Revisiting Discworld

When I’m not tumbling around in the world of All, I tend to read books from elsewhere. Lately they’ve been from the world of the Disc – or Discworld, as one says.

I’m rereading the series now, though ‘rereading’ is an overstatement. Finding that I hadn’t read nearly as many of them as I’d remembered, I’m rereading some, but reading most of them for the very first time.

I’ve tried to review them on Goodreads as I go along, though I haven’t necessarily been reading them in the chronological order.

I started out conservatively with the very first Discworld titles, . These were my first entry into the series 20 years ago, but I didn’t enjoy them that much this time around.

My reading of the Discworld series has been very eclectic; I read them out of order, and often with several years in between each time I pick up one. I reread the two first titles, The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, a couple of years ago, and found them to be both funnier and less well-structured than I remembered.
I then went on to Guards! Guards!, and that is one of the very best Discworld novels I’ve read – maybe even one of the best fantasy novels, period. I won’t go into details on the plot or the characters, since I believe it is all quite well known. While I hadn’t read the novel before, I could recognise the plot from the 1995 PlayStation game Discworld, which was a little jewel in its own right. It replaced Sam Vimes with Rincewind (voiced by Eric Idle), had beautiful animation, and was packed with witty and clever gags – just like the Discworld novels themselves. It also had a very 90s approach to puzzle-solving – meaning it was at times almost impossibly difficult to progress. I wish there’d be a release on GOG or similar.

But back to the book itself: What I think is noteworthy here is how Pratchett manages to weave together a quite bizarre storyline that riffs on a number of stale fantasy tropes, a set of outrageous, but believable characters (who don’t really need the overarching storyline to be interesting), and to make it all come together in a surprisingly dark meditation on the nature of power and human ambition – while being effortlessly funny throughout.

A detail I’ve never appreciated before in Pratchett’s writing is his wonderful talent of finding exactly the right word in a given context. For instance, when the imprisoned Patrician orders a set of illiterate rats to provide him with books, the ensuing library is described as “baroque”. Perfect.

After this very enjoyable read I tried to go back into the formal chronology of the series. As I’ve said, I was surprised by how funny and inventive I foundThe Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, having only read them once nearly 20 years ago. However, I was also disappointed by their weak narrative structure. They’re basically just a long series of set pieces, not all of them equally successful. The Discworld books clearly got better later on.

I’d heard that Equal Rites is the first book in the series to evidence some of the elegant plotting of the later titles, being not only a series of jokes but actually coming off as a novel.

I was disappointed. While clearly an improvement on the two earlier titles, Equal Rites still struggles with carrying its characters through an engaging storyline. The ingredients are there, but the result doesn’t come off – not to my taste, at least. The middle section where Esk runs away does not, as far as I can tell, add anything to the proceedings, and the final set piece lacks suspense and purpose.

On the other hand, some of the new characters are very promising, and the budding relationship between Granny Weatherwax and the Archchancellor of Unseen University is one of the best elements in the entire book.

The best thing about the title remains the title itself – a truly wonderful pun.

Parts of this post first appeared on my Goodreads blog. I will be back with more reflections on my Discworld reading.

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