The passing of Terry Pratchett this year was a huge loss to the world of literature, fantasy literature in particular, as well as the loss of a great man. Millions of us have been lucky enough to grow up with his books; nearly every year for the past 30 years, we’ve had a new Discworld adventure in which to immerse ourselves, to escape the occasional grimness of our own reality into a world populated with trolls and werewolves and talking monkeys. Sorry, apes.
They say laughter is the best medicine, and this is certainly true of the Discworld series. Explaining jokes always kills them, so you’ll have to read the books yourself to find out why they’re so hilarious. If the idea of fantasy puts you off, you need to know that the thing about his world – far-fetched though it is, riddled with magic instead of science, and populated by the most bizarre characters of all shapes, sizes and species – it’s not so different from ours. In fact, what Mr P is really writing about is our own humanity, our own beliefs, fears and frailties. And he does it so very, very brilliantly.
In tribute to Terry Pratchett, here is an admittedly quite biased list of five of the best Discworld characters:
An occasional character in the very early novels, Death (in his own words, an ‘anthropomorphic personification’ who TALKS IN CAPITALS) comes into his own in the book Mort, when he decides to take on an apprentice. Of course, he does have an incredibly heavy workload. Death tries very hard to understand humans, but is often baffled by us. Which figures.
Quote: ‘DON’T THINK OF IT AS DYING. THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH.’
Read about him in: Mort, Reaper Man, The Hogfather
In the tiny outlying country of Lancre, Granny rules. Not officially – the queen is her friend and some-time protégée Magrat – but she’s basically in charge. Her steely, stern exterior hides, well, a steely, stern interior, but she’s an incredible witch who can send her mind off exploring while her body stays at home, and lead unicorns with a strand of her own hair. Really.
Quote: ‘Granny Weatherwax was often angry. She considered it one of her strong points. Genuine anger was one of the world’s greatest creative forces.’
Read about her in: Wyrd Sisters, Witches Abroad, Lords and Ladies
While undoubtedly a terrifying control freak who knows what you’re thinking, and could ‘disappear’ you at the blink of an eyelid, there’s something likeable about this moderately benevolent tyrant, Lord Havelock Vetinari. It’s partly his dark humour, partly the enjoyment he gets out of winding up the head of his police force, Sam Vimes, and partly his enduring love of the city he rules, Ankh Morpork. Possibly.
Quote: ‘And when the Patrician was unhappy, he became very democratic. He found intricate and painful ways of spreading that unhappiness as far as possible.’
Read about him in: Interesting Times, The Fifth Element, Carpe Jugulum
Once a human faculty member at the Unseen University (of magic, natch), the Librarian was transformed into an orang-utang by a spell gone wrong, and has decided to stay that way. The superhuman ability to tear off a man’s arms for annoying him (eg, by calling him a ‘monkey’) is not one he’s prepared to give up, and he’s more than happy with a salary paid in bananas. Ook.
Read about him in: The Colour Of Magic, Sourcery, Equal Rites
Considered by many to be almost certainly human (he is given a signed paper from the Patrician to prove it), smelly little Nobby is the kid from the wrong side of the tracks who ends up a respectable member of Ankh Morpock’s police force. Well, sort of respectable, in a will-do-anything-for-a-smoke-and-some-cash sort of way. Bless.
Quote: ‘Well, I think,’ said Nobby, ‘that when you rule out the impossible, whatever is left, however improbable, ain’t worth hanging around for on a cold night wonderin’ about when you could be getting on the outside of a big drink.’
Read about him in: Men At Arms, Feet of Clay, Jingo
Which one of Terry Pratchett’s books is your favourite?