Discworld - First Impressions

Just got hold of the first Discworld book yesterday. Read a few pages. Spent a lot more time on wikipedia reading about Discworld. It is such a huge universe that it is better to plunge in equipped with some fore-knowledge. There are thirty eight books in total, two of which haven't been published yet. But unlike Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time these books do not seem to be repetitive or boring in any sense. First of all, each book picks up some theme that it explores. For example, there is one that refers to Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea series. There is another called Hogfather that analyses beliefs like Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy and how they function within our society.

Upon reading the premise of Discworld one gets a better idea of the story telling tradition that Gaiman is part of. Writers like Gaiman and Pratchett do not care about believability. They are very conscious of the fact that their story is a story. The 'story' part of it is for mere enjoyment – a writers indulgence and a readers pleasure. But the 'theme' part of it has larger meaning. It may be an allegory on contemporary society or musings about Life Universe and Everything.

Thus it is that while JK Rowling is busy going to great lengths to set her story in contemporary London and explaining how Wizards can live in the same world as Muggles, Pratchett sets his story on a clearly unbelievable Discworld. The Discworld is a disc shaped world that is held aloft by four elephants who stand on the back of a giant astronomic turtle named A'Tuin. And while one set of philosophers on Discworld believes that A'Tuin has been moving at a constant speed since eternity and will continue to do so for another eternity, there are others who believe that he is moving from Birth to the Mating whereupon more turtles and other worlds shall be born.

The point is – the setting isn't important. The kind of pseudo-realism that some fantasy and lots of SF aspires to doesn't matter. Pratchett wants us to read the story for pure pleasure and get some of the themes and allegories along way if possible.

Like Gaiman, Pratchett's work is deeply intertexual. There is a whole compilation called the Annotated Terry Pratchett which lists at least a couple of dozen intertexual references in each novel that Terry has written. You may not get most of these the first time you read one of his books. But after a few years, when you have been around the world and read up a little more, his book will make more and more sense to you on reapeated reading. No wonder then that I've been pining to read Sandman and the American Gods once more these days and I'm afraid that the same is will happen with Discworld when I'm done. Forturnately there are thirty eight of them so 'I'm done' seems to be a long, long time away!

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  1. Would Douglas Admas - Hitchhiker's Guide to Galaxy fame fall under this category!!!

  2. @ Moksh - Not really. Douglas Adams is deliberately spoofing SF. This is not a spoof. Just very referential fantasy writing.


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