Want to read some Terry Pratchett, or get some for a kid, but don’t know where to start? I’m here to help!

The comments on my previous post suggest to me that there is unmet demand among this blog’s readership for my opinions on the late, great Terry Pratchett‘s work. Which is fine by me, because (i) I love Terry Pratchett’s stuff and grab any excuse to talk about it with both hands, and (ii) I just got my first Covid-19 vaccination so I’m feeling happy and self-indulgent. Terry Pratchett’s work is funny, smart, and wise, you should totally check him out.

But if you aren’t sure where to start, because boy howdy was Pratchett ever prolific, well, I’m here to help! I’ve read almost everything Terry Pratchett wrote*, and read some of them several times. I’ve also read several of them to my 10 year old son. So for one day only, this blog’s motto is changing from “Multa Novit Vulpes” to “De Chelonian Mobile“.

Overview of Terry Pratchett’s work

Terry Pratchett is best known for the Discworld series–40 fantasy novels set on The Disc, a flat world carried through space on the backs of four giant elephants riding on a giant turtle. Calling them “fantasy” novels really sells them short, because they’re much richer and more distinctive than the term “fantasy” might suggest.

You can read the Discworld books in order, and there are some reasons to do so. Many characters recur in several books, developing over time as they do so. And later books build on and refer back to events in earlier books in ways large and small. But you definitely don’t have to read them in order. The Discworld books fall into subseries depending on who the protagonist is. Each subseries is mostly independent of the other subseries. So if you want to get into the Discworld, one good way to do it is to start at or near the beginning of one of the subseries. There are also a few one-off Discworld books that don’t fall into any of the subseries.

The other thing to know about the Discworld books is that they started out as jokey parodies of other fantasy books, and of various other things (e.g., the movie industry). Over the years, they gradually got less jokey and stopped being parodies (with a few exceptions). All Discworld books have their strengths. But the best Discworld books are from the middle of the series, because you get ideas, themes, tight plotting, and well-drawn characters in addition to jokes. (Towards the end, Pratchett’s writing went downhill due to early onset Alzheimer’s.)

Pratchett also wrote a bunch of non-Discworld books, some of which are aimed at children or teenagers.

Recommended Pratchett entry points for kids (and kids at heart)

If you want a Pratchett book to give to, or read to, kids from ages, oh, 9-10 and up, here are my suggestions:

The Bromeliad trilogy (aka the Nomes trilogy). Not Discworld books. About a society of gnomes (well, “nomes”) that lives in a department store. They think The Store (as they call it) is the entire world, that it’s a paradise created for them. Then the store goes out of business. The nomes question everything they thought they knew, and set off on an adventure to find a new place to live. The first book is Truckers; the action then splits into two parallel tracks and so the last two books, Diggers and Wings, could be read in either order. Anyone who likes the Toy Story movies will like the Bromeliad trilogy. The nomes don’t know anything about humans, thinking of them as big dumb slow animals that wander around the Store during the day. Imagine Toy Story if all the toys were initially in the position of Buzz Lightyear (who doesn’t realize he’s a toy at first), and you’ll have a good sense of the Bromeliad trilogy. As in the Toy Story movies, kids will enjoy them as a fun adventure; adults will also appreciate the big theme of how individuals and societies deal with massive upheaval.

The Tiffany Aching books. This is a subseries of Discworld books, aimed at younger readers. Tiffany Aching is a precocious nine year old farm girl, who grows up to become a powerful witch over the course of five books. A couple of the witches from the grownup Discworld books appear in supporting roles as Tiffany’s mentors. Witchery in the Discworld is mostly about learning how not to do magic. So although there’s definitely magic and adventure in the Tiffany Aching books, there’s also a lot of Tiffany growing up and learning to deal with fantasy versions of the sorts of problems many people her age have to deal with. She has to become the best version of herself, and learn that most problems can’t be magicked away. Tiffany’s a fabulous character. The humor comes from Tiffany’s sidekicks, the Nac Mac Feegle (aka “the Wee Free Men”), a clan of fairies who were kicked out of fairyland for being drunk and disorderly. They’re a hilarious parody of Mel Gibson in Braveheart. They’re blue, they wear kilts, they speak in Scottish accents, they’re combative–and they’re six inches tall. My 10 year old son loved the Nac Mac Feegle.

Recommended Pratchett entry points for teenagers and grownups

For teenagers and grownups who want to get into Pratchett, here are the entry points I’d recommend. Read the footnote if you care why I say “teenagers and grownups”.**

The Colour of Magic. If you insist on starting Discworld at the beginning, this is the book you’ll start with. It’s pure slapstick parody–a spoof of other fantasy series that were popular at the time (Conan the Barbarian, Red Sonja, Dragonriders of Pern, H. P. Lovecraft…). You can enjoy it as a parody of fantasy books in general, even if you haven’t read the specific books it’s making fun of (which I haven’t). But there’s no plot–just a sequence of random events–and almost no characterization. It’s basically a series of Monty Python sketches. If you like Monty Python and the Holy Grail, you’ll probably like The Colour of Magic. But if you want, you know, a proper novel, pick one of the other entry points below. Also, just FYI, The Colour of Magic is the first book in the subseries focused on incompetent wizard Rincewind and the Disc’s other wizards. It’s the weakest Discworld subseries, I think. It’s the jokiest subseries, but the trouble is Rincewind is a one-joke character (he’s a coward who always runs from danger, but yet keeps saving the world by accident). The other wizards are a parody of the senior faculty at Oxford or Cambridge, so academic readers will definitely appreciate them. But they have cameos in many Discworld books, so you don’t need to read the wizards subseries to get a taste of the wizards.

Pyramids. A one-off Discworld book from fairly early on, not part of any subseries and not featuring any characters from any other Discworld book. Set in the Discworld’s parody version of ancient Egypt. Teenager Pteppic unexpectedly has to become the new Pharaoh, and has to deal with problems both socio-political and magical. He wants to modernize the country but the high priest opposes him. And the magical pyramid being built for the last Pharaoh might be too magical…One of the first Discworld books that’s not just a parody; there are big themes here about personal religious faith vs. organized religion, and about tradition vs. modernity. There are a lot of science and math jokes too, which I’m guessing will be up the alley of many readers of this blog. For instance, the Disc’s most brilliant mathematician is a camel…It’s not a perfect book, though. The last third drags. And the handmaiden Traci is a one-note character and doesn’t get much to do (Pratchett got much better at writing women as he went along). Pratchett later returned to the same themes and handled them even better in Small Gods, another one-off Discworld book that’s not part of any subseries. Small Gods is great, it’s many people’s pick for best Discworld novel, but I wouldn’t start with it. (UPDATE: having reread a bunch of Discworld books since I wrote this post, I’m rethinking my recommendation of Pyramids as an entry point. The opening is brilliant, but it just drags too much at the end. Instead of Pyramids, I’d recommend one of the other entry points recommended in this post, or else Hollywood satire Moving Pictures, another one-off from fairly early on. /end update)

Wyrd Sisters. The second book in the Discworld subseries focused on witches–specifically, the witches Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and (in the earlier books in the subseries) Magrat Garlick. The first book in the subseries, Equal Rites, introduces Granny, but I recommend skipping it and going back to it later if you really want. Granny Weatherwax is one of the Disc’s two greatest characters, but the version of Granny in Equal Rites is version 1.0. She doesn’t fully cohere with the version of Granny we get from Wyrd Sisters onward.*** You definitely don’t need to read Equal Rites to understand Wyrd Sisters. Wyrd Sisters is a Shakespeare parody (mostly Macbeth, Hamlet, and King Lear), that puts the witches at the center of the action. The king of Lancre is murdered by the duke; the witches try to restore the true heir to the throne. Wyrd Sisters is funny. It’s got three distinctive protagonists who play well off one another. And it’s one of the first Discworld books to take up one of Pratchett’s big running themes: “narrative causality”. It’s all about the power of the stories we tell each other (and ourselves) to change the world, not merely describe it.

Guards! Guards! The first Discworld book in the City Watch subseries. The City Watch books are set in Ankh-Morpork (the Disc’s biggest city; a parody of Victorian London). When we first meet our hero, Sam Vimes, Captain of the Night Watch, he’s passed out drunk in the gutter. Guards! Guards! follows Sam Vimes and the other motley members of the Night Watch as they rise to the occasion and save the city from a dragon. Along with Granny Weatherwax, Sam Vimes is one of the Disc’s two greatest characters, a flawed man who develops over the course of the City Watch books into a fantasy version of the ideal policeman.**** Guards! Guards!, together with its sequel Men At Arms, introduces a slew of the Disc’s best supporting characters. Guards! Guards! also is a prescient political allegory of the Trump years. (Aside: note that the recent tv series The Watch is based loosely on the City Watch books. Emphasis on “loosely”. I haven’t seen it, but it seems to have gotten only mixed reviews at best. It’s clearly not much like the City Watch books. So if you saw the series and didn’t like it, don’t let that steer you away from the City Watch books.)

Reaper Man. The second book in the Discworld subseries focused on Death. That is, the incarnation of death–the Grim Reaper, the skeleton with the black cloak and the scythe, whose job it is to collect the souls of the dead and send them on their journey into the afterlife. Death has very funny cameos in most Discworld books, but there’s also a subseries with Death as the protagonist. You could start the Death subseries with Mort, the first book in the subseries. But personally I think Mort is one of the weaker Discworld books, and nothing in it is essential for understanding Reaper Man. So why not start with Reaper Man, the main plot of which is one of the best things Pratchett ever wrote? In Reaper Man, Death is relieved of his duties, and sent to live among humans until the new Death comes to claim his soul. Death gets a job as a reaper (after all, he already has his own scythe), hangs around with humans, and learns to face, well, himself. It’s a fish-out-of-water comedy; Death has no emotions and so makes hilarious mistakes when he tries to act human. But it’s also a profound meditation on what makes life worth living, and has the most perfect (and tear-jerking) ending of any Discworld book. Unfortunately, the rest of the book isn’t nearly as good as the main plot. There are a couple of subplots that take place elsewhere, about all the wacky consequences that ensue when Death stops collecting souls. One of the subplots turns into a now-dated parody of…shopping malls. The subplots have nothing to do with the main plot, and they’re such a jarring contrast with the main plot that they come off more as a weird interruption than as needed comic relief. Pratchett later got better at comic relief, and at subplots that reflected and enriched the main plot rather than getting in the way.

Good Omens. Not a Discworld book; a satire about the book of Revelations, written with Neil Gaiman. Hard to tell it was written with Gaiman, honestly–it all sounds like Pratchett. In Good Omens, it’s the End Times, the run-up to the final battle between God and Satan. Except that one of the angels and one of the devils are working together to stop it, because they like Earth the way it is. The tv series is the only good film or tv adaptation of Pratchett’s work. The book is very funny, and also has big themes about the blurry line between “good” and “evil”. If you liked the tv series, you’ll like the book, and vice-versa.

Nation. Not a Discworld book; a one-off YA novel set in an alternate version of our world in the 19th century. Pacific island boy Mau and white British girl Daphne end up stranded on a small island after a huge storm. They have to figure out how to survive, and how to save Mau’s tribe, while Daphne hopes for rescue. Nation was Pratchett’s own pick as his best book. A Robinson Crusoe-style adventure, that also takes on clashing worldviews and colonialism in a rich and evenhanded way. Not jokey at all, though a bit of humor does arise from the situations the characters find themselves in. Perhaps not the most representative introduction to Pratchett in terms of the writing style, but very good all the same.

Looking forward to nerding out with fellow Pratchett fans in the comments. πŸ™‚

UPDATE: If you want the opinion of other fans on which Discworld books make for the best entry points into the series, here’s a Reddit r/fantasy poll from 2020. 879 respondents. Guards! Guards! was the runaway winner as best entry point, followed by Mort, The Colour of Magic, Wyrd Sisters, and Small Gods. /end update

*I haven’t read the Johnny Maxwell trilogy for kids (it’s on my list). I haven’t read the last Discworld book for adults, Raising Steam, because I’ve heard it’s bad. If I never read it, I’ll always have the pleasure of having one more Discworld book to look forward to, without the disappointment of reading a bad one. I haven’t read the Long Earth sci-fi series. I didn’t finish Pratchett’s YA novel Dodger (just couldn’t get into it). And I haven’t read anything by Pratchett besides his novels, except for the short fiction collected in A Blink of the Screen.

**There’s no graphic violence in the Discworld, but a number of Discworld books contain bawdy jokes (I skip or edit those jokes when I’m reading them to my 10 year old son). And there are a couple of Discworld books with scenes implying that two characters are about to have sex. The bawdy jokes and very occasional implied sex mean that Discworld books are best read by teens and adults. Also, you’ll appreciate the Discworld books more if you’re old enough to get at least some of the many, many erudite references.

***Also, Equal Rites is intended as a feminist book, but I’m not sure it quite works. Esk is nominally the protagonist. She’s a young girl who becomes a wizard, previously an all-male occupation on the Disc (women who can do magic are supposed to become witches). But the book is really focused on Granny Weatherwax. Esk has basically no agency and no inner life. The book comes off as Granny, and destiny, deciding that Esk will be a wizard, without Esk herself ever having much say. Pratchett later got much better at writing women as unique individuals with agency, and at writing characters struggling to find their place in the world. I think of Tiffany Aching as basically Esk 2.0, for instance. Tiffany is what Esk could’ve and should’ve been. Indeed, in one of the Tiffany Aching books, Esk has a walk-on part that reveals what she’s been up to in the many years since Equal Rites. I think that walk-on part exists because Pratchett wanted to give Esk some of the agency and character arc she never got in Equal Rites.

****Which as an aside is why some readers with left-wing political views are suspicious of Vimes and the City Watch books. If you think the main function of idealized fictional police is to blind us to the problems with actually-existing police, the City Watch books may not be your thing (and if so, fair enough). Then again, maybe they will be your thing! I know this may seem totally random that I’m even talking about this. But recently I’ve listened to several podcasts by Pratchett fans who are quite suspicious of, or even hostile to, police–but who like the City Watch books anyway. I have no idea how representative those folks are of anyone besides themselves. But still, I found their mostly-positive reactions to Vimes and the City Watch books striking. I think those positive reactions illustrate three broader points. One is, the Discworld books are fantasy stories. They reflect and comment on our world, yes. But they’re not meant to convey all of Terry Pratchett’s own views on politics or anything else, much less take a stand on any real world political issue. For starters, there aren’t any democracies on the Disc (with the sort-of exception of Ephebe), but that doesn’t mean that Terry Pratchett disapproves of democracy! So I think most readers will be able to suspend disbelief and just enjoy the Discworld books for what they are. Second, Pratchett’s most interested in individual people. He’s interested in the choices people make and why, and how those choices affect them and those around them. He sees the good and bad sides of everybody, even if he’s more skeptical of some people than others. And he knows that people often have mixed or contradictory feelings and opinions (about politics, and everything else). I think that many readers of various political stripes will find characters they can relate to in the Discworld. Third, Pratchett was capable of writing compellingly about views he likely disagreed with. In one of the later City Watch books, Night Watch, we get Sam Vimes’ backstory through a terrific plot device. Vimes accidentally gets sent back in time and has to train his own younger self to be a policeman. Oh, and he has to keep his younger self alive, as Ankh-Morpork undergoes a violent revolution modeled on Les Miserables. In Night Watch, Pratchett seriously entertains the idea that left-wing revolutionaries might be right–that sometimes we need to burn it all down. Night Watch also asks what it means to be a policeman–a civilian dedicated to preserving the status quo–when there’s no longer any status quo to preserve, or worth preserving. And Night Watch enriches our sense of Sam Vimes as an individual. We learn to understand, if not necessarily agree with, Vimes’ own later motives and choices. Night Watch is my pick for the best Discworld book, but to appreciate it you need to read the City Watch books that come before it.

46 thoughts on “Want to read some Terry Pratchett, or get some for a kid, but don’t know where to start? I’m here to help!

  1. Thanks for your suggestions and evaluations. Probably everyone has their favorites, but I don’t think I have ever read a Discworldbook that I didn’t like. Tiffany Aching is indeed a great character. The first of her stories that I read was I Shall Wear Midnight (not the first in her subseries), and it’s wonderful. It’s also a good example of something that doesn’t always get noticed about Pratchett’s works; it’s not all jokes. I don’t know how to describe it, exactly, but you sometimes get surprised by the seriousness underlying it. The witches are funny characters, but the opening of I Shall Wear Midnight pulls that curtain back a little. The same thing happens in Witches Abroad, one of my very favorite Discworld books (and parenthetically, relative to reading aloud to children, what do you do about the Hedgehog Song?).

    I could go on (of course), but I will just say that I am alert for an opportunity, in a paper about mortality patterns, to WRITE SOMETHING IN ALL CAPS.

    • I think you win All The Things if you manage to sneak an ALL CAPS statement about mortality into a paper. πŸ™‚

      The first two Tiffany Aching books are among my favorite Pratchett. Especially A Hat Full of Sky, that’s my #1 personal favorite. It’s funny, I can’t remember the last two Tiffany Aching books at all, not even what I thought of them when I first read them. I need to go back and reread them. I feel like the Tiffany Aching books are underrated (or unread!) even by many big Pratchett fans, so I commend your good taste for liking them so much.

      I feel like my personal taste in the Discworld books mostly lines up with the fan consensus, except that I love Thief of Time.

      I did manage to read Wyrd Sisters to my 10 year old. I read the Hedgehog Song as “the hedgehog can’t be kissed”. But I don’t think I can read him later witches books. There are entire bawdy subplots with Nanny Ogg and Casanunda; I can’t edit out entire subplots!

      I’m rereading Witches Abroad right now, and finding myself impatient to get to the bits you’re referring to. The first half of WA is funny, but also pretty meandering.

  2. An excellent overview over the series, thank you! (Speaking as one Pratchett fan to another πŸ˜‰ ) I think Pratchett and the Discworld have three big strengths:

    1. The Discworld is a whacky, ludicrously satirical version of the real world – but it is exactly this caricature that brings across some important lessons about the real world. Though wrapped in a mantle of comedy, Pratchett has some very thoughtful things to say about serious topics (politics, academia, the press, cultural differences…).

    2. Pratchett had an incredibly deep understanding of human nature. Not just that his main characters are memorable and complex, but brief interactions between minor characters will also often showcase some little insight about how humans think and act.

    3. They are incredibly fun to read πŸ˜€

    • And I agree with your rating of *Night Watch* as the best Discworld book. The Watch books are my favourite subseries anyway, I think they have the strongest cast of characters, good plots for each book, and a great story arc across the subseries.

      But *Night Watch* really crowns the series. We have a well-developed late-career Vimes facing his own tumultuous past within a surprising and exciting plot. It’s much more serious and not as lighthearted as most of the other Discworld books, but it is very moving.

      • Yes, I think the City Watch books are probably my favorite subseries too. Though perhaps I’ll change my mind after I reread more of the witches books, and the last two Tiffany Aching books.

  3. How, how could you leave out Going Postal? A great parody of hacker culture, the Free Software Foundation?/GNU, and the early internet in general.

    I’m also very fond of Hogswatch as a parody of Yule (that also sneaks in some important truths, like so many of these books).

    • Hi Robin, I didn’t know you were a Pratchett fan!

      I haven’t reread the Moist Von Lipwig books since they first came out. At the time, I thought they were just ok, and I wasn’t really into Moist Von Lipwig as a character. But I plan to give them another go.

      In my own defense, I did include Pyramids in the post, which I’m guessing must be another of your favorities?

      Rereading Pratchett over the last year has been great fun. It’s been so long since I’ve read most of them, that it’s like reading them again for the first time.

      Rereading has shifted my remembered opinions of some of them, confirmed my opinions of others. The Colour of Magic is better than I remembered–the pace and energy of the jokes just jumps off the page, it’s like a stand-up comedian on a roll. I hadn’t remembered that the main plot of Reaper Man was *so* good, or that the subplots were *so* out of place. Conversely, reading Interesting Times The Last Continent to my son confirmed my recollection of it as one of the weakest Discworld books. It’s just an excuse to make fun of Australia. (UPDATE: in my original comment, I mixed up Interesting Times and The Last Continent. But my comment that was supposed to be about The Last Continent actually applies to Interesting Times as well: it’s one of the weakest Discworld books.)

      I’ve yet to reread some that I remember *really* liking at the time: Pyramids, Small Gods, and Maskerade. I’m especially curious to find out if I like those three just as much on rereading. Also especially looking forward to rereading Carpe Jugulum, for the opposite reason: it wasn’t one of my favorites when I first read it, but seems to have a fairly high reputation among fans.

      There are a few I’m not looking forward to rereading and might not bother with. I found Monstrous Regiment a really heavy-handed and predictable treatment of themes Pratchett handles much better in other books. I’m sure I’m far from alone in having spotted the big “twist” coming from 100 miles away. And Unseen Academicals…meh. I don’t think I need to reread a parody of British amateur soccer (sorry, “football”).

      • Ha! I’m enough of a fan that I have a quote from Going Postal in my email signature: “They’d cursed and, worse, used logarithms.” I’d actually not heard of Pyramids, so perhaps I should check it out. And yes, my opinions of some shift over time. While I loved Small Gods the first time, I re-read it just a month or two ago and it didn’t play as well for me this time. It just felt a little heavy-handed against established religion this time around. And looking at your other comments, I’m awfully fond of Susan Sto Helit and yes, Granny Weatherwax. Death too. I like Vimes but not as much as those three.

      • Heh, I had forgotten that was your email signature now. πŸ™‚ I still remember when your signature was “Vocate mathematicos” (I think?)

        I probably shouldn’t try to follow your lead and add a Pratchett quote to my email signature. I’d be too tempted to pick one that would read badly (or at least weirdly) as an email signature. For instance:

        Jeremy Fox
        University of Calgary
        “Build a man a fire, and he’ll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.”

        Yeah, probably not a good email signature. πŸ™‚

      • reading Interesting Times to my son confirmed my recollection of it as one of the weakest Discworld books. It’s just an excuse to make fun of Australia.

        I think you mean The Last Continent? Which is an excuse to make fun of Australia, yes, but does so partly by poking fun at Australian depictions of themselves (e.g., Mad Max movies, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert). Interesting Times, on the other hand, reads like an excuse ot make fun of China, and mostly just rehashes Western/British stereotypes about China; I think it’s the least successful of the mid-series books. (Admittedly, the Really Polite Revolutionaries were kind of fun.)

      • Whoops, will fix that.

        Re: Interesting Times, it’s not entirely clear to me if it’s rehashing Western stereotypes about China, or if it’s trying to make fun of those stereotypes. But even if it’s the latter, I don’t think it’s all that successful. In that way, it reminded me a bit of Conina in Sourcery. Conina is, I think, supposed to be a satire of certain tropes about women in sword-and-sorcery novels. But I don’t think she’s entirely successful as satire; there are times when she feels like an example of the tropes she’s meant to be a satire of.

      • Have just reread Going Postal to my son, at Robin’s suggestion. I don’t know why I thought it was just ok when I first read it. It’s fabulous–upper-tier Discworld. I still wouldn’t recommend it as an entry point into Discworld; I think you’re better off reading a City Watch book or two first, so you know something about Ankh-Morpork and Lord Vetinari. But then again, if you’re not into fantasy or silly jokes, maybe you’d want to start with it. Because it’s only barely a fantasy story at all, and the humor is the sort of humor that I think most anyone would enjoy. It’s pacy, it’s structured tight as a drum, the characterization is more than a little Shakespearean, and there are rich themes about hope and belief. Great stuff.

    • The other reason I left out Going Postal and the other Moist Von Lipwig books is that I think that subseries starts too late to be a good entry point into the Discworld. I think you’re better off reading at least a couple of the City Watch books first, so you have some appreciation for Ankh Morpork and Vetinari. Hard to appreciate the “industrial revolution” Lipwig leads if you don’t have some sense of what the city was like before Lipwig came on the scene.

    • Oh, and re: Hogfather, I read that to my son last Christmas. When I first read it many years ago, I didn’t think it was that great. The bits about using teeth collected by the toothfairy to control children’s beliefs just seemed really weird to me. I appreciated the book more on rereading. And like everyone, I love the big exchange at the end between Death and Susan Sto Helit, about belief in the little myths of childhood as practice for believing the big myths of adulthood. That exchange is one of the most famous bits of Pratchett’s work for good reason. It’s profound and perfect.

      I feel like the tv production of Hogfather should’ve been great, but it was disappointing. I’ve concluded that Death and the wizards are just funnier on the page than they are on the screen, for reasons that escape me. Shakespearean roistering is the same–it only works on the page, not on stage or screen.

      • Having now reread Pyramids and Small Gods, I’d say that neither is quite as good as I remember. The second half of Pyramids drags. And I agree with you Robin: Small Gods does come off as a bit heavy handed (if you read it as an attack on all organized religion), or else as shooting at too easy a target (if you read it as an attack on the most extreme forms of religious fundamentalism). I still think Small Gods is very good–an upper-tier Discworld book. But definitely not the best of them.

        Also, I’m rereading Soul Music and enjoying it more than I remember enjoying it the first time. A lot of very funny rock & roll jokes. And having reread later books featuring Susan Sto Helit, it’s a pleasure to be rereading her introduction in Soul Music as a stroppy, know-it-all teenager.

      • And having now reread Carpe Jugulum, I’d say it’s better than I remembered. One of the better Discworld books but not upper-tier. On the plus side are all the great set pieces. But it’s held back a bit for me because the vampires kind of oscillate between being ultra-powerful supervillains, and being campy comedy figures.

  4. If you’re picking grownup Discworld books to read to a preteen, my #1 suggestion is Thief of Time. My 10 year old son’s favorite of the Discworld books I’ve read him, he keeps it in his room and rereads it himself. Kids will find the kung fu movie parody *hilarious*, even if they’ve never seen any kung fu movies themselves (EDIT: or if, as in my son’s case, the only kung fu movie they’ve seen is Kung Fu Panda). There are no bawdy jokes or sexual situations you’d have to edit or skip. And although it features a couple of recurring Discworld characters, you can definitely read it without ever having encountered those characters before.

    • Kiddo’s opinion has changed. Now his favorite grownup Discworld books are Going Postal and Making Money. He likes having a conman (Moist von Lipwig) as the main character–he likes it when the hero tricks the villain.

  5. Read the Long Earth I thoroughly enjoyed it and I think you might too – though it is of course another cooperative work but I still really liked it.
    I think it is always interesting to see how people new to discworld change their favorite characters over time as the characters themselves change and start having more depth.
    Interesting choice in Night watch. I take it you are a Vimes guy then? I think my husband is also torn between death and Vimes. If I had to choose I think I would pick Granny. I recently listened to the little fishes short again (plus the extra bit) and I love how she is so powerful but yet struggles.

    • My favorite single *character* is actually Granny, not Vimes. I think towards the end of the City Watch series (Night Watch aside), Vimes basically turns into a superhero.

      • Granny Weatherwax turns into a superhero too in the later books, but Pratchett figures out better ways of dealing with that for Granny than he does for Vimes. Maskerade lowers the stakes and keeps Granny mostly offstage. And in the Tiffany Aching books Granny’s role is to mentor her successor, not save the world. In contrast, Pratchett never really finds a way to move Vimes offstage, either on a one-off basis in some low-stakes setting, or permanently offstage in favor of some successor. Vimes becomes a Duke, but that doesn’t move him offstage. Just the opposite, actually–he not only continues leading the Watch, he gets to become the world’s policeman by solving crimes while also doing high-stakes international diplomacy. And Vimes does train his “successor”, in Night Watch, but it’s his past self.

      • Just reread Snuff, which I had no memory of. Confirms my contention that Vimes turns into a superhero at the end of the City Watch series.

  6. Now trying to think of what my most controversial or unpopular Discworld take is. I guess it’s either that Mort is one of the weaker Discworld books, or that Thief of Time is one of the better ones?

    Listening to Discworld podcasts, I’ve heard a few women readers who hate Thief of Time because they think it ruins Susan Sto Helit. Saddles her with stereotypes about women who pig out on chocolate. I totally didn’t clock that when I read (or reread) Thief of Time. Having reflected on it, I can see where those readers are coming from, but still feel differently myself. Maybe because various sides of Susan’s personality resonate with various strong women and schoolteachers I’ve known in my own life, right down to Susan’s love of chocolate.

    I also know of a couple of people who hate Thief of Time because they find Lu Tze annoying and a bully. To which, fair enough if you don’t think Lu Tze is funny. But a bully? I don’t get that at all. I mean, if he’s a bully, then every elderly kung fu master in every kung fu movie ever made is also a bully. Lu Tze is a knowing parody of tropes about elderly kung fu masters!

  7. I’d not heard the sorts of concerns about the night watch books misrepresenting the police that you mention above. It’s worth remembering in this context that Pterry was British, not American. While the British police are far from perfect they are much better than the US version and have a very different relationship with (most of) the population: policing by consent rather than the police acting more as a hostile occupying force.

    • Well, except that the readers of whom I’m speaking (deeply opposed to the police in principle, but also largely positive about the City Watch books) were British. One was a Guardian columnist.

    • Diggers and Truckers are in the post!

      I thought about The Carpet People. Read it to my son when he was 9; he loved it. The basic idea of it is charming. But the plotting and writing reflect a very inexperienced writer. (For readers who don’t know: The Carpet People was Terry Pratchett’s first novel, published when he was 18 IIRC). I feel like the Bromeliad trilogy (Truckers, Diggers, and Wings) is The Carpet People 2.0. It’s Terry Pratchett revisiting the same ideas and handling them much better.

      • I’ve only read the rewrite of The Carpet People, and to me it still showed a lot of signs of having been written by an 18 year old. Creative and charming, but not a patch on the Bromeliad trilogy for me. YMMV.

      • Yes, the Bromeliad is better, but I guess I have a soft spot for the Carpet People because I really, really like the Borrower series – if you remember the model village Besancot from your days at Silwood, it features in The Borrowers Aloft πŸ™‚

  8. So, following on from my remark that Good Omens is the only Pratchett work with a good tv or movie adaptation: what Pratchett would make for a good movie or tv series?

    A podcast I listened to recently suggested that the main plot of Reaper Man would be a *great* movie. I totally agree! Indeed, I’m kind of surprised nobody’s done it already.

    The Bromeliad trilogy could definitely be cut down into a great kids movie. Indeed, as I noted in the post, that movie sort of exists already–it’s Toy Story.

    The Wee Free Men (the first Tiffany Aching book) would make a good kids movie too. It shares the core elements of a million other kids’ movies, so I would think it would be easy to adapt. But making it into a movie good enough to stand out from the crowd of similar kids movies would require good execution of familiar elements, I think.

    I’ll nominate Night Watch as well. Though I feel like that’s one where even a good movie version wouldn’t live up to the book.

    • On a serious note, I loved Small Gods when I first read it. Especially loved the parodies of Greek philosophers; Small Gods has the funniest philosophy jokes ever, in any medium. But I wouldn’t pick Small Gods as the best Discworld book (definitely in the upper echelon, but not the best) And I kind of feel like those who do pick it as *the* best Discworld book pick it because they feel like they’re “supposed” to pick it? Like, when Small Gods first came out, it was promoted as “Terry Pratchett gets serious”–it was promoted as him writing Literature with Serious Themes.

      I kind of feel the same about Jingo. That’s it’s overrated because everyone knows that, underneath the jokes, it’s “supposed” to be a Serious Literary Book with a Serious Anti-War Message.

  9. Pingback: Fictional species, fictional names | Scientist Sees Squirrel

  10. Pingback: Pick & Mix 61 – Terry Pratchett, chickens, trees, species conservation, wasps, bees, eating weeds and much more | Don't Forget the Roundabouts

  11. Having now reread most though not all of the Discworld novels over the past 20 months, here’s my own ranking. They’re in tiers; there’s no ordering within tiers.

    The very best: Night Watch, A Hat Full of Sky

    Top tier, touch below the very best: Guards! Guards!, Men At Arms, Reaper Man (main plot), Wyrd Sisters, The Wee Free Men, Wintersmith, Going Postal, Lords and Ladies, Thief of Time, The Fifth Elephant, Small Gods

    Upper-mid-tier: Hogfather, Maskerade, Moving Pictures

    Mid-tier: Carpe Jugulum, Witches Abroad, The Truth, Pyramids, The Colour of Magic, The Light Fantastic, Equal Rites, Sourcery, Jingo, Thud!, Soul Music, Feet of Clay, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, Making Money

    Lower tier: Mort, Eric, Interesting Times, Reaper Man (subplots), Monstrous Regiment (tentative rank pending reread), Unseen Academicals (tentative rank pending reread)

    Bottom tier: The Last Continent, Snuff, The Last Hero

    Not yet reread, don’t remember them at all, so can’t rank them: I Shall Wear Midnight, The Shepherd’s Crown

    Not ranked because never read: Raising Steam

    If I was putting non-Discworld Pratchett in the same rankings, Good Omens, the Bromeliad trilogy, and Nation would all be top tier. Dodger would be lower or bottom tier. The Carpet People would be lower tier (which is actually impressive for a book written by a teenager.) Don’t recall Strata well enough to rank it. Haven’t read the Johnny Maxwell trilogy, Dark Side of the Sun, or the Long Earth series, so can’t rank them.

    • It’s interesting to look at the Goodreads ratings for the Discworld books. A very large, though possibly non-random, sample of reader opinion.
      -I commend Goodreads users on their overall good taste. All Discworld books rate at least pretty well. Goodreads users agree with me that Night Watch is the best of them. And more broadly, Goodreads ratings are positively correlated with my own ratings.
      -Goodreads ratings confirm that I’m much lower on Mort than most readers. And why on earth do Goodreads readers think relatively highly of Interesting Times? Less dramatically, I think Goodreads readers are slightly underrating Wyrd Sisters and Lords and Ladies.
      -Eric is the lowest rated Discworld book on Goodreads, which is fair enough.
      -Contrary to what I had thought, Goodreads readers agree with me that Thief of Time is one of the better Discworld books. They also agree with me that The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, and Wintersmith are among the better Discworld books, which slightly surprises me.

  12. Having reread all of Terrys books during the winter months and having the memory span of a goldfish, found some of them more enjoyable to read and some less.
    Curious thing, the books had least been looking forward to rereading, turned out to be the most enjoyed.

  13. Re: the question of how my own taste in Discworld books lines up with the broader fandom’s taste, a bit of anecdata:

    Back in 2015, a Discworld fan blog polled its readers on their favorite Discworld novel (https://artofdiscworld.wordpress.com/2015/09/18/your-favourite-sir-terry-pratchett-novel-the-result/). They got over 550 votes. Night Watch won decisively. Mort was #2, confirming my speculation above regarding my hottest Discworld take (“Mort isn’t one of the better ones.”) Then Reaper Man, Guards! Guards!, and Witches Abroad. One thing these poll results suggest is that fans tend to *really* like the books that introduce the main characters. Which is a measure of just how good Night Watch is–it won the poll even though it’s the capstone of Sam Vimes’ character arc rather than his introduction.

    Back in 2020, a Reddit poll of 879 r/fantasy redditors (https://www.reddit.com/r/Fantasy/comments/jeyay3/the_great_rfantasy_discworld_poll_results/) picked Night Watch #1 in a landslide, followed by Small Gods.

    If you look at Goodreads ratings, Night Watch is #1, followed by Going Postal, Guards! Guards!, Small Gods, and Mort. Kudos to Goodreads users (a bigger and broader set of readers than hardcore Pratchett fans on blogs and Reddit) for recognizing how good Going Postal is.

    So, yeah, the crowd agrees that Night Watch is the best of them. This is a case where the crowd is hard to argue with, I think.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.