Taking a break from movies, today sees the release of “The Shepherd’s Crown”, the 41st and final book of Sir Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld’ series. Although it’s a sad reminder of how early we lost him, there’s a bittersweet comfort in the fact that his daughter and those that protect his legacy have been very firm on stating this is ‘it’ as far as new Discworld novels go. Sir Terry’s voice was so woven into the very fabric of the world and characters created that, no matter how skilled or well intentioned the would-be authors might be, it’s unlikely they would ever manage to recapture the very real magic that leapt from the page.
Even though there have been forty of the books so far, I must have read each one of them at least twice, and the ten listed here I’ve probably read three or four times each, if not more. I’ve chosen my ten absolute favourites from the forty but to avoid too many agonising decisions, I’ve just listed them in the order in which they were released. In fact, the margins dividing many of these 10 from the others are so thin, even Death’s scythe would have a hard time separating them.
The very first Terry Pratchett/ Discworld novel I ever read, and the first to focus in on the character of Death as more than a cameo. A great introduction to the Discworld and a hilarious take on the young apprentice who teaches his master a thing or to as Death explores what it means to be human for the very first time.
One of my absolute favourites, Pratchett takes on the Bard with MacBeth and Hamlet homages aplenty and the introduction of Granny Weatherwax’s coven. The really delightful aspect is that for all the pomp, pageantry and fireworks of the Wizard’s magic in the Discworld, the Witches – arguably equally magically powerful – rarely manifest their powers, preferring to rely on cleverness and ‘headology’. Just writing about this one makes me want to go and read it again.
One of the more standalone novels in the series, ‘Pyramids’ takes place in the tiny Discworld kingdom of Djelibeybi. It’s a great adventure dealing in time warps, pyramid power and ancient Egypt as well as giving us the first real look at a foreign culture on the disc.
How could I, a movie buff, not adore this one? Plunging headlong into the golden age of Hollywood, it plays up the reality-warping properties of the new entertainment technology created by the alchemists and mistrusted by the wizards. Featuring the first appearance of Mustrum Ridcully, this one is stuffed full of references and homages to Hollywood and the motion picture industry.
Death returns to the foreground in a marvellous story where he is essentially made redundant by the Auditors Of Reality – otherworldly monsters who, unlike the things from the Dungeon Dimensions revel in control and order. They object to the care with which Death performs his role so he is replaced by more specific and impersonal functionaries.
One of the Discworld’s smartest and sharpest satires on organised religion and the power of belief, the novel avoids preaching itself thanks to some deft comic twists and a compassionate approach towards every viewpoint. If this doesn’t at least make you think (and laugh), then there’s little hope for you whatever you [don’t] believe in.
Lords And Ladies
The Witches are back and facing a threat from the long absent Elves who are seeking to return to Lancre through the misguided actions of a new would-be coven. Featuring a cross-over with Ridcully and the Wizards, this is an epic confrontation woven through with the romance and duplicitous glamour of the Elves and a reflection on the paths of lives not taken.
Men At Arms
Gonnes don’t kill people, people kill people. But the gonne helps. ‘Men At Arms’ sees Vimes and his Night’s Watch take on the case of a missing weapon and a conspiracy aimed at toppling the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork and restoring the monarchy. Werewolves, trolls and dwarves join the increasingly diverse team as they race to prevent any more killings.
Jingo takes the Ankh-Morpork City Watch storyline from policing to diplomacy and international peacekeeping as Vimes and his crew are forced to turn in their badges and go rogue to prevent a war breaking out between Ankh-Morpork and Klatch. It’s a clever satire on war, xenophobia and the poisonous nature of nationalism.
A third appearance for The Witches in my top ten, but a very deserved one. This time, modern vampires led by Count Magpyr have descended on Lancre, proclaiming their new ways and plotting to take over the kingdom for themselves. It’s a wonderfully fang-in-cheek deconstruction of vampire mythology and clichés as well as a thinly veiled dig at the habit of ditching everything traditional and meaningful in pursuit of power *cough* ‘New Labour’ *cough*.
This is not the ten favourites list I started out with, by the way, so don’t feel too put out if your favourite isn’t in there. Over the drafting of this article, many great and valid choice have made the list only to be shuffled out again: “Hogfather”,”Sourcery”, “Monstrous Regiment”, “Interesting Times”, “Going Postal” to name but a few that yo-yo’d in and out…but I had to draw the line somewhere!
Speaking of Moving Pictures…
With the current vogue for cinematic shared universes, it beggars belief that no major broadcaster or film studio has pitched to buy the entirety of the Discworld rights and started a whole slate of movies. For me, the perfect model to bring the Discworld to the screen would be in a series of interconnected movies, following the Marvel model.
You could have distinct franchises built around The Lancre Witches, The City Watch and Rincewind & The Wizards and Death and his family, with various characters crossing over as and when they needed to, building up the rich tapestry of the Discworld and Lancre and Ankh-Morpork in particular.
Sky have, of course, produced a few titles: the excellent “Hogfather”, the very good “Going Postal” and the so-so “The Colour Of Magic” (largely undermined by the complete miscasting of the then 68 year old David Jason as Rincewind) which have been well made but distinctly standalone, and they haven’t touched The Witches storyline at all. The Witches would be fantastic on screen (I actually think the three listed above in the top 10 would make a fantastic trilogy (no offence to ‘Witches Abroad’ and ‘Maskerade’)) and, while my dream cast has changed over the years, my current wish list cast for a movie of ‘Wyrd Sisters’ would be:
Who would your dream cast be for a Discworld Movie Universe? Who should play Sam Vimes? Would Channing Tatum make a great Corporal Carrot? Is there anyone better to play Havelock Vetinari than Charles Dance? Or do you think the Discworld is best served by being largely unadapted and left to be discovered by generations of readers? Let me know in the comments below or tweet me @TheCraggus.
In the meantime, happy reading!