Recommendation: Terry Pratchett’s “Discworld”

[sports fans of opposing teams insulting each other]
This struck Nutt as inflammatory in the circumstances. Perhaps, he thought, the ritual is that childish insults shall be exchanged until both sides feel fully justified in attacking, just as Dr Vonmausberger noted in Ritual Aggression in Pubescent Rats.
“Unseen Academicals” by Terry Pratchett

Many will probably already know Terry Pratchett’s “Discworld” books, but for some they might actually be new, or they may not see the value in them. After all, his world is … a bit absurd. A disc-shaped world standing on the backs of four elephants — the fifth elephant had even worse luck and now serves as major source of fat (for candles) in one part of the world. And those elephants stand on the back of a turtle traveling through space? Makes for a nice cake, but seriously? Not to mention dwarves, golems, trolls, and the like populating the world itself?

While the surface might be absurd or off-putting, Pratchett has created the perfect playing field for what he has to say. After all, he has the rare gift of not only being able to see the absurdities in our society, but also to help other people to recognize them as well: By including these absurdities in the absurd world of his Discworld novels, they become easily visible and recognizable.

And additionally, he just tells very good and extremely funny stories.

Given that he has written 40+ books in that world so far, it might be hard to know where to start. He has multiple main characters/tracks, but they actually are characters (in the best sense of the word) and easy to distinguish. But while the novels usually make references to prior events, they usually stand on their own. Still, to get an overview, there’s this handy and quite beautiful reading guide by Kietzman, Varet, & Peña (link to a page on Pinterest):

Reading guide by Kietzman, Varet, & Peña (link to a page on Pinterest)

Ah, and while I have never looked into a German translation of a Discworld novel, given the wreckage the editor did with “Nation” to distinguish herself (she did, unfortunately), I strongly suggest reading the original version. After all, there are some more subtle kinds of humor which only work in the original language — and Pratchett has an incredible ability to play with it:

[while riding in a public bus]
‘He’s a scallywag,’ she said firmy. ‘He’ll try on anything. Can’t keep his hands to himself, too.’
‘How come you knows that?’ said Juliet.
That was another worrying thing about Juliet. Nothing much seemed to be going on between those perfect ears for hours on end and then a question like that would come spinning towards you with edges on it.
‘You know, you should try to speak better,’ Glenda said, to change the subject. ‘With your looks you could snag a man who thinks about more than beer and footie. Just speak with a little more class, eh? You don’t have to sound like-‘ ‘My fare, lady?’ They looked up at the guard, who was holding his axe in a way that was very nearly not threatening.
“Unseen Academicals” by Terry Pratchett

and while were at that, he also deals with not-so-funny topics:

[while walking away from watching a football match where Gobbo showed incredible strength]
‘Er, how come you’re so tough, Gobbo? You spent your life lifting weights, or what?’
‘You asked why I am strong? When I lived in the dark of the forge, I used to lift weights. The tongs at first and then the little hammer and then the biggest hammer, and then one day I could lift the anvil. That was a good day. It was a little freedom.’
‘Why was it so important to lift the anvil?’
‘I was chained to the anvil.’
They walked on in silence again until Trev, picking each word with care, said, ‘I guess things must be sort of tough in the high country?’
‘It is not so bad now, I think.’
“Unseen Academicals” by Terry Pratchett

Highly recommended.


P.S.: As the examples with the cake and reading guide also show — he has some of the best fans an author can have. Great works not only tell, they inspire.

P.P.S.: It was really hard to select suiting quotes — there are just way, way, way too many of them. I stuck to “Unseen Academicals” because it’s one of the most recent books I’ve read and given all the soccer world championship stories currently in the news, it was primed. But actually, it’s also not a bad book to start.

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