Discworld is a comic fantasy book series written by the English author Terry Pratchett, set on the Discworld, a flat planet balanced on the backs of four elephants which in turn stand on the back of a giant turtle. The series began in 1983 with The Colour of Magic and continued until the final novel The Shepherd's Crown was published in 2015, following Pratchett's death. The books frequently parody or take inspiration from J. R. R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare, as well as mythology, folklore and fairy tales, often using them for satirical parallels with cultural, political and scientific issues.
Forty-one Discworld novels have been published. The original British editions of the first 26 novels, up to Thief of Time (2001), had cover art by Josh Kirby. The American editions, published by Harper Collins, used their own cover art. After Kirby's death in 2001, the covers were designed by Paul Kidby. Companion publications include eleven short stories (some only loosely related to the Discworld), four popular science books, and a number of supplementary books and reference guides. The series has been adapted for graphic novels, theatre, computer and board games, and television.
Discworld books regularly topped Sunday Times best-sellers list, making Pratchett the UK's best-selling author in the 1990s. Discworld novels have also won awards such as the Prometheus Award and the Carnegie Medal. In the BBC's Big Read, four Discworld novels were in the top 100, and a total of fourteen in the top 200. More than 80 million Discworld books have been sold in 37 languages.
Very few of the Discworld novels have chapter divisions. Instead they feature interweaving storylines. Pratchett was quoted as saying that he "just never got into the habit of chapters", later adding that "I have to shove them in the putative YA books because my editor screams until I do". However, the first Discworld novel The Colour of Magic was divided into "books", as is Pyramids. Additionally, Going Postal and Making Money both have chapters, a prologue, an epilogue, and brief teasers of what is to come in each chapter, in the style of A. A. Milne, Jules Verne, and Jerome K. Jerome.
The Discworld novels contain common themes and motifs that run through the series. Fantasy clichés are parodied in many of the novels, as are various subgenres of fantasy, such as fairy tales (notably Witches Abroad), witch and vampire stories (Carpe Jugulum) and so on. Analogies of real-world issues, such as religion (Small Gods), fundamentalism and inner city tension (Thud), business and politics (Making Money), racial prejudice and exploitation (Snuff) are recurring themes, as are aspects of culture and entertainment, such as opera (Maskerade), rock music (Soul Music), cinema (Moving Pictures), and football (Unseen Academicals). Parodies of non-Discworld fiction also occur frequently, including Shakespeare, Beatrix Potter, and several movies. Major historical events, especially battles, are sometimes used as the basis for both trivial and key events in Discworld stories (Jingo, Eric, Pyramids), as are trends in science, technology, pop culture and modern art (Moving Pictures, Men at Arms, Thud). There are also humanist themes in many of the Discworld novels, and a focus on critical thinking skills in the Witches and Tiffany Aching series.
Rincewind was the first protagonist of Discworld; a wizard with no skill, no wizardly qualifications, and no interest in heroics. He is the archetypal coward but is constantly thrust into extremely dangerous adventures. In The Last Hero, he flatly states that he does not wish to join an expedition to explore over the edge of the Disc—but, being fully geared for the expedition at the time, clarifies by saying that any amount of protesting on his part is futile, as something will eventually occur that will bring him into the expedition anyway. As such, he not only constantly succeeds in staying alive, but also saves Discworld on several occasions, and has an instrumental role in the emergence of life on Roundworld (Science of Discworld).
Other characters in the Rincewind story arc include: Cohen the Barbarian, an aging hero of the old fantasy tradition, out of touch with the modern world and still fighting despite his advanced age; Twoflower, a naive tourist from the Agatean Empire (inspired by cultures of the Far East, particularly Japan and China); and The Luggage, a magical, semi-sentient and exceptionally vicious multi-legged travelling accessory, made from sapient pearwood. Rincewind appeared in eight Discworld novels as well as the four Science of Discworld supplementary books.
Death appears in every novel except The Wee Free Men and Snuff, although sometimes with only a few lines. As dictated by tradition, he is a seven-foot-tall skeleton in a black robe who sits astride a pale horse (called Binky). His dialogue is always depicted in small caps, and without quotation marks, as several characters state that Death's voice seems to arrive in their heads without actually passing through their ears as sound.
Death has the job of guiding souls onward from this world into the next. Over millennia in the role, he has developed a fascination with humanity, even going so far as to create a house for himself in his personal dimension.
Characters that often appear with Death include his butler Albert; his granddaughter Susan Sto Helit; the Death of Rats, the part of Death in charge of gathering the souls of rodents; Quoth, a talking raven (a parody of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven", although it flat-out refuses to say "Nevermore"); and the Auditors of Reality, personifications of the orderly physical laws and the closest thing Death has to a nemesis. Death or Susan appear as the main characters in five Discworld novels. He also appears in the short stories Death and What Comes Next, Theatre of Cruelty and Turntables of the Night.
Witches in Pratchett's universe are largely stripped of their modern occultist associations (though Pratchett does frequently use his stories to lampoon such conceptions of witchcraft), and act as herbalists, adjudicators and wise women. That is not to say that witches on the Disc cannot use magic; they simply prefer not to, finding simple but cunningly applied psychology (often referred to as "headology", or sometimes "boffo") far more effective.
The principal witch in the series is Granny Weatherwax, who at first glance seems to be a taciturn, bitter old crone, from the small mountain country of Lancre. She largely despises people but takes on the role of their healer and protector because no one else can do the job as well as she can. Her closest friend is Nanny Ogg, a jolly, personable witch with the "common touch" who enjoys a smoke and a pint of beer, often leading to her singing bawdy folk songs including the notorious "Hedgehog Song". The two take on apprentice witches, initially Magrat Garlick, then Agnes Nitt, and then Tiffany Aching, who in turn go on to become accomplished witches in their own right, and, in Magrat's case, Queen of Lancre.
Other characters in the Witches series include: King Verence II of Lancre, a onetime Fool; Jason Ogg, Nanny Ogg's eldest son and local blacksmith; Shawn Ogg, Nanny's youngest son who serves as his country's entire army and civil service; and Nanny's murderous cat Greebo. The witches have appeared in numerous Discworld books, but have featured as protagonists in seven. They have also appeared in the short story "The Sea and Little Fishes". Their stories frequently draw on ancient European folklore and fairy tales, as well as parody famous works of literature, particularly by Shakespeare.
The stories featuring the Ankh-Morpork City Watch are urban fantasy, and frequently show the clashes that result when a traditional, magically run fantasy world such as the Disc comes into contact with modern technology and civilization. They revolve around the growth of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch from a hopeless gang of three to a fully equipped and efficient police force. The stories are largely police procedurals, featuring crimes that have heavy political or societal overtones.
The main character is Sam Vimes, a haggard, cynical, working-class street copper who, when introduced in Guards! Guards!, is the drunken/alcoholic Captain of the 2-person Night Watch: lazy, cowardly, and none-too-bright Sergeant Fred Colon, and Corporal Nobby Nobbs, a petty thief in his own right. Then Carrot Ironfoundersson, a 6-foot-6-inch-tall (1.98 m) dwarf-by-adoption, comes down from the mountains to join the Watch and do real policing. The Night Watch manages to save the city from a dragon, we learn that Carrot is possibly the rightful heir to the throne of Ankh-Morpork, and the Patrician decides to allow Vimes to create a real police force.
Other main characters include Angua, a werewolf; Detritus, a troll; Reg Shoe, a zombie and Dead Rights campaigner; Cuddy, a Dwarf who appears in Men at Arms; Golem Constable Dorfl; Cheery Littlebottom, the Watch's forensics expert, who is one of the first dwarves to be openly female (and who tried to rename herself "Cheri", but without success); Sam's wife, Lady Sybil Vimes (née Ramkin); Constable Visit-the-infidel-with-explanatory-pamphlets; Inspector A E Pessimal, recruited by Vimes as his adjutant when sent as an auditor by Havelock Vetinari, the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork. The City Watch have starred in eight Discworld stories, and have cameoed in a number of others, including Making Money, the children's book Where's My Cow?, and the short story "Theatre of Cruelty".
Pratchett stated on numerous occasions that the presence of the City Watch makes Ankh-Morpork stories 'problematic', as stories set in the city that do not directly involve Vimes and the Watch often require a Watch presence to maintain the story—at which point, it becomes a Watch story by default.
The Wizards of the Unseen University (UU) have represented a strong thread through many of the Discworld novels, although the only books that they star in exclusively are The Science of the Discworld series and the novels Unseen Academicals and The Last Continent. In the early books, the faculty of UU changed frequently, as rising to the top usually involved assassination. However, with the ascension of the bombastic Mustrum Ridcully to the position of Archchancellor, the hierarchy has settled and characters have been given the chance to develop. The earlier books featuring the wizards also frequently dealt with the possible invasion of the Discworld by the creatures from the Dungeon Dimensions, Lovecraftian monsters that hunger for the magic and potential of the Discworld.
The wizards of UU employ the traditional "whizz-bang" type of magic seen in Dungeons & Dragons games, but also investigate the rules and structure of magic in terms highly reminiscent of particle physics. Prominent members include Ponder Stibbons, a geeky young wizard; Hex, the Disc's first computer/semi-sentient thinking engine; the Librarian, who was turned into an orangutan by magical accident; the Dean; the Bursar; the Chair of Indefinite Studies; the Lecturer in Recent Runes; and the Senior Wrangler. In later novels, Rincewind also joins their group, while the Dean leaves to become the Archchancellor of Brazeneck College in the nearby city of Pseudopolis.
The Wizards have featured prominently in nine Discworld books as well as starred in The Science of Discworld series and the short story "A Collegiate Casting-Out of Devilish Devices".
Tiffany Aching is a young apprentice witch and protagonist of a series of Discworld books aimed at young adults. Her stories often parallel mythic heroes' quests, but also deal with Tiffany's difficulties as a young girl maturing into a responsible woman. She is aided in her task by the Nac Mac Feegle, a gang of blue-tattooed, 6-inch tall, hard-drinking, loud-mouthed pictsie creatures also called "The Wee Free Men" who serve as her guardians. Both Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg have also appeared in her stories. She has appeared in five novels (The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith, I Shall Wear Midnight, and The Shepherd's Crown). Major characters in this series include Miss Tick, who discovered Tiffany, Annagramma Hawkin, Petulia Gristle, and Nac Mac Feegle chieftain Rob Anybody.
Moist von Lipwig is a professional criminal and con man to whom Havelock Vetinari gives a "second chance" after staging his execution, recognising the advantages his jack-of-all-trades abilities would have to the development of the city. After setting him in charge of the Ankh-Morpork Post Office in Going Postal, to good result, Vetinari ordered him to clear up the city's corrupt financial sector in Making Money. In a third book, Raising Steam, published on 7 November 2013, Vetinari persuades Lipwig to oversee the development of a rail network for Dick Simnel's newly invented steam locomotive. Other characters in this series include Adora Belle Dearheart, Lipwig's acerbic, chain-smoking love interest; Gladys, a golem who develops a strange crush on Lipwig; Stanley Howler, an obsessive young man who was raised by peas and becomes the Disc's first stamp collector; and the very old Junior Postman Groat, who never got promoted to Senior Postman because there was never a Postmaster alive long enough to do so.
Several other books can be grouped together as "Other cultures of Discworld" books. They may contain characters or locations from other arcs, typically not as protagonist or antagonist but as a supporting character or even a throwaway reference. These include Pyramids (Djelibeybi), Small Gods (Omnia), and Monstrous Regiment (Zlobenia and Borogravia).
There are also a number of short stories by Pratchett based in the Discworld, including published miscellanea such as the fictional game origins of Thud. All are available in the anthology A Blink of the Screen (2012) as well as in the following locations:
Seven of the short stories or short writings were also collected in a compilation of the majority of Pratchett's known short work named Once More* With Footnotes (2004).
Although Terry Pratchett said, "There are no maps. You can't map a sense of humour," there are six "Mapps": The Streets of Ankh-Morpork (1993), The Discworld Mapp (1995), A Tourist Guide to Lancre (1998), and Death's Domain (1999). The first two were drawn by Stephen Player, based on plans by Pratchett and Stephen Briggs, the third is a collaboration between Briggs and Kidby, and the last is by Paul Kidby. All also contain booklets written by Pratchett and Briggs. Terry later collaborated with the Discworld Emporium to produce two much larger works, each with the associated map with the book in a folder, The Compleat Ankh-Morpork City Guide (2012) and The Compleat Discworld Atlas (2015).
Pratchett also collaborated with Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen on four books, using the Discworld to illuminate popular science topics. Each book alternates chapters of a Discworld story and notes on real science related to it. The books are:
Most years see the release of a Discworld Diary and Discworld Calendar, both usually following a particular theme.
The diaries feature background information about their themes. Some topics are later used in the series; the character of Miss Alice Band first appeared in the Assassins' Guild Yearbook, for example.
The Discworld Almanak – The Year of The Prawn has a similar format and general contents to the diaries.
The books take place roughly in real time and the characters' ages change to reflect the passing of years. The meetings of various characters from different narrative threads (e.g., Ridcully and Granny Weatherwax in Lords and Ladies, Rincewind and Carrot in The Last Hero) indicate that all the main storylines take place around the same period (end of the Century of the Fruitbat, beginning of the Century of the Anchovy). The main exception is the stand-alone book Small Gods, which appears to take place at some point earlier than most of the other stories, though even this contains cameo appearances by Death and the Librarian.
Some main characters may make cameo appearances in other books where they are not the primary focus; for example, City Watch members Carrot Ironfoundersson and Angua appear briefly in Going Postal, Making Money, and Unseen Academicals (placing those books after Guards! Guards! and Men at Arms). A number of characters, such as members of staff of Unseen University and Lord Vetinari, appear prominently in many different storylines without having specific storylines of their own.
After Terry Pratchett was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, he said that he would be happy for his daughter Rhianna to continue the series. Pratchett co-founded Narrativia in 2012 along with Rob Wilkins to serve as a production company for adaptions of his works, with Rhianna as part of its writing team. Rhianna Pratchett said that she would only be involved in spin-offs, adaptations and tie-ins, and that there would be no more novels.
Due in part to the complexity of the novels, Discworld has been difficult to adapt to film – Pratchett was fond of an anecdote of a producer attempting to pitch an adaptation of Mort in the early 1990s but was told to "lose the Death angle" by US backers.
Three television movies were commissioned by Sky One in the late 2000s, each of which were broadcast in two parts. Terry Pratchett cameos as a minor character in all three.
There have been several BBC radio adaptations of Discworld stories, including:
Various other types of related merchandise have been produced by cottage industries with an interest in the books, including Stephen Briggs, Bernard Pearson, Bonsai Trading, Paul Kidby and Clarecraft.