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Discworld is a comedic fantasy book series by the British author Terry Pratchett, set on the Discworld, a flat world balanced on the backs of four elephants which, in turn, stand on the back of a giant turtle, Great A'Tuin. The books frequently parody, or at least take inspiration from, J. R. R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft and William Shakespeare, as well as mythology, folklore and fairy tales, often using them for satirical parallels with current cultural, political and scientific issues.

Since the first novel, The Colour of Magic (1983), 37 Discworld novels have been published , four of which are marketed as children's or "young-adult" (YA) books. The original British editions of the first 26 novels, up to Thief of Time (2001), had distinctive cover art by Josh Kirby; the American editions, published by HarperCollins, used their own cover art. Since Kirby's death in October 2001, the covers have been designed by Paul Kidby. Recent British editions of Pratchett's older novels no longer reuse Kirby's art. There have also been six short stories (some only loosely related to the Discworld), three popular science books, and a number of supplementary books and reference guides. In addition, the series has been adapted for the theatre, as computer games, and as music inspired by the series. The first live-action screen adaptation for television (Terry Pratchett's Hogfather) was broadcast over Christmas 2006. A second, two-part TV adaptation of The Colour of Magic was broadcast in March 2008 in the UK.

Newly released Discworld books regularly top The Sunday Times best-sellers list, making Pratchett the UK'smarker best-selling author in the 1990s, although he has since been overtaken by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. Discworld novels have also won awards such as the Prometheus Award and the Carnegie Medal. In the BBC's Big Read, five Discworld books were in the top 100, and a total of fifteen in the top 200.


Very few of the Discworld novels have chapter divisions, instead featuring interweaving story-lines. Pratchett is 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 do indeed have chapters, prologue, 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.

Themes and motifs

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 sub-genres 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), business and politics (Making Money), are recurring themes, as are music genres such as opera (Maskerade) or rock music (Soul Music). 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, Pyramids), as are trends in science, technology, and pop culture (Moving Pictures, Men At Arms). 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.


A shelf full of Terry Pratchett's Discworld work

To a greater or lesser degree, Discworld stories stand alone as independent works set in the same fantasy universe. However, a number of novels and stories can be grouped together into grand story arcs dealing with a set number of characters and events. For the most part, the arcs occur in real time, with a year between publications equalling a year in the story. The main threads within the Discworld series are:


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 to stay 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 Japanmarker and Chinamarker); and The Luggage, a magical, semi-sentient and exceptionally vicious multi-legged travelling accessory. Rincewind has appeared in six Discworld novels as well as the three Science of Discworld supplementary books.


Death appears in every novel except The Wee Free Men, although sometimes with only a few lines, if any. As dictated by tradition, he is a seven-foot-tall skeleton with a black robe and a scythe who sits astride a pale horse (called Binky). His dialogue is always depicted in small caps, a trait that other characters often remark upon.

The anthropomorphic personification of death, his job is to guide souls onward from this world into the next. Over millennia in the role, Death 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 The Raven); and the Auditors of Reality, personifications of the orderly laws of nature. 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.

The Witches

Witches in Pratchett's universe are largely stripped of their modern occultist, Wiccan 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. The two take on apprentice witches, initially Magrat Garlick, then Agnes Nitt, and then Tiffany Aching, who in turn grow on to become accomplished witches in their own right, or, 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 Nanny's murderous cat Greebo. The witches have appeared in numerous Discworld books, but have featured as main 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, and also parody famous works of literature, particularly by Shakespeare.

The City Watch

The stories featuring the Ankh-Morpork City Watch are urban-set, 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 centre 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 Watch Captain Sam Vimes, a haggard, cynical street copper who finds himself swept up in history as his inept cadre of law enforcement officials (petty thief Nobby Nobbs and perennially lazy Sergeant Colon) grows and takes on new recruits, particularly from the Disc's "minority groups", such as dwarfs, trolls, and the undead. As his influence grows, Vimes' social standing also grows from Watch Captain to Commander and eventually to Duke.

Other main characters include Carrot Ironfoundersson, (possibly) the rightful heir to the throne of Ankh-Morpork; his girlfriend Angua, a werewolf; Detritus, a troll; 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 dwarfs to be openly female; Sam's wife, Lady Sybil Vimes; and 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 the children's book, Where's My Cow? and the short story Theatre of Cruelty.

Pratchett has stated on numerous occasions that the presence of the City Watch makes Ankh-Morpork stories 'problematic', as stories set in the city that don't 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

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 novel Unseen Academicals. 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; the Librarian, who was turned into an orangutan by magical accident; the Dean; and the Bursar. In later novels, Rincewind also joins their group.

The Wizards have featured prominently in nine Discworld books and have also starred in the Science of Discworld series and the short story A Collegiate Casting-Out of Devilish Devices.

Tiffany Aching

Tiffany Aching is a young apprentice witch and star 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 hard-drinking, loudmouthed pictsie creatures who serve as her guardians. Both Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg have also appeared in her stories. She has, to date, appeared in three novels. Major characters in this series include Miss Tick who discovered Tiffany, Annagrama Hawkin, and Petulia Gristle.

Moist von Lipwig

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. A third book, in which Lipwig is ordered to organise the city's taxation system, is planned. Other characters in this series include Adora Belle Dearheart, Lipwig's acerbic, chain-smoking lover, Gladys, a golem who develops a strange crush on Lipwig, and Stanley Howler, a mildly autistic young man who was raised by peas, and becomes the Disc's first stamp collector.

The History Monks

The History Monks are a group of vaguely Taoist-like monks who have taken on the job of ensuring that history passes smoothly. They perform their task in two ways: first, their monastery is home to the History Books; 20,000 ten-foot long, lead-bound volumes that record every event of historical relevance as it occurs. Second, they manage and control the flow of time, pumping it from the places where it's wasted (the sea or the desert) to places like cities where there's never enough time. The principal History Monk in the novels is Lu-Tze, nominally the monastery's sweeper but in fact one of the highest ranking monks in the establishment. The History Monks have appeared in three Discworld novels to date.



Name Published Groups Notes

1 The Colour of Magic 1983 Rincewind Came 93rd in the Big Read.
2 The Light Fantastic 1986 Rincewind
3 Equal Rites 1987 The Witches, The Wizards
4 Mort 1987 Death Came 65th in the Big Read
5 Sourcery 1988 Rincewind, The Wizards
6 Wyrd Sisters 1988 The Witches Came 135th in the Big Read
7 Pyramids 1989 Miscellaneous (Djelibeybi) British Science Fiction Award winner, 1989
8 Guards! Guards! 1989 The City Watch Came 69th in the Big Read
9 Faust Eric 1990 Rincewind
10 Moving Pictures 1990 Miscellaneous (Holy Wood), The Wizards
11 Reaper Man 1991 Death, The Wizards Came 126th in the Big Read
12 Witches Abroad 1991 The Witches Came 197th in the Big Read
13 Small Gods 1992 Miscellaneous (Omnia), Omnian Religion, The History Monks Came 102nd in the Big Read
14 Lords and Ladies 1992 The Witches, The Wizards
15 Men at Arms 1993 The City Watch Came 148th in the Big Read
16 Soul Music 1994 Death, Susan Sto Helit, The Wizards Came 151st in the Big Read
17 Interesting Times 1994 Miscellaneous (Agatean Empire), Rincewind, The Wizards
18 Maskerade 1995 The Witches
19 Feet of Clay 1996 The City Watch
20 Hogfather 1996 Death, Susan Sto Helit, The Wizards Came 137th in the Big Read; British Fantasy Award nominee, 1997
21 Jingo 1997 Miscellaneous (Klatch), The City Watch
22 The Last Continent 1998 Miscellaneous (Fourecks), Rincewind, The Wizards
23 Carpe Jugulum 1998 The Witches, Omnian Religion, Nac Mac Feegle
24 The Fifth Elephant 1999 The City Watch Came 153rd in the Big Read; Locus Fantasy Award nominee, 2000
25 The Truth 2000 The Ankh-Morpork Times, The City Watch Came 193rd in the Big Read
26 Thief of Time 2001 Death, Susan Sto Helit, The History Monks, The Witches Came 152nd in the Big Read; Locus Award nominee, 2002
27 The Last Hero 2001 Rincewind, The Wizards, The City Watch Published in a larger format and fully illustrated by Paul Kidby
28 The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents 2001 Miscellaneous (Überwald) A YA (young adult or children's) Discworld book; winner of the 2001 Carnegie Medal
29 Night Watch 2002 The City Watch, The History Monks Received the Prometheus Award in 2003; came 73rd in the Big Read; Locus Award nominee, 2003
30 The Wee Free Men 2003 Tiffany Aching, Nac Mac Feegle The second YA Discworld book
31 Monstrous Regiment 2003 Miscellaneous (Borogravia), The City Watch The title is a reference to The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women
32 A Hat Full of Sky 2004 Tiffany Aching, The Witches, Nac Mac Feegle The third YA Discworld book
33 Going Postal 2004 Moist von Lipwig Locus and Nebula Awards nominee, 2005
34 Thud! 2005 The City Watch Locus Award nominee, 2006
35 Wintersmith 2006 Tiffany Aching, The Witches, Nac Mac Feegle The fourth YA book.
36 Making Money 2007 Moist von Lipwig Locus Award winner, Nebula nominee, 2008
37 Unseen Academicals 2009 Rincewind, The Wizards
38 I Shall Wear Midnight 2010 Tiffany Aching

Pratchett has occasionally hinted at other possible future Discworld novels. These include

  • Raising Taxes The third book in Moist's series, announced on 21 September 2007 at the book signing in Torrance, CA.
  • Scouting for Trolls the title of which would parody Scouting for Boys.

Short stories

There are five short stories by Pratchett based in the Discworld, and an additional short story "Turntables of the Night", that is based in the United Kingdom and Death has a featured role:

Four of the short stories along with Discworld miscellany (e.g. the history of Thud and the Ankh-Morpork national anthem) have been collected in a compilation of the majority of Pratchett's known short work named Once More* With Footnotes.

The Mapps

Furthermore, there are four "Mapps":

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 Pratchett also admitted: "There are no maps. You can't map a sense of humour."

Several Discworld locations have been twinned with real world towns and cities. Wincantonmarker, in Somersetmarker, UK, for example is twinned with Ankh-Morpork, and the town is the first to even name streets after their fictional equivalents.

Science books

Pratchett has also collaborated with Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen on three 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:

Quiz books

Two Discworld Quiz books have been compiled by David Langford:


Most years see the release of a Discworld Diary and Calendar, both usually following a particular theme.

The diaries feature background information about their themes. Some topics are later used in the series; the concept of female assassins and the character of Miss Alice Band were two notable ideas that first appeared in the Assassins' Guild Yearbook.

The Discworld Almanak - The Year of The Prawn has a similar format and general contents to the diaries.

Other books

Other Discworld publications include:

Reading orders

Reading order is not restricted to publication order; however, each arc may be best read chronologically. Some main characters may make cameo appearances in other books where they are not the primary focus; for example, Carrot Ironfoundersson and Angua von Überwald appear briefly in Going Postal and Making Money. The books take place roughly in real-time and the characters' ages change to reflect the passing of years. No distinction will ever be clear-cut. Many stories (such as The Truth and Monstrous Regiment) nominally stand alone but, nonetheless, tie in heavily with main story-lines, and the meeting of various characters from different narrative threads (e.g. Ridcully and Granny Weatherwax in Lords and Ladies, Rincewind and Carrot in The Last Hero) indicates that all the main threads take place around the same period of time (end of the Century of Fruitbat, beginning of the Century of the Anchovy); the only exception is Small Gods, which appears to be set several hundred years before any of the other stories. A number of characters, such as members of staff of Unseen University and Lord Vetinari, appear prominently in many different story-lines without having titles of their own. As it is, many of these "standalone" stories deal with the development of the city of Ankh-Morpork into a technologically and magically advanced metropolis that readers will find analogous to real-world cities: for example, The Truth catalogues the rise of a newspaper service for the city, the Ankh-Morpork Times, and Going Postal similarly deals with the development of a postal service and the rise of the Discworld's telecommunications system, called "the clacks".



Stage adaptations of 15 Discworld novels have been published. The adaptations are by Stephen Briggs (apart from Lords and Ladies by Irana Brown), and were first produced by the Studio Theatre Club in Abingdonmarker, Oxfordshire.They include adaptations of The Truth, Maskerade, Mort, Wyrd Sisters and Guards! Guards!Stage adaptations of Discworld novels have been performed on every continent in the world, including Antarcticamarker.

A Stage version of "Eric" adapted for the stage by Scott Harrison and Lee Harris was produced and performed by The Dreaming Theatre Company in June/July 2003 inside Clifford's Tower, the 700 year old castle keep in York. It was revived in 2004 in a tour of England along with Robert Rankin's The Antipope.

Film and television

Due in part to the complexity of the novels, Discworld has been difficult to adapt to film – Pratchett is fond of an anecdote of a producer attempting to pitch an adaptation of Mort in early 1990s but told to "lose the Death angle" by US backers.

A list of completed adaptations include:

A list of adaptations in pre-production include:


There have been several BBC radio adaptations of Discworld stories, including Wyrd Sisters, Guards! Guards! (narrated by Martin Jarvis), The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, Mort and Small Gods. On 27 February 2008, BBC Radio 4 aired the first of a five-part, weekly adaptation of Night Watch.

Audio books

Most of Pratchett's novels have been released as audio books. For the unabridged recordings, books 1-23 in the above list, except for books 3, 6 and 9, are read by Nigel Planer. Books 3 and 6 are read by Celia Imrie. Book 9 and most of the books from 24 onward are read by Stephen Briggs. Abridged versions are read by Tony Robinson.

Comic books

The Colour of Magic, The Light Fantastic, Mort and Guards! Guards! have been adapted into graphic novels.


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 and Clarecraft.

Musical releases include:

  • Dave Greenslade: Terry Pratchett's From the Discworld, 1994 (Virgin CDV 2738.7243 8 39512 2 2).
  • Keith Hopwood: Soul Music — Terry Pratchett's Discworld, 1998 (Proper Music Distribution / Pluto Music TH 030746), soundtrack to the animated adaptation of Soul Music.

Pratchett co-authored with Phil Masters two role-playing game supplements for Discworld, utilising the GURPS system:

Video games:

The board game, Thud was created by puzzle compiler Trevor Truran. The card game Cripple Mr Onion is adapted from the novels.

See also


  1. Alternative Nation interview
  2. Theatre of Cruelty and Death and What Comes Next at
  3. Wincanton in Somerset - streets named after Discworld locations - Into Somerset website
  4. A magic idea - Sir Terry Pratchett's Discworld inspiration street names - Daily Mail 6th April 2009
  5. The Discworld Reading Order Guide 1.5 - PDF showing the interrelationships between the books and series within Discworld, with suggested starts.

External links

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