A tribute to Sir Terry for his Discworld books that combine philosophy, fantasy, satire and all things wonderful

Terry Pratchett turned 65 last month. As an ardent fan of this magnificent writer, I celebrated his birthday re-reading parts of Discworld novels that are guaranteed to bring a chuckle.

Terry’s birthdays also make me sad. Today, 65 cannot be viewed as “old” at all but Terry suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, which brings a person closer to death. Of course, Death is an old friend of Terry’s and I’m sure that they will meet with grace and good humour.

I stumbled upon my first Discworld book when a colleague set up a reading nook at office a few years ago. Upon reading the book (Going Postal), my first thoughts were: Why had no one told me about Terry Pratchett? How could I have existed without knowing of this wondrous series of books?

So, with almost evangelical zeal, I decided to tell everyone I know of the great Terry Pratchett. This blog post too is part of my mission to introduce the writer to those who are yet to read him.

I think there is no sweeter pleasure in this world than finding a new author whose style and storytelling you delight in. And the pleasure gets multiplied manifold when you find that said author is extremely prolific, like Wodehouse or Pratchett.

I also believe that it is important to start with the right Discworld novel, although some of you more methodical readers might prefer reading them in the order they were written. I would, however, urge friends to definitely not start with The Light Fantastic, which is not a great first book of the Discworld series.

Here’s a shortlist of 10 books (best enjoyed in chronological order) for the Pratchett beginner:

1. Equal Rites

The story of Eskarina Smith, the first female wizard to enter Unseen University. The book also introduces Granny Weatherwax, the witch who can invoke in the reader a terror, admiration and love all at once. The novel has a feisty feminist theme with a touch of humour that makes every page worth your attention.

Quote: She was already learning that if you ignore the rules people will, half the time, quietly rewrite them so that they don't apply to you.

2. Guards! Guards!

The eighth Discworld novel and the first with the City Watch as its protagonists. Meet policeman Sam Vimes and trainee Carrot; Havelock Vetinari, the patrician of the city Ankh-Morpork and… the Dragon.

Quote: The three rules of the Librarians of Time and Space are: 1) Silence; 2) Books must be returned no later than the date last shown; and 3) Do not interfere with the nature of causality.

3. Reaper Man

Death has to be Pratchett’s best character. A philosopher who is fascinated by humans, Death is a character you’ll come to love, like a stern grandfather who hands out chocolates in plenty. This book is all about what it is to be human.

Quote: No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away...

4. Feet of Clay

You’ll be introduced to golems, a form of clay robots that have a set of instructions written into them. This book encourages you to question instructions, to think for yourself, to look beyond words.

Quote: You couldn't say 'I had orders.' You couldn't say 'It's not fair.' No one was listening. There were no Words. You owned yourself.

5. Carpe Jugulum

This is a tale of a battle between vampires and witches. Pratchett has affectionately subverted the vampire culture and you’ll meet the modern vampire, who’s nicely adapted to sunlight and garlic but still interested in drinking blood. Character to look out for in the novel is Agnes Nitt a.k.a Perdita X. Dream, a witch with dual personality.

Quote: Try it for your father, dear,” said the Countess. “Quickly, before it congeals.

6. The Truth

This book is a journalist’s delight as we follow William de Worde’s struggle to set up Ankh-Morpork’s first newspaper. A lot of good humour on what makes news stories, including umm.. interestingly-shaped vegetables.

Quote: Pulling together is the aim of despotism and tyranny. Free men pull in all kinds of directions.

7. Night Watch

This book introduced me to the concept of “quantum” in a way that I could understand it. And it has a lot about the City Watch and their eccentries. What’s not to love? Oh and it also talks about virtues, principles, values and all things noble.

Quote: Two types of people laugh at the law: those that break it and those that make it.

8. Thud

Thud is a book with Sam Vimes at its centre and speaks of his struggle to conquer his anger and put it to good use. The novel speaks of ancient enmities between warring groups of trolls and dwarves but it's not all just fantasy; there's plenty of wisdom in the book that shows how the seeds of distrust between groups are planted.

Quote: It was written in some holy book, apparently, so that made it okay, and probably compulsory.

9. Making Money

You’ll meet the rascally Moist von Lipwig, who is given the charge of the city’s bank, mint and a small dog. The novel is rollercoaster of fun as we learn of how man has made conceptual things (like money) have value. The character of Igor is a special treat in the book.

Quote: It was sad, like those businessmen who came to work in serious clothes but wore colorful ties in a mad, desperate attempt to show there was a free spirit in there somewhere.

10. Unseen Academicals

A lovely book about football and orcs and identity. The story itself is an exploration of what is self-worth and how it is important to feel good about yourself in your own skin. But Pratchett doesn’t preach. He's one of the rare breed that can get it right without preaching.

Quote: Sometimes if you wanted to go to the ball you had to be your own fairy godmother.

And, finally, this link (you'd have to scroll till the end) will lead you to some of his short stories available online. Enjoy.

(The writer can be reached at kannal.achuthan@thehindu.co.in)

Keywords: TerryPratchettDiscworld