New to Terry Pratchett? Which book should you read first? I’ve been reading Terry’s books for over 30 years and will give you a quick guided tour of the best places to start with Terry and the Discworld. I also acknowledge the influence of Terry’s writing on my own work and my new book The Crow Folk.
Mark Stay here
In the description of my new book, The Crow Folk, the publisher has written “For fans of Lev Grossman and Terry Pratchett,” and a bit further down there’s lovely quote from the author Ian Sainsbury, who says “Pratchett fans will love this book,” which is a comparison that both thrills and terrifies me.
I’ve been reading Terry’s books since I was 14, 15 years old, which is over 30 years.
It’s safe to say that no writer has come close to capturing my imagination in the way that he did.
I’ve not got everything he’s written, but I’m fairly close. And like any fan of Terry’s work, my first reaction when someone says, “This this is just like Terry Pratchett!” is,
“Yeah, yeah, right.”
So what I want to talk about today is the debt that I owe to to Terry Pratchett, and how I’ve come to terms with that comparison.
But I’m also aware there are people out there who won’t have read any Terry Pratchett, and they will look at all the backlist and… It’s a bit bewildering and thinking, Well, where do I start? It’s probably one the most common questions from any new reader. So let’s have a look at some entry points for new readers to the Discworld and Terry Pratchett.
The Discworld, as its name suggests, is a flat disc of a world on the back of four elephants on the back of a giant flying turtle floating through space. And it’s a wonderful precinct for every kind of story. Terry’s stories combine magic with wry humour,
and a humanity that I think you don’t see a lot in fantasy. At least, you didn’t until Terry came along. And as the series have evolved, various story threads have evolved, various kind of distinct series within series and fans have their favourites, and it started with The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, pretty much you know, the first book and a sequel. These two really do tie in, and it covers the story of a cowardly
Wizard called Rincewind. These are fun. It’s not Discworld at its best. It’s still something of a parody, at this point, of regular fantasy, and it’s interesting… you compare them to the later books how far the books have evolved over time, so… These are great. I wouldn’t say start with these.
Some of the most beloved books are the stories of The Watch. The City Watch. There’s a city,Ankh Morpork, and there’s a city watch led by Captain Vimes. They all started with this book Guards, Guards, which is written in tribute to… in any other fantasy story, the poor guards who run into the room and are slaughtered by the hero straight away. These are terrific fun, really, really good fun. There is a TV show coming which doesn’t… it shares some of the DNA of the books, but frankly… It’s one of those things… Good Omens aside — we’ll come to that in a minute — I’m not sure you can adapt Terry’s books for TV and film, because the things I love about Terry’s books the most is the writing itself,
the prose and the characters. The stories are good fun, but I don’t think they lend themselves to TV adaptation in the way that other books do. This is just magic.
This is a great one to start with. The other ones are the books that feature Death.
I mean Death features in every single one of Terry’s books. He’s the one recurring character that crops up all the way through. This was actually the first book I ever read in the Terry Pratchett canon: Mort, which I absolutely adore. Death takes on a young apprentice, and it’s just brilliant, very moving in places as well. Death was such a hit in this one, it’s probably the first time he really came to the forefront in any of the
stories, he started getting his own novels, and this again, is a huge favourite. Reaper Man, where death essentially takes a holiday. Definitely worth recommending, but start with Mort if that’s your kind of thing.
There are all kinds of stand-alones as well, within the series. Books like Soul Music,
which is about rock and roll, Moving Pictures, which is about movies. Pyramids, which is set in a kind of Discworld version of Egypt. They’re all good fun. Probably don’t start with those. They’re kind of atypical. They’re the ones that you discover once you love the series. Of course, the one stand alone, probably even if you’ve never read Terry, you probably do know, is Good Omens, which he co-wrote with Neil Gaiman, back in 1990
Which, again… Just one of my absolute favourites.
It’s about the apocalypse, on the face of it, it feels like a parody of The Omen and that kind of genre. But again, there’s so much more to it. So much more fun to it.
But the books I love the most, and this is where I do owe Terry a debt, are the witches series which feature three witches… it evolves over time, in a kingdom called Lancre,
which is this kind of, it’s, like, cliffs tumbling across farms, and it’s it’s a wonderful, magical place.
Ostensibly, it starts with this one, Equal Rights, but in the same way that The Colour of Magic and Light Fantastic aren’t quite fully evolved Discworld. Granny Weatherwax, the lead witch, she first appears in this. But it’s not quite the Granny Weatherwax that that we come to love. It’s a lovely book. It’s a really, really lovely book, but it’s not quite… It’s not where I’d recommend you start. For that, I’ll send you the Wyrd Sisters, which is essentially Macbeth, but from the witches’ point of view. And then you get our trio of witches: Granny Weatherwax, the hilarious Nanny Ogg, and Magrat, who is kind of their their drippy apprentice. This is huge fun and my favourites of all of Terry’s books,
probably are the Witches ones.
And there have been a number of them, where they go off on various adventures.
I’ve got a soft spot for this one, because I remember reading this in hospital when I had kidney stones, so this was a bit of a lifesaver. And there are all sorts here, which are just wonderful, magical stuff.
He then did something very clever. He introduced a new witch, in a book called The Wee Free Men, called Tiffany Aching, who has gone on to have her own series.
They started, as you see, slightly smaller hardcovers. They started as children’s books and then folded into the mainstream of the Discworld canon essentially, and it’s rather fitting that Terry’s last book featured Tiffany Aching: The Shepherd’s Crown. I know a lot of people who can’t bring themselves to read this book I completely understand why, and it’s… it is a difficult read I did get very choked up… I’m getting choked up.
just thinking about it. It is a tough read, but it is wonderful.
One of his best books, actually…
I’ve learned so much from reading Terry’s work: the importance of
character over plot, that use of language and vernacular language.
But most of all, the importance of being yourself as a writer.
The comparisons, “This is like Terry Pratchett,” it’s only ever meant as a guide.
So am I trying to write like Terry? Bloody hell, no, no, I could never do that.
But has he inspired me? More than he could possibly know.
And he continues to do so.
And if you’re new to him, hopefully he will inspire you, too.