, Tsort, etc, are all 'vaguely Southern European/North African'.

Genua was designed to be a 'Magic Kingdom' but in a New Orleans setting -- I hope the voodoo, cooking etc. made that reasonably obvious."

The Discworld Calendar:

The Discworld calendar is worked out by the spin year, or time it takes for the Disc to turn one full circle. This is about 800 days. The sun orbits in a flat ellipse, passing closer to the surface of the Disc at the Rim, making the Hub cooler than the Rim. It passes between the legs of two elephants.

This means that there are two of each season on the Disc. The eight seasons are called Winter Prime, Spring Prime, Summer Prime and Autumn Prime, followed by Winter Secundus, Spring Secundus, Summer Secundus and Autumn Secundus.

When the sun sets/rises at the nearest point on the Rim it's summer, the winters are those occasions when it rises/sets at a point around 90 degrees along the circumference.

Festivals can cause confusion. Hogswatchnight and Crueltide are at the middle and end of the year, respectively. However, to the farmer they are the same festival. This also applies to Midsummer Eve and Small Gods Eve.

There are thirteen months on the Discworld, and eight days of the week, the eighth being Octeday.

The number eight is of considerable occult significance and will be dealt with respectively.

The last century (e.g. in The Colour of Magic) was the Century of the Fruitbat. Currently it is, or at least that's most widely assumed, the Century of the Cobra.

The year numbering system has been changed many times, at the moment there are at least two systems in Ankh-Morpork (the Disks most important city), one inside Unseen University, which began when the University was founded, and another one for the rest of the city.

4.3  basic concepts

Chaotic as it sometimes appears, the Discworld clearly runs on a special set of natural laws, or at least on guide-lines. There is gravity. There is cause-and-effect. There is eventuality - things happen after other things.

But there are additional factors which make up Discworld "physics". These could be called:

  1. Life force

  2. The Power of Metaphor and Believe

  3. Narrative Causality

Life, it has been said, has a tendency to exist. It has even been argued that the Universe has been designed in order that this should happen, although of course it is hard for a life that does not exist to look around and declare that the Universe has clearly been designed not to come into being. Certainly on the Discworld life is a very common commodity. Whatever obstacles there are to it elsewhere are that much weaker on Discworld. Almost anything can be alive and develop, if not intelligence, at least a point of view. Rocks, thunderstorms and even entire buildings can, in the right circumstances, demonstrate their literal vitality.

Then there is metaphor. On Discworld, metaphor has a disturbing tendency to take itself seriously and then runs under the term anthropomorphic personification.

Death as a robed skeleton is not just a metaphor for the process of mortality, he really is a robed skeleton, with a rich existence of his own.,

You see, believe on the Discworld is a potent force. What is believed in strongly enough is real. (Conversely, what is not believed can't be real regardless of the fact of its existence. For example, the dog Gaspode can talk. But most people cannot hear him when he does because they know that dogs do not talk. Any dog who appears to be talking, says their brain, is a statistical fluke and can therefore safely be ignored.)

Discworld gods exist only because people believe in them, and their power waxes and wanes with the strength of that believe.

There is nothing very magical in this. After all, half the power of witches and wizards, too, for that matter, lies in the fact that they advertise what they are. The pointy hats are a kind of power-dressing;

Finally there is narrative causality, the power of stories. This is perhaps the strongest force of all and, again, weaker echoes of it are found in this world. Not for nothing do we say: History repeats. History does have patterns, clichés of time.

People find themselves again and again in situations where they are playing roles as surely as if a script had been thrust into their hands: the Marital Row, the Job Interview, the Man Behind has Shunted You at the Traffic Lights, the Bastard. And there are the bigger patterns: the rise of empires, the spread of civilisations . . .

Again and again humans tread the same dance through life, and with each dance the path becomes deeper and harder to leave.

This sense of predestination permeates Discworld. History Monks observe history to make sure that it happens 'according to the book' (and do think literally here). When a princess is saved by Mort, which changes the course of reality, history itself conspires to undo her.

Most pointedly the process is focused in Dios, the high priest of Djelibeybi, who has been practising the same daily rituals for so long (make that a soooo long) that he is incapable of dealing with anything new.

On Discworld, the future is set. It's the job of everyone to fight back.

  1. ultimate opposites

    In a truly magical universe everything has its opposite. For example, the opposite of light is not darkness, which is merely the absence of light, but anti-light. But again, more about light shall follow later on;

    This theme recurs throughout all of the Discworld® novels and to illustrate the whole thing more clearly, here another example. It's the one I enjoyed most and can be found in the vaguely Arabian country of Klatch:

    There the men in taverns drink coffee laced with desert orakh. This drink (made from cacti sap and scorpion venom) is one of the most virulent alcoholic beverages in the universe. But the nomads do not drink it for its intoxicating powers, but to mitigate the effect of Klatchian coffee. It made you knurd.

    and here it comes: the state of knurdness is not like sobriety, as an opposite to drunkenness. Knurdness strips away all illusion, all the comforting pink fog in which people spend their lives, and lets them see and think clearly for the first time ever. One can imagine that, after a bit of screaming, the subject will make sure never to get knurd again, ever.

  2. light, sound and speed

    A famous disc philosopher has argued that light cannot possibly the fastest thing there is: No matter how fast it really travels somewhere, darkness always seems to get there first.

    Because of the disc's enormous magical field, at sunrise, the morning light flows over like thick golden syrup, accumulating in valleys and then slowly crawling over the top of an hillside. The same can be said about the night, which spreads like plum jam.

    Another notable thing on light and would be, that scientists raised its speed in order to be able to travel faster.

    And sound: yet again silence is merely the absence of sound. Anti-sound is the noise one gets when the fabric of reality rips open.

  3. Magic (wizardry, witchcraft)

    As already mentioned above (2, 3 times?), the disks premium college of magic is Unseen University in Ankh-Morpork.

    Its unofficial motto is: ηβπ (pune: eat a better pie); This already shows the fondness of true wizard towards good (=lots) food. The founder of UU, Alberto Malich now works as Deaths servant in order to avoid his lifetimer running out. The head of UU is the Archchancellor, together with the A. hat

    As a rule every eight child (male) is a wizard, his eight child gets to be a sourcerer (source of magic). This is probably the reason why women are strictly forbidden to a wizard, as the disk over the years became too weak for sourcery. 

    Because of this, nowadays wizardry is subject to strict hierarchy. There are 8 orders, with eight stages. The different orders are each under the most senior wizard. Aside from pure ability, eliminating the wizard above (bot NO magic) is a generally accepted and respectable way of climbing up the "career" ladder.

    Witchcraft on the other hand is totally different. It is kind of a constant walk on the edge, studded with making decisions.

    To a good witch, there is only black and white, nothing in between!

    Witches mainly work with illusions, and I guess one can think of it in just about the same way as we think of it on our planet (not the Christian of course!)

    Both wizards and witches can see Death, and he is obliged to take their live personally. As soon as their appointed time comes they know; this probably is so that they can make some final preparations (give back the library card, borrow lots of money, ......)

    On the disk one can find raw magic just about anywhere. Plants that grow in such areas as these where the old mage wars have been fought out, will develop very weirdly. There is Sapient Pearwood (magic wands are mainly made out of that stuff), or the peculiar Counterwise Wine. It is harvested a year before it is planted and you get the effects before drinking it (also used for predicting stuff). Wherever you get large magical outbursts one is able to see the Colour of Magic, Octarin (Rincewind describes it as a sort of purple greenish).  And: only Wizards are able to see it; Ah, and yes there even is magic metal called Octiron.

    The most potent spells on the Discworld have been left behind by the Creator in the Octavo (one of these got locked up in Rincewinds head because of a bet).

    One more thing: if there's anything a powerful wizard can't stand, it's another wizard. In situations of aggression each will strive to build a tower around himself, better still on a hill.

    And before I forget, a wizard may never ever utter the 'two times four' word.

  4. Philosophy

    Over the years the disc has brought fourth many wise, and not so wise, persons called Philosophers.

    Especially Ephebe has specialised on the subject, its warm climate being perfectly suitable for running around naked and shouting Euraka (or anything else for that matter).

    The Prophet Brutha once said about their style: "they act as if they were glad that they don't know things, and find out more and more things they don't know".

    But naturally there are innumerable other sources of Philosophy. Of course there is the small, old and wise Chinese like guy, or when hit by a randomly flying inspirational particle almost anyone.

    Death, in his way, is also one of the Discworld greatest thinkers. Death is not able to create, only reproduce. And so, only through power of observation (and Death sees almost anything) he is able to get to the core of virtually anything.

    But again, more of him later on....

    Then, at places of high wisdom and study philosophy occurs quite naturally.

    This can be most vividly be demonstrated on UU, where the wizards have, over the years, created an entiremeta-moralic system of their own.

    Just an example:

    'How do we usually test stuff?'

    'Generally we ask for student volunteers,'

    'What happens if we don't get any?'

    'We give it to them anyway'

    'Isn't that a bit unethical?'

    'Not if we don't tell them, Archchancellor.'

    'Ah, good point.'

    Terry Pratchett, The Hogfather (Corgi 1997,  p.195)

    This sort of double crossing back reaction is also one of Discworlds predominating principles.

  5. believe and stuff

    On the Discworld there is a maximum amount of believe potential. This prevents the creation of anything anyone can come up with, by favouring

    what more people are inclined to believe in(example:death as the grim reaper)

    It works a little bit differently with religion:

    Generally they will Believe (notice caption) in anything, so it is convenient that there are gods, so there is at least a little bit of order. Every God starts out as a small god, of which there are innumerable. With no believers he has very no power, exempt maybe of persuasion. Together with his first believers he is then shaped by their thoughts and rises to power. If the a god loses his followers and their believe he is then thrown back into the state of a small god, only now with the distant and confused memory of past glory together with the overpowering craving for believe.

5. Discworld inhabitants

5.1  DEATH

The Defeater of Empires, the Swallower of Oceans, the Thief of Years, the Ultimate Reality, the Harvester of Mankind, the Assassin against whom No Lock Will Hold, the only friend of the poor and the best doctor for the mortally wounded. An anthropomorphic personification. Almost the oldest creature in the universe (obviously something had to die first...)

He is a 7-foot-tall skeleton of polished bone, in whose eye sockets there are tiny points of light (usually blue). He normally wears a robe apparently woven of absolute darkness - and sometimes also a riding cloak fastened with a silver brooch bearing his own personal monogram, the Infinite Omega. He smells, not unpleasantly, of the air in old, forgotten rooms.

Death's scythe looks ordinary enough, except for the blade, which is so thin you can see through it - a pale blue shimmer that could slice flame, chop sound and cut time. His sword has the same ice-blue, shadow-thin blade, of the extreme thinness necessary to separate body from soul.

His face, of necessity, is frozen into a calcareous grin. His voice is felt rather than heard. He is seen only by cats, professional practitioners of magic, and those who are about to die or are already dead - although there is some evidence that he can be glimpsed by those in a heightened state of awareness, a not uncommon state given the Discworld's normal alarums. When he needs to communicate with the living (i.e. those who are going to continue living) he is perceived very vaguely by them in some form that does not disturb them.

There was a period when he made an effort to appear in whatever form the client expected (scarab beetles, black dragons, and so on). This foundered because it was usually impossible to know what the client was expecting until after they were dead. He decided that, since no one ever really expected to die anyway, he might as well please himself and he henceforth stuck to the familiar black-cowled robe.

His horse, though pale as per traditional specification, is entirely alive and called BINKY. Death once tried a skeleton horse after seeing a woodcut of himself on one - Death is easily influenced by that sort of thing - but he had to keep stopping to wire bits back on. The fiery steed that he tried next used to set fire to the stables.

Despite rumour, he is not cruel. He is just terribly, terribly good at his job. It is said that he doesn't get angry, because anger is an emotion, and for emotion you need glands; however, he does seem to be capable of a piece of intellectual disapproval which has a very similar effect. He is a traditionalist who prides himself on his personal service, and, despite the absence of glands, can become depressed when this is not appreciated.

Humanity intrigues Death. He is particularly fascinated by mankind's ability to complicate an existence which, from Death's point of view, is momentary. He appears to spend a lot of time trying to learn, by logical deduction, the things that humanity takes for granted. In the process, he seems to have developed what can only be called preferences and likings - for cats, for example, and curry. He has tried to take up the banjo, but lacks any skill with such a living thing as music.

Deaths property, on which he has called into being a house and garden. There are no colours there except black (with all its nuances), white and shades of grey; Death could use others but fails to see their significance.

Because he almost by definition lacks true creative ability, he can only copy what he has seen. For convenience no real time passes in his domain. Nor do things live or grow in the normal sense, unless they are brought in from out-side, but they exist in an apparently unchanging, healthy state.

He appears to derive his opinion of how he should live by observing people, but the nuances consistently escape him. He has a bedroom, for example, because although Death never sleeps, it's right that houses have bedrooms. He also has a bathroom, although the ablutionary fixtures were supplied by a plumber from Ankh-Morpork because plumbing is among those activities where Death's constructive abilities find themselves cramped; (he was not aware that pipes were hollow inside, for example) On his Dressing table he has a pair of silver-backed hairbrushes and a little glass tray for cufflinks, despite having neither hair nor cuffs. He thinks that's what he ought to have.

As with all creatures that have existence. Death has an hourglass/lifetimer that mea-sures the length of his days. His is several times the size of normal people's glasses, and is black, thin and decorated with a complicated skull-and-bones motif. It has no sand in it.

There is a strong suggestion in the books (the only character to appear in all of them) that Death is somehow on our side.

5.2 The human race

Pivot of all the Discworld® novels. But, not as in other fantasy stories, the main race, merely the one we can most relate to (obviously). The society can be compared to,

no, sorry it really cannot be compared...

just think of people like on earth only sort of knubbly.

and: nobody really knows how to spell correctly (spelling and punctuation are considered an optional extra)

the undead / differentially alive: anything will happen on the disc!!


subject to all of our traditional beliefs. A plan for taking over the world, by training off the means of disposing or stopping Vampyres (as they called themselves) has failed due to the courageous action of four witches;
Especially in Überwald the powerful families play a big political role, generally as Counts;


again, anything we know about them applies; how they come to be is not exactly known, although it always is the after"life";


other than our traditional believe werewolves can change anytime they want, only on full moon they are forced into lupine form. Same as the vampires, their clans can be of great significance; They generally prefer the title of Baron;


Formerly machine-like creatures made out of clay to serve and were property of their owners. In order to be active they need words in their heads, mostly some religious stuff. They must always, under all circumstances obey these written words;

They can't speak (no mouth), are incredibly strong, don't feel pain and virtually can't be killed (unless the words are taken out of their heads)

The golem Dorfl, who was awarded freedom (his receipt was put in his head -- he is his own property) is just right now saving up money to buy all other members of the golem community and set them free. Dorfl acts according to a self devised moral codex. He chose to be an atheist, with the great advantage that he is fireproof.

5.3  Trolls and Dwarfs

These two races have been warring over centuries now, and although peace seems a reasonable prospect in the nearer future there still remain strong dislikes.

Trolls are fully made of rock, only eat rock and generally consider beings with fluids a mere squishy nuisance. Probably the oldest creatures on the disk, they spend half their lifes as rocks, which they can turn into anytime (and mostly do during daylight hours). As a troll progresses in years he will, apart from getting bigger and bigger, get thoughtful and tend to go to "sleep" (turn into stone) more often and for longer periods of time. Already many a great mountain-range has developed this way. (By the way, this concept is very similar to the Ents of Tolkiens Middle Earth.)

This tendency of older trolls is, beside other factors, also th3e reason for the great hatred towards dwarfs. Or how would you feel if your greatgreatgranddad is taken apart by a (totally unsuspecting) dwrf-clan claiming new mining ground. As is the nature of these things, from there on the whole relationship more or less got out of hand.

Other than with trolls, dwarf society is subject to strict hierarchy and traditions. Well mostly by traditions, but they include a lot of hierarchial stuff. Supreme ruler is the so called Low-King (underneath the ground) who is elected by all the mining clans. Right now the community is more or less split in half, on the one side more progressive dwarfs that venture out into the world and on the other side the deep down dwarfs that represent the old ways (no sunlight, talk with humans, trolls or anybody, etc......).

Ankh-Morpork is starting to become the biggest dwarf city and is, apart from quaffing, loud singing and regular bar fights, on the whole profiting mightily from their healthy relationship with the Überwaldean dwarfs.

Your standard dwarf comes equipped with round iron helmet, axe and beard right down to the heavy leather boots. Dwarfs do not generally distinguish between male and female, which makes the finding of a proper partner very testy business, although lately more and more dwarfish ladies are demanding to be distinguished as females.

6. The Discworld in the literary world

Obviously Pratchett didn't think up fantasy. As a thirteen year old he gobbled down The Lord of the Rings, founder of high fantasy as we know it today. But, only cornering fantasy there have obviously been a lot of other influences:

only one example are the two barbarians, Bravd and Weasel, who are parodies of Fritz Leiber's fantasy heroes Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. The Swords series (the books in which they star) are absolute classics, and have probably had about as much influence on the genre as Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.

Both The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic are, in large part, affectionate parodies of the Leiberian universe, although I hasten to add that, in sharp contrast to many later writers in the field, Leiber himself already had a great sense of humour. Fafhrd and the Mouser are not to be taken altogether serious in his original version, either.

The genre of fantasy, and by implication Pratchett's novels, is often dismissed as pulp for children and therefore not worthy of critical attention.  In fact, many of the concepts and references in the Discworld series are extremely complicated, with the result that the range can be appreciated on two levels - children can enjoy the books as a hilarious fantasy adventure romp, while adults will be able to get a greater appreciation of Pratchett's deeper expository intent.  Also, from a postmodern point of view, there is no reason for the Discworld novels to receive less critical attention than any other works of fiction.

Cornering the novels from an postmodernist parody point of view would be very interesting. Amongst other issues, both are concerned with repetition and simulation, and both raise questions about the originality of the text. Once the link between the two genres had been made, their relation to the Discworld series seems an obvious subject, as I have learned by reading a very interesting dissertation.

Further indication of Pratchetts work being postmodern is the textuality of everything, and for instance Discworld libraries all contain each other, much as postmodernism insists that all works of literature contain each other.

But far more important is the aspect of parody:

First of all there is the casting of traditional fantasy fiction in a new light, bringing its unrealistic conventions to the reader's attention and highlighting the absence of any recognisable common sense in many of its situations. As the Discworld novels themselves are works of fantasy, Pratchett is criticising the genre from within, and this is a characteristic of both postmodernism and parody in general.

Secondly, Pratchett is parodying attributes of our own lives, while the range as a whole is built on references to Tolkien and other fantasy writers, as well as to conventions of our own (textual) reality, other texts from Shakespearean plays to Looney Tunes cartoons are continually cited within individual books.  Many of the novels contain straightforward and, apparently, non-parodic narratives: Men At Arms and Feet Of Clay are detective stories transported to a fantasy landscape, while one strand of Reaper Man observes the moving story of Death as he tries to make a home for himself as a mortal. These narratives, however, take place within the indisputably parodic background of the Discworld:  the characters and situations constantly add to the overall parodic effect, even as their own stories are being told.

A Discworld character such as Captain Vimes might not understand the metaphors in this depiction of humanity (only the wizard Ponder Stibbons has much of a concept of electricity, and he has trouble finding enough balloons to rub) but he would certainly empathise with the sentiment. The gullible, stupid, sometimes criminal but usually essentially innocent inhabitants of the Discworld are the inhabitants of our own world.

Whatever might appear to be true of any individual Discworld novel, the concepts upon which each of them are constructed suggest that the range as a whole is an extremely complex work of postmodern parody.

7. Resources


The Colour of Magic
The Light Fantastic
Reaper Man
The Hogfather
Death's Domain (mapp)
Small Gods
Feet of Clay
The Fifth Elephant
Carpe Jugulum

Discworld Central :

The L-Space Web :
Christopher Bryant, Postmodern parody in the Discworld novels of Terry Pratchett, (University of Plymouth);

Death's Domain : (currently not available)

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