Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series is a much-loved fantasy comedy series loved by millions around the world.
Witty, clever, and endlessly entertaining, the Discworld series is home to 41 novels featuring nearly countless characters of all shapes and sizes.
Whilst framed with traditional fantasy tropes, Pratchett’s approach to the genre was always one of unconventionality and humor – poking fun at not only the tropes of traditional fantasy, but also politics, real-world topics, and the wider pop culture zeitgeist.
Who Is Terry Pratchett?
Sir Terry Pratchett was an English author, humorist, and satirist, who is most famous for creating the Discworld series of books.
Despite having written books prior to creating the series, it was The Color of Magic that marked his big break in the literary world – with his fresh and amusing take on the fantasy genre capturing the attention of readers and executives alike.
Throughout the Discworld series alone, Pratchett wrote and published 41 full-length novels – usually managing an astounding output of around 2 per year in some cases.
Unfortunately, this output slowed some towards the end of his life, when a diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease affected his health and memory and caused him to rely on assistance to create his books.
Since passing away in 2015, Terry Pratchett remains a popular author amongst his legions of fans, and his work continues to attract new readers.
His work is also the subject of very active fanfiction, activities, and fan-organized book conventions.
What Is The Discworld?
Within the context of Terry Pratchett’s writing, the Discworld is the world within which the stories are all set.
As the name suggests, the earth – or disc – is indeed flat, and is rested upon the backs of four colossal elephants, which in turn are stood on the shell of the Great A’Tuin, the ‘world turtle’ who carries the Disc on its journey through space.
Upon this Disc, there are numerous continents, each of which contains numerous cities, towns, and settlements.
However, for much of the Discworld series, the stories take place in and around the city of Ankh Morpork – a vibrant and lively city that in many ways resembles a combination of Medieval and Victorian London.
Who Are The Characters Within Discworld?
One of the most attractive aspects of Pratchett’s world is the sheer number of interesting and unique characters that are present within it.
As such, while the books themselves have several notable protagonists within them, they are very much an ensemble cast of strange and disparate characters.
While there are indeed numerous different characters, there are some books that form arcs centered around specific protagonists and their allies.
Perhaps the primary protagonist of the entire series is ‘Rincewind’, a wizard – or ‘wizzard’ as is written on his hat – who is characterized by his general ineptitude, cowardice, dumb luck, and general misfortune that usually finds him at the center of some catastrophe or another.
While Rincewind is a wizard in theory, he cannot actually perform any conventional magic, and very much relies on his wiles and gift for running to get himself out of danger.
Despite being a generally passive individual, who has no intention of being the hero, he inadvertently finds himself in harm’s way, at the center of an adventure, or otherwise being pursued by antagonists or monsters – traits that have led him to explore much of the Disc (and beyond) during his stint in the books.
The City Watch
One of the primary collections within the Discworld series is focused around the City Watch of Ankh Morpork.
Under the leadership of the curmudgeonly, maverick, and anti-heroic character of Sir Samuel Vimes – a formerly working-class police officer whose career trajectory unwittingly skyrockets – the City Watch is a rogue’s gallery of misfits and wayward souls who are seemingly drawn together to make a difference.
With Vimes at the helm, other notable characters include ‘Cheery Littlebottom’ (a female dwarf with a beard), ‘Angua’ (a female werewolf descended from nobility), ‘Detritus’ (a dumb but loyal troll), ‘Reg Shoe’ (a lifelong policeman who continued as a zombie), and constable ‘Dorfl’ (a large clay golem who was granted his freedom).
As the only thing standing between the (generally) innocent people of Ankh Morpork and danger, the Watch finds themselves up against all manner of threats, conspiracies, and dangers – taking them on adventures across continents and class systems, and often outside the realm of the law.
You heard that right: within the Discworld series, Death plays a leading role, both figuratively and literally.
Depicted as a tall, thin skeleton with a black robe, scythe, and piercing blue eyes, Death is often seen riding his beloved white horse (Binky), as well as with his aged butler come servant Albert – a man saved from near death, who now lives at Death’s home.
While bound by his duties to reap the souls of those who have died, Death also finds himself branching out on his own adventures – either against other anthropomorphized concepts like himself, interdimensional beings like the ‘Auditors of Reality’, or just simply taking the odd vacation or two.
The character of Death has also shown some growth over the course of the books, facilitated by his contact with humans – most notably his adopted daughter ‘Ysabell’, his temporary apprentice turned replacement ‘Mort’, and their subsequent daughter (his granddaughter) ‘Susan Sto Helit’, a young woman who very much resembles her grandfather in many ways.
In some series, such as those centered around The Witches, the story does venture outside of Ankh Morpork.
The Witches series takes place in the small mountainous country of Lancre and features Granny Weatherwax (the stern matriarch), Nanny Ogg (the playful, jolly witch with the ‘common touch’), as well as a series of apprentice witches who come under their tutelage – including Magrat Garlick, Agnes Nitt, and Tiffany Aching.
With numerous references to the works of Shakespeare, as well as European folklore, the witches are seen as nurses, healers, wise women, and helpers within the Discworld – with Pratchett using tropes surrounding riches as a source of humor and lampooning.
The witches can indeed use magic, but very rarely care to, instead opting for botany and other sciences to achieve their ends.
In Ankh Morpork’s ‘Unseen University’, a school of wizards monitor the magical balance of the Disc, albeit badly at times, and often become embroiled in various adventures and plots surrounding interdimensional threats, magical beasts, Lovecraftian monsters, and dark magic users looking to overthrow the Disc.
While most of the cast are depicted as elderly men in scarlet robes (including the Archchancellor Ridcully, The Dean, and The Bursar), there are slightly younger members – such as Rincewind, and the wizard-turned-scientist Ponder Stibbons.
Frequently, the ineptitude of the wizards is often their undoing – as well as their propensity for being stuck in their ways, lazy, easily distracted, or ambivalent to anything less than a significant magical threat.
However, despite this, they are generally kind and friendly characters who play an important role in the fabric of the Disc.
The third apprentice of Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, Tiffany Aching eventually becomes a protagonist in her own right – appearing in a series of Discworld books specifically aimed at young women and teenagers.
Her stories often mimic mythology and fantasy tropes, seeing her adventure around the Disc, but also deal with coming of age problems as Tiffany grows into womanhood.
Moist Von Lipwig
A professional criminal and conman, turned Postmaster general, Moist Von Lipwig cleans up the ailing Ankh Morpork Post Office, before being tasked with the corrupt financial sector too.
Moist’s adventures bring him into the orbit of chain-smoking, sharp-tongued love interest Adora Belle Dearheart, young postman Stanley Howler, and numerous other strange characters who work within the framework of the city’s infrastructure.
Are There Any Other Notable Collections?
While there aren’t any other actual collections per se within the Discworld series, there are several standalone books that feature new characters – with some examples of classic fan favorites having cameo appearances within them.
One example is the novel Pyramids – centered around the politics of the desert country ‘Djelibeybi’ (a nod to the British candy ‘Jelly Babies’) – an arid part of the Disc that resembles the Middle East and Ancient Egypt.
Another example is the novel Monstrous Regiment, which follows the exploits of a regiment of females posing as male soldiers, who after signing up find themselves alone in the war-torn region of ‘Borogravia’.
Lastly, there is the novel Small Gods, which focuses on the efforts of the ‘Great God Om’ to once again manifest himself on the Disc.
This novel focuses on the billions of ‘small gods’ in the Discworld universe, as well as the main pantheon of Gods who control (and often interfere with) day-to-day life on the Disc.
What Are The Best Ways To Read Discworld?
With 41 novels in the entire series, and numerous characters, locations, and stories to sink your teeth into, the Discworld series can be daunting to some – especially those not used to reading in depth fantasy.
However, there are several ways to approach the Discworld series to break it down into distinct collections and subsections.
These can include: chronological order, randomly, or separated into collections.
Method One: Chronological Order
As mentioned above, the first, and perhaps most obvious method, is to read the Discworld books in Chronological order.
This of course is the most daunting task – as it means reading 41 books in order, and knowing where to begin can be tricky – but it is largely doable.
This is also the best way to feel the world develop as the series progresses, as well as see the world in the way that Terry Pratchett intended it to be seen.
What Is The Chronological Order?
When it comes to the Discworld series, the chronological order of the books goes as follows:
- The Color of Magic (1983)
- The Light Fantastic (1986)
- Equal Rites (1987)
- Mort (1987)
- Sourcery (1988)
- Wyrd Sisters (1988)
- Pyramids (1989)
- Guards! Guards! (1989)
- Eric (1990)
- Moving Pictures (1990)
- Reaper Man (1991)
- Witches Abroad (1991)
- Small Gods (1992)
- Lords and Ladies (1992)
- Men at Arms (1993)
- Soul Music (1994)
- Interesting Times (1994)
- Maskerade (1995)
- Feet of Clay (1996)
- Hogfather (1996)
- Jingo (1997)
- The Last Continent (1998)
- Carpe Jugulum (1998)
- The Fifth Elephant (1999)
- The Truth (2000)
- Thief of Time (2001)
- The Last Hero (2001)
- The Amazing Maurice & His Educated Rodents (2001)
- Night Watch (2002)
- The Wee Free Men (2003)
- Monstrous Regiment (2003)
- Hat Full of Sky (2004)
- Going Postal (2004)
- THUD! (2005)
- Wintersmith (2006)
- Making Money (2007)
- Unseen Academicals (2007)
- I Shall Wear Midnight (2010)
- Snuff (2011)
- Raising Steam (2013)
- The Shepherd’s Crown (2015)
As you can see, there are dozens of books to be sinking your teeth into, so if you intend to read them chronologically, then you’d better be getting started!
Method Two: Collections
As mentioned above in the character section, there are several collections within the wider Discworld series, each of which focuses on distinct characters within the novels.
This means that, if there are characters you do not like, or do not wish to engage with, then you can ignore them in favor of your favorites.
The character-specific sections are as follows:
Books Featuring Rincewind/The Wizards
- The Color of Magic (1983) – protagonist
- The Light Fantastic (1986) – protagonist
- Mort (1987) – cameo
- Sourcery (1988) – protagonist
- Eric (1990) – protagonist
- Interesting Times (1994) – protagonist
- The Last Continent (1998) – protagonist
- The Last Hero (2001) – protagonist
- Unseen Academicals (2009) – cameo/minor character
- Raising Steam (2014) – mentioned in footnotes
Books Featuring The City Watch
- Guards, Guards (1989) – protagonists
- Men at Arms (1993) – protagonists
- Feet of Clay (1996) – protagonists
- Jingo (1997) – protagonists
- The Fifth Elephant (1999) – protagonists
- The Night Watch (2002) – protagonists
- THUD! (2005) – protagonists
- Snuff (2011) – protagonists
As well as these main appearances, they also appear in one form or another in several other Ankh Morpork-based books.
Books Featuring Death
- Mort (1987) – protagonist
- Reaper man (1991) – protagonist
- Soul Music (1994) – supporting character
- Hogfather (1996) – protagonist
- Thief of Time (2001) – protagonist
Books Featuring The Witches
- Equal Rites (1987) – protagonists
- Wyrd Sisters (1988) – protagonists
- Witches Abroad (1991) – protagonists
- Lords and Ladies (1992) – protagonists
- Maskerade (1995) – protagonists
- Carpe Jugulum (1998) – protagonists
Books Featuring Tiffany Aching
- The Wee Free Men (2003) – protagonist
- A Hat Full of Sky (2004) – protagonist
- Wintersmith (2006) – protagonist
- I Shall Wear Midnight (2010) – protagonist
- The Shepherd’s Crown (2015) – protagonist
Books Featuring Moist Von Lipwig
- Going Postal (2004) – protagonist
- Making Money (2007) – protagonist
- Raising Steam (2013) – protagonist
Books Regarding Discworld Cultures
- Pyramids (1989) – region of Djelibeybi
- Small Gods (1992) – region of Omnia
- Monstrous Regiment (2003) – region of Borogravia
Method Three: Personal Choice
The last method, and perhaps one that is suited to newer readers, is to use your personal choice and dive in.
Terry Pratchett wrote the Discworld novels in such a way that readers could dive right in at whatever point in the series they are at, and become just as immersed as they would if they started from the beginning.
This is the sign of just how strong a world Pratchett created, and just how alive and thriving the Discworld feels – even as a casual reader.
While some books are considered to be in certain ‘collections’, this is by no means a limiting factor that should stop a potential reader from diving in, and most of the books actually have a few lines of recap in them to explain who the characters are, what they do, and where they live.
While there are certain throughlines between the books – such as Rincewind’s adventures, and the gradual advancement of Ankh Morpork through characters like Samuel Vimes and Moist Von Lipwig – casual readers can still dive in and not feel lost.
Which Method Is The Most Fulfilling?
This is a tricky one, and as a fan of Pratchett I might be somewhat biased here, but generally speaking I would say that for the first time reading through the books, it is better to approach them in chronological order.
This is because the Discworld is a complicated world with a complex infrastructure – not to mention one that is always advancing and developing – and as such it might be a better all round experience for readers to start from the beginning.
However, should you approach a specific book – such as The Color of Magic – and realize that the storylines pertaining to the wizards do not appeal to you, then by all means skip ahead to the first City Watch book and read about the antics of Samuel Vimes and the other misfits in his group.
That is the beauty of Pratchett’s work, and what makes the Discworld series such a real, immersive experience for those who have read the books cover to cover.
Why Is Discworld So Popular?
While this is purely down to opinion, many fans cite the ensemble character driven stories, the trademark wit, and the unique, thriving richness of the Discworld itself.
Which Books Are The Most Popular?
While many of his books are held up as being masterpieces by fans, there are certain collections that continually prove more popular than others.
Generally speaking, these tend to be the ones surrounding the Ankh Morpork City Watch (namely Samuel Vimes), Rincewind the wizard (very much the reluctant posterboy of the Discworld), and the novels featuring the witches of Lancre – with all of these collections representing a more classic time within the series.
And there we have it, everything you need to know about Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, and the best reading order to consume then in.
It’s true that when it comes to fantasy, Terry Pratchett was certainly ahead of the pack – offering something truly original within a relatively saturated genre.
With witty prose, unconventional characters, and a truly magical world that really feels alive, the Discworld is a diverse world that can be approached in many different ways.
So if you want to explore Terry Pratchett’s back catalog, then why not give these methods a try?
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Discworld Suitable For Children?
Most of the Discworld books are designed for older readers. However, the Tiffany Aching books are designed for children.
Will There Be Any More Discworld Books?
The future of the Discworld series seems unlikely to continue following the unfortunate death of the author, Sir Terry Pratchett.
What is the best Discworld audiobook to start with?
The Discworld books do not follow a linear narrative, so reading them in any particular order is unnecessary. Audible.com suggests you start with The Colour of Magic, narrated by Tony Robinson. It makes sense to start at the beginning, and it will give you a comprehensive introduction to Pratchett’s universe.
Who narrates the Discworld audiobooks?
Nigel Planer and Tony Robinson, two well-known English comedian actors, are the most well-known narrators. Pratchett also annotated the series with footnotes, and many of these are read by Bill Nighy.