I’ve been in a reading slump lately. Ever since I finished Terry Pratchett’s Jingo around Christmas last year I’ve been reading only non-fiction, and slowly at that (I started a book on Quantum Theory a month ago, and am not even halfway with it yet). Among all the novels on my shelves I just couldn’t find anything I felt like reading.
Then Sir Terry died, and the next day I got Dodger at half price. I finished it on Friday (review to come), and picked up Mort (with which I’m almost done). I’ve decided to make my way through the whole Discworld again, or at least through those titles I already own, which brings up the question of which order to read them in.
Now, when Terry Pratchett set out to write the Discworld novels I don’t think he planned to write a serial, meaning one book following on the other. He reportedly also used to be writing on several novels at once, so the publication order isn’t necessarily the order in which he wrote them.
But in the end the books did form several serials within the Discworld universe. While each novel is written as a stand-alone story and you can jump in at any book without having to wonder what’s going on, they are grouped around certain collections of characters with a bigger story arc tying each group together.
And so we have the Rincewind/Unseen University novels, the Witches novels, which include the young adult novels featuring the young witch, Tiffany Aching (the last of which Pratchett apparently finished last year before his health deteriorated and which is due out later this year), the Death/Susan Sto-Helit novels, the Sam Vimes/City Watch novels, and the Industrial Revolution novels which later become the Moist von Lupwig novels. Then there’s also the two Ancient Civilizations novels, Pyramids and Small Gods, but there’s no greater arc nor common characters tying them together.
When it comes to reading them, it’s up to you whether you want to read them a series at a time, or in order of publication. If you read them in order of publication you’ll read each series in the correct order as well, while mixing up the characters so you don’t get sick of them (as if that’s possible 😉 ). I’m planning to read them series by series this time around, as I’ve read almost all the Sam Vimes novels during the past two years, so I’m saving them to re-read last. I also own only two of the Rincewind novels, which means there will be significant gaps if I try to read in publication order.
But whichever reading order you choose, I’d advise against starting with The Colour of Magic, The Light Fantastic, and even Equal Rites. The first two novels differ significantly from the rest of the Discworld canon – Graeme Neill in The Guardian called them “a collection of vaguely related comic set pieces rather than a novel,” and I tend to agree with that assessment – and the third features a Granny Weatherwax who differs so significantly from her later incarnation that I barely recognised her when I finally got my hands on that novel. So I suggest you save those three for later, lest they put you off the Discworld before you get to the really good stuff (but do read Equal Rites before you get to the Tiffany Aching novels; trust me on this).
For the sake of doing this properly, you can always also try to read the novels according to the Discworld’s own internal timeline, which you can find over on The L-Space Web (if you want to know what L-Space is, read Guards! Guards!).
P.S. If you want the ability to have the “GNU Terry Pratchett” hidden message appear in your site’s header, rather than the workaround I posted a couple of weeks ago, go add your support in the ideas forum thread on this topic. If enough of us ask for it, we might just get it. One can hope.
By the way, I see the official Terry Pratchett website is back up, so I’ll be updating my previous posts on him during the week.