This is the first post in my re-read of all the Discworld books, in order. The one where it all began. This wasn’t the first book that I ever read in the series (that was Reaper Man), and it’s generally held that it isn’t the best example of how good these books can be. I think I agree with that – Pratchett’s writing, humor, satire, observation, characterization and so on do get better with time. However, it’s quite a good introduction anyway in terms of establishing the basic premise of the world and some key characters. The world is, obviously, a Disc, sat on the back of 4 elephants which themselves stand on a giant turtle which swims through space. It’s a world of fantasy and magic, and many things such as Gods only exist if people believe in them.
The first Discworld book is actually 4 shorter stories, all featuring the incompetent wizard, Rincewind, and the Disc’s first tourist, Twoflower. Twoflower is very naive and an eternal optimist whilst Rincewind, who acts as his guide, is cynical and world-weary. Quite a lot of their adventures poke fun at the stereotypical sword and sorcery type novels that were around when this was written in the early 1980s and at the world of Dungeons and Dragons type role playing. But it’s not irreverent, if you love those things, and at the same time doesn’t rely too much on deep knowledge of it for humour. Their adventures are fairly typical of those type of fantasy stories, featuring dragons, heroes, temples and so on… but told in a way that is very much Pratchett’s own.
I’ll be honest, I was expecting not to enjoy re-reading this book, as in my head I think of the first few books as “not that great”. I also tend to think of the books in groups, and f I had to rank them, I’d say the “Rincewind” books are my least favorite (compared to the Witches or the Watch or the Death books). But I now think that’s unfair, as I actually enjoyed this a lot. Perhaps it’s just that the first few books are not as good as the later ones… but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth reading. There are glimmers of what will come, both the humour, but also the observation and poignancy that Pratchett never, I think, gets enough credit for. This line from Twoflower gets me:
“When I think that I might die without seeing a hundredth of all there is to see it makes me feel,” he paused, then added, “well, humble, I suppose. And very angry, of course.”
Having re-read this, I’m now really looking forward to getting stuck into the rest of the series and revisiting them all, and seeing the characters and the world itself develop. As I said, the Rincewind books were never my favorite, but coming back to this with fresh eyes after not reading it for so long, I really enjoyed the character and his view of the world. Maybe I’m now myself more older and cynical than when I read these books as a teenager! It occurred to me as I was reading this that, while we do meet many of the characters again later on, there’s actually quite a lot in this book that we never hear about again – the Temple, for example, and the Wyrmberg and its inhabitants. I’m surprised that these never get mentioned again in future, at least as far as I remember. I do find myself wondering to what extent Pratchett planned out the wider world and series when he published the first book as there are things that are inconsistent in this book with the later ones – such as how Death kills out of annoyance in this book, but in later ones won’t interfere with how events play out so much. Anyway, that aside, I found this a really fun read and a better introduction to the series than I remembered, so I’m looking forward to starting the next, which takes up the story from the cliffhanger ending of this one.
I’m going to give this: 4/5