Season 4 Episode 24.5 :: Microsode – Disclexia
Once again, we have another great microsode in store for all of you! This time, Darren Reid has decided to have us all whisk you away to the irreverently magical domain of Discworld! We were excited at the opportunity to pull in Luke, Brian, Triforce Mike, Brandon, Tony, and Hex to talk about our understanding of the goings on of the world that rests upon the Great A’Tuin.
We loved talking about it so much, that we actually plum forgot to give a rundown on where you could get started! After the jump, we are lucky enough to have our unusually prompt Luke give you a good primer of the series! Enjoy!
We had a lot of fun with the Discworld mini-sode, perhaps slightly too much. When Cap-less, we are disordered and anarchic. So for those interested in the series, here’s a breakdown of the various intra-series within the Discworld universe, and good starting points for each. As mentioned in the episode, any book can be read in any order without missing more than inside jokes that have developed within the series, but if you like to read things chronologically or don’t want to spoiler things for yourself, this might be helpful. If you like to look stuff up yourself, think I’m a shoddy writer, or want to kill some time in a wiki-loop, check out http://wiki.lspace.org the very informative and well-constructed Discworld wiki.
Includes the first Discworld book, The Colour of Magic, obviously a good starting point for the entire series, and as good a starter for Rincewind’s books as any. Rincewind is an unapologetic coward and probably the worst wizard in existence, being unable to cast even a single spell (well, there is one spell, but that’s spoilers). He generally starts and ends every book in some kind of trouble unconnected to the meat of the story, and in most cases all you will miss by reading a random one is how exactly he got to the deserted island or some such thing. Colour is followed by The Light Fantastic, and the stories of both have been collected into a made-for-BBC miniseries under the name Colour of Magic, available last time I checked on Netflix.
Also featured in most Rincewind books are the wizards of Unseen University, at first a bloodthirsty and power-hungry lot, and later mostly just thirsty and hungry between their third and fourth lunches. The wizards appear in many of the other stories for at least a scene or two, but they are almost guaranteed in a Rincewind story. Cohen the Barbarian, the Disc’s oldest hero, also appears frequently along with his Silver Horde.
Themes explored: Fantasy tropes, tourists (in the first two books), academia, later politics and Australia.
Good starters: The Colour of Magic, The Last Continent
One of the most interesting things about Discworld is its inclusion of Death (as in the Grim Reaper, the anthropomorphic personification of the concept of death) as an oft-appearing (in all but one book I believe) and sometimes main character. Rather than the grim specter one might expect, Death has developed a fascination with humans, and in his own strange way a deep sympathy and desire to understand us, in spite of being hindered by a lack of glands. This softer side is somewhat marred by the things one sees in Death’s line of work. Later books star Death’s granddaughter (it’s complicated) Susan, who has inherited some of her grandfather’s traits (Discworld genetics are even more complicated than that). This series begins with Mort, the first Discworld book I read and still one of my favorites, which is about Death taking an apprentice (the titular character) because his duty has wearied him.
Themes explored: Death, mythology, popular mythology (such as Christmas in Hogfather), the power of belief, the afterlife.
Good starters: Mort, Soul Music (first appearance of Susan), Hogfather (the “Discworld Christmas Special” and one of the books recommended as an entry to the universe. It’s very accessible without sacrificing any integrity or pandering overmuch. Both I and my non-fantasy-reading mom love this book, to illustrate the point).
The Night Watch Series
This series and the Death books are my personal favorites, so I’m trying not to gush about them. The Night Watch keeps the peace in the streets of Ankh-Morpork as best as a handful of misfits and petty criminals can in a city of a million other petty (and less petty. And much, much less petty) criminals. Starring Samuel Vimes, top-ranking officer, alcoholic, with a mind forged by a life living on and later patrolling the streets into a slightly-rusty bear trap. In spite of an impressively cynical worldview, he’s as good a cop as they come (in Ankh-Morpork anyway). Also featuring Carrot, a born hero from head to toe with an amazing way with people, who may carry a secret that could topple the political arrangement in empty-throned Ankh-Morpork…
Vimes’s commanding officer is Lord Vetinari, top graduate of the Assassin’s Guild School and the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork. Early stories portray him as calculating, merciless, and cruel, but these tendencies are revealed to be a necessity to maintain the fragile order of the city he runs, and no blood is spilled nor are men thrown into the scorpion pit in his name without being part of a greater plan for the greater good of the city. Except for mimes. They go straight to the scorpion pit. This combination of intellect, lethality, and a strangely soft heart for certain things has made Vetinari a fan- and personal favorite among Discworld’s many characters, and he plays a major part in nearly all the Night Watch books, normally from his office in the palace, but taking an active role in events in Jingo.
Themes explored: mystery stories, detective stories, film noir and noir literature; later politics, racism and race relations (between humans, dwarves, and trolls), marriage and relationships.
Good starters: This is the only series I recommend not skipping around in, but to start with the first book, Guards! Guards! and proceed in order from there. This is because there are major changes in many of the characters’ lives in each book, and these surprises would be spoiled by reading later books first. Many of the books are structured like mystery novels as well, and by skipping ahead some solutions may be revealed.
Set in the tiny kingdom of Lancre, nestled in the mountains a hundred miles or so from Ankh-Morpork, these books star the Lancre Witches, Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, as well as a few different younger witches filling out the Maiden role in the traditional Maiden, Mother and Crone that make up a witches’ coven on the Disc. Witches on the Disc are a combination of their mythological and real-world versions; partially practicing medicine under a veil of hoodoo to keep the simple folk of Lancre impressed and trusting enough to take the remedies prescribed, and partially wielders of real supernatural power, albeit a much different, more subtle type of magic than that practiced by the fireball-wielding wizards of Ankh-Morpork.
Nanny Ogg is one of the most beloved characters in the series, and for good reason; she steals nearly every scene she appears in. She has had 5 husbands (and been married to 3 of them) and fifteen children (the youngest 10 years after her last husband had died, curiously enough), and there is little she has not seen. Or done for that matter, a few times over if it was fun the first time. Likes a drink, or several. She has an almost supernatural ability to get along with people; it is said that after fifteen minutes of conversation you feel like you have known her your whole life, and she has “a mind so broad she could tie it under her chin.” Even just reading about her you’ll wish you had a granny like her, or if you do you’ll want to call them up.
Themes explored: feminism, gender relations (usually between wizards and witches; the different types of magic are used as parallels to the male and female mindsets), Shakespeare (Lords and Ladies is a spoof of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and also the only Discworld book to feature elves), opera tropes (Maskerade spoofs Phantom of the Opera and opera in general).
Good starters: Equal Rites, Lords and Ladies, Maskerade
Ankh-Morpork Books and Others
Ankh-Morpork is the setting for so many books and its features and peoples described in such detail as to almost qualify as a character in itself. It is the parallel to almost every major city in Western Civilization, from Rome to London to New York. Dirty, crowded, increasingly racially diverse as time progresses (to the chagrin of all involved in many cases; trolls and dwarves don’t get along), and working under a political system delicately balanced by its ruler, the Patrician Lord Vetinari. Nearly every trade has a guild to represent it, including thieves and assassins. In spite of this, citizens can be relatively assured of their safety, so long as they maintain their monthly payments to the Thieves Guild, as the Guild comes down on unsanctioned thieves like a ton of bricks tied to their ears and thrown in the river. Speaking of the river, ah, the majestic Ankh. The river with a personality only a million colons and bladders and two million kidneys (give or take) can produce. It would be hard to drown in the Ankh unaided by the aforementioned ear bricks. One could probably suffocate, but they are more likely to get bored with the idea before sinking far enough and walk to shore, utterly ruining a pair of shoes in the process.
The stories under this heading may feature returning characters, including some from the other series, but are mostly unrelated to the ongoing storylines within them. They are usually set in the more modern era of Ankh-Morpork, and they deal with the problems of a developing civilization, such as the invention of mass communication devices such as newspapers, the postal service, and the “clacks” (a system of semaphore towers that serve as the Disc parallel to wireless communication), as well as the conversion to paper money (Making Money) and women’s rights and equality (Monstrous Regiment).
Good starters: The Truth (newspapers and journalism), Going Postal
And last but not least there are the Other books. They aren’t part of any ongoing storylines other than the universal one, but are still Discworld books and feature many universal characters (such as Death and various Ankh-Morpork personalities). I’m also including Soul Music and Thief of Time in this list; while both could be considered Susan books, they explore other themes deeply enough to be in both categories.
Soul Music: spoofs the early days of rock and roll and the music business in general. Features Death and Susan and the wizards of Unseen University along with The Band With Rocks In, led by Imp y Celyn (who’s name translates to A Bud of Holly, har har). One of my favorite books of all, includes an incredibly badass scene involving Death and the Disc’s first motorcycle.
Thief of Time: spoofs kung-fu movies and time travel. Features Susan and Death as mentioned, but also is the only book to star Lu-Tze and the other History Monks, who can manipulate time and are tasked with making sure it continues on as it should. Also features the Auditors, the grand anal-retentive accountants of the universe who have a hatred for living things, considering them too random and messy.
Moving Pictures: spoofs the movie industry. Notable for featuring very few characters from other books, in spite of being set in Ankh-Morpork. Cut-Me-Own-Throat-Dibbler gets involved however (to the complete lack of surprise from anyone who knows him), as well as Detritus the Troll in one of his first appearances as more than a near-mindless doorman.
Small Gods: a story about the rise of a god. On the Disc, the strength of the gods is entirely dependant upon belief: The more believers and the more faithful those believers, the stronger the god. In Small Gods the god Om finds his first prophet and builds his religion. Omnianism and its followers appear in many of the other Discworld books, and this is where it starts. Explores themes on theism, atheism, faith and belief.
Pyramids: notable for featuring the most detailed looks at both the Empire of Djelibeybi (parallel to ancient Egypt) and the inner workings of the Assassin’s Guild and the training of its members. A young prince is sent to Ankh-Morpork to be educated and learns about privilege and the balance of power, as well as the Assassin’s arts.
This article is by no means an exhaustive list of the Discworld books. There are, in fact, 46 books if various spinoff books are included (such as Nanny Ogg’s Cookbook and The Last Hero, an illustrated Rincewind and Cohen story). I hope I’ve managed to give you some good entry points to such an expansive series. As a recent joiner to Dr. Who fandom I know the feeling of trying to enter a world with so much established mythology and storyline already around, and I hope this will alleviate some of that stress. If anyone has questions about specific books, would like a recommendation for which is the right series to get them started off, or needs something clarified, feel free to email me at CarlsTeapot@gmail.com. I’m using that email until I get my Nerdy Show one, which will probably happen sometime after I actually ask for one.
En Taro Tassadar,