Recommendation — Discworld

Original blog post here.

if you put the period after weird…) in that I don’t really have any contemporary literary idols.

In terms of both literature and history, with only a few exceptions, if it happened after about AD 476, I’ve got no time for it.

The Erechtheion on the Acropolis of Athens.
But, like, if it’s as old the Acropolis of Athens? That is my jam.

Photo by jimmy teoh on

Sure, I’m only in my 30s — though, as far as you’re concerned I’m a spry 25 and always will be — but I don’t think I could name a single author who’s been on the bestseller lists in the last maybe, ten years, or so.

When was the last time a Song of Ice and Fire book charted? I know who George R.R. Martin is. In fact, I was into his stuff before it was cool.

But that’s largely irrelevant to the discussion at hand.

Basically, I don’t feel all that compelled to seek out many current authors. I don’t see how any of them can come anywhere close to touching my literary idols, long-dead though they may be.

A graveyard.
A touch morbid, perhaps, but accurate.

Photo by Mike on

Tolkienin my opinion factually, indisputably the greatest author of this or any age, in this or any language, on this or any world — died in 1973. Robert E. Howard died in 1936. Most of the other stuff I’m actually passionate about reading is either anonymous, ancient, mythological epics, historical war stories, or things written by people who have been dead for centuries (or possibly never actually existed in the first place).

In terms of contemporary authors, I’ve made my feelings on Harry Potter very clear, I’ve never really “got” anything Neil Gaiman has written (he is a good author, but I never understand the thematic points he’s trying to make), I like Guy Gavriel Kay (who’s CanCon, by the way), but all his books have at least one glaring flaw.

A pile of comic books.
I see this in my nightmares…

Photo by Erik Mclean on

I like the idea of comic books, but hate the current reality of comic books — for one thing, they’ve gotten way too serious, uptight, and sprawling for their own good. What we really need is to bring back the Silver Age.

Hear me out: Superman vs. a million Jimmy Olsens.

I’m going somewhere with this, I promise.

While I don’t consider him a literary idol of mine, I very much respect the talents of the late Terry Pratchett — properly, that’s Sir Terry Pratchett; clearly he was doing something right with his books if he got a knighthood out of them.

A knight kneeling in front of a woman.
No, not that kind of knight.

Photo by Berendey_Ivanov / Andrey_Kobysnyn on

To a certain extent, I feel like Terry Pratchett needs no introduction, but on the off-chance you don’t know who he is, he wrote a book about turtles. Specifically, cosmically vast and ancient Space Turtles.

A turtle. Original image by Hoffryan, released into Public Domain by the original author.
Turtle. Not pictured: Space.
Original image by Hoffryan, via Wikimedia Commons.
Released into the Public Domain by the original author.

Well, not “about” so much as “borne upon the cosmically vast and ancient back of”…

And those books are Discworld — or, as they say in American English, “Diskworld”…

[Note: they do not actually say that.]

… by and large the reason Terry Pratchett needs no introduction.

Discworld is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. It’s about a flat, circular planet (standing on elephants, standing on a turtle), not unlike actual ancient conceptions of the actual shape of the actual world.

Looking through a chainlink fence to a man throwing a flying disc.
So, basically this, but a planet.
(That was the best picture of anything even remotely disc-like I could find)

Photo by Roman Tymochko on

“But J.B. Norman,” you say, “what’s the turtle standing on?”

To which I reply: it’s a turtle, genius; it can swim.

Like I said, I don’t consider Pratchett an idol, but it’s impossible not to respect his sheer ability and insight into the Human (also, Dwarf, Troll, or various other assorted Fantasy Races) condition.

That being said, in a very weird, sort of roundabout way, Pratchett and Discworld have been a pretty notable influence on me and Realmgard. Though, strictly speaking, they’ve been more of an anti-influence.

That’s a good thing.

Basically, I clearly have a very British sense of humour, because Discworld is full of exactly the kind of jokes I would make. Hence, the ‘anti-influence’ thing. I’m basically telling myself “No, don’t do that; Discworld already did that.”

I am my own toughest critic…

So, from that, it should be pretty clear that Discworld is overall pretty Realmgard-ian in a lot of ways. Though Discworld is a lot more satirical than Realmgard has ever tried to be. The first few books (which the fanbase as a whole seems to think are the worst in the series, though they’re my favourites) are more straightforward parodies of the Fantasy genre than anything.

Over time, however, Discworld started turning more towards social commentary and satire. Discworld is never not funny, but it does make some pretty insightful (and occasionally scathing) commentaries about things like feminism, death, gun control, religion, war, industrialisation, nationalism, and society in general.

In a way, Discworld is a very “adult” Fantasy series — and that’s not “adult” like, um, shall we say “18+”. That’s “adult” in the sense of pertaining to issues most real-world adults are going to relate to as they fall in love, start a career, raise, engage in politics, make sense of their belief systems, face intolerance, try to foster tolerance.

Basically, Discworld is examining and addressing real-world issues by means of Fantastical elements like Trolls, Dragons, and giant Space Turtles.

A witch with a crystal ball.
Also, Witches.
Of which (not a pun, I swear), this was the best picture I could find.
Photo by Victoria Borodinova on

Like I said, there’s a lot of really keen, meaningful insight. Terry Pratchett was a smart dude. And also a good enough writer that these insights are never unsubtle or unfunny.

Getting back to that “adult” idea, Discworld aimed at younger readers (except for the several books that were written specifically for younger readers), there’s not much violence, and even less that’s graphic or even just non-cartoonish and unrealistic, there’s the odd bit of naughtiness, but mostly presented in such a way that kids aren’t really going to clue in that it’s naughtiness in the first place.

On the plus side, at least the kids don’t have to do taxes…
Photo by Pixabay on

On the other hand, kids probably also aren’t going to clue into most of the social satire, or why it’s funny. On the other other hand, like I said, Terry Pratchett was an inherently talented and charming writer that even without the social satire landing, there’s enough in the books that’s just funny on its own merits.

I’d put Discworld at about the next age bracket up from Realmgard. For reference, The Colour of Magic, the first Discworld book was on the list of recommended books for my little brother’s Grade 9 book report.

As a potential word of warning to any completionists out there, Pratchett was doing Discworld for 32 year, and put out 41 novels in that time. So, doing the whole series is going to take some, uh, doing. On the other hand, most of the Discworld books work perfectly well as standalone stories, so there are plenty of potential starting points to chose from.

I’m pretty sure those shelves are nothing but Discworld books.
Photo by cottonbro on

Like I mentioned in passing earlier, most Discworld think the series didn’t get good until several books in (depending on who you’re asking, either three, eight, or even 13), but my own personal favourites are the first two: the aforementioned Colour of Magic and its direct sequel, The Light Fantastic (which were also adapted into a TV movie by British network Sky One).

So, to recap, this, but in Space:

A turtle. Original image by Hoffryan, released into Public Domain by the original author.
Original image by Hoffryan, via Wikimedia Commons.
Released into the Public Domain by the original author.

Again, whether or not you actually enjoy the Discword stories themselves, it’s hard not to respect Terry Pratchett by virtue of him being just that darn good at writing.

I mean, he’s no J.B. Norman.

A Facebook comment "J.B. Norman, you're a genius", posted by J.B. Norman
A completely unbiased appraisal.

But, yeah, Terry Pratchett was good at this whole writing thing.

Copyright 2022 J.B. Norman. Revised 2023.
Adapted from a post originally written 2021.

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