This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
There’s a well-known question among fans of the late, great Sir Terry Pratchett’s forty-one Discworld novels – which one do you recommend to friends you’re encouraging to try the series? You’ll hear a number of different answers – and if your friend enjoys that first book, there’ll be a few different options for how to proceed with the rest of the series as well. Today, we’d like to be that Discworld-reading friend, and offer a few different recommendations for ways to get into this huge but incredibly rewarding series, or routes for a re-read for longtime fans.
Of course, most people’s first instinct is to read a series of books in the order in which they were released – we won’t list all forty-one books in publication order here, but you can easily find such lists on multiple websites. For the most part, each novel takes place chronologically following the one before, with the possible exception of Small Gods (exactly when Small Gods takes place is debatable, but there are a few indications that it may take place substantially earlier than the other novels). There’s also a substantial time skip in Wyrd Sisters, and Thief Of Time, unsurprisingly, does peculiar things with the timeline, noting that it seemed to be fractured. Overall, however, the books more or less follow the chronological order in which they were written and published.
If you haven’t read the Discworld series, you might be thinking this is sure to be a pretty short article, if the whole series follows a simple chronological order. However, if you ask a Discworld fan where to start reading, the differing responses you get will not often involve the very first novel, The Colour Of Magic. The Discworld series evolved over the course of thirty-two years and forty-one books and the first two or three novels don’t really reflect the complexity of the later books – the first two especially are rather broad spoofs of a certain type of swords ‘n’ sorcery fantasy that was popular in the 1980s. Enthusiastic fans trying to get their friends to read the books rarely recommend these as a starting-point.
The series also covers a wide range of characters, and the books can be grouped into a few loose sub-series, with the occasional stand-alone story. These are loose groupings and characters from one series often pop up in another (especially in stories set in Ankh-Morpork) but a reader could easily read all of a particular sub-set of books without reference to the others. This means that a new reader can pick up the first book of any sub-set and read all of the books in that group without needing to read all forty-one books in the series.
The complete list of the various groups of Discworld books is as follows:
The Colour Of Magic
The Light Fantastic
The Last Continent
The Last Hero
The Witches (including Tiffany Aching)
Lords And Ladies
The Wee Free Men (Tiffany Aching) (technically this one doesn’t involve witches)
A Hat Full Of Sky (Tiffany Aching)
Wintersmith (Tiffany Aching)
I Shall Wear Midnight (Tiffany Aching)
The Shepherd’s Crown (Tiffany Aching)
Putting Tiffany Aching with the older witches is probably a bit controversial – she isn’t a witch in her first novel, which focuses more on her relationship with the Wee Free Men, and the Tiffany Aching books are Young Adult novels, which the others aren’t. However, the two strands come together in both I Shall Wear Midnight and the very last Discworld book, The Shepherd’s Crown, and for reasons we won’t spoil here, we would strongly recommend following the whole Witches sub-set as one long saga, Tiffany included.
Death (and family)
Mort Reaper Man Soul Music Hogfather Thief Of Time
The City Watch
Men At Arms
Feet Of Clay
The Fifth Elephant
The Last Hero
Mustrum Ridcully and the wizards of Unseen University
Lords And Ladies
The Last Continent
The Last Hero
Note that the wizards usually take part in a sub-plot and are rarely the driving force behind the main story – the exceptions are Interesting Times, in which they kick off the plot, The Last Continent, and Unseen Academicals.
Moist von Lipwig
Pyramids Moving Pictures (main plot)Small Gods
The Amazing Maurice And His Educated Rodents (Young Adult)
You may have noticed that a few books appear more than once on this list! That’s because some books feature more than one group of characters in substantial roles – most notably Reaper Man, which is split equally between Death and the wizards of Unseen University. Moving Pictures is a particularly odd example, as the main plot stands alone, but its subplot introduces the cast of characters from the faculty of Unseen University that we would later get to know well. The Wizards and Rincewind books have a lot of overlap, as do the Wizards and Death books, so readers may like to combine all three of these to produce the following group, which does link together rather nicely in other ways as well:
The Colour Of Magic
The Light Fantastic
Lords And Ladies (but this one focuses primarily on the witches and can be skipped and come back to later)Soul Music
The Last Continent
Thief Of Time
The Last Hero
All of this, obviously, presents a complication in the reading order for a fan keen to get to grips with one particular group of stories. It should also be acknowledged that, as ever, reading books later in the series before earlier ones may spoil some elements of earlier novels. However, each Discworld story exists entirely independently and can be read as its own novel without reference to any of the others, and details of other novels will be minimal, so really, the adventurous reader can jump in pretty much anywhere.
It’s also fair to say that the joy of reading these books is not really in following an on-going plot. There are a few on-going threads with satisfying pay-offs, mostly concerning various characters’ inter-personal relationships, and of course each individual book is tightly plotted and leads to an exciting climax. But the fun of reading the Discworld novels is not about turning the page to see who dies next. It’s about inhabiting a joyous, haphazard, diverse, turvey-topsey world that runs on Narrativium, but with a unique Pterry ptwist on each well-worn fantasy outcome. Knowing more or less how events in one novel have, broadly speaking, panned out will not spoil your enjoyment of coming back to the story and reading it later – the fun part is seeing how they got there.
We wouldn’t necessarily recommend jumping in with one of the later books. Just as the very early books are rather simple and lack the main series’ complexity, the later books inhabit an increasingly complex world full of familiar characters and a rapidly changing setting. During the early to middle phase of the books, major social and technological changes like rock music or moving pictures tended to appear, wreak havoc for a while, then disappear again by the end of the novel, so that anyone who missed that book would have no idea that they happened. But as time went on, from around the publication of the twenty-fifth book The Truth, the changes started becoming more permanent. Discworld society and technology started embracing new ideas on a more permanent basis, without incurring the wrath of terrible Things from the Dungeon Dimensions, and the events of each book started to have a more substantial impact on the next one.
Our basic advice, then, is to choose a book from the early part of the series – somewhere between numbers 4 and 24 – and see how you like it, before proceeding with the rest of the books. There are as many different ways to work your way through them as there are readers, but we’ll offer a handful of more specific suggestions here for inspiration. We’ve offered a few recommendations for good starting-points, and then a few suggested routes through the novels depending on where you’ve started, all finishing with either the penultimate book (Raising Steam) or the final book, The Shepherd’s Crown, which is a particularly good way to finish the series.
As a first book choice, these are the options we’d recommend:
Mort. This is the first book that really starts to feel like the Discworld series proper, and it introduces fan favorite Death (who appears in nearly every book) as a fully formed character in his own right, after his cameo appearances in the first three stories.
Wyrd Sisters. If you’re interested in the witches, you could do worse than to go all the way back to book 3, Equal Rites, which introduces head witch Granny Weatherwax. However, it’s in Wyrd Sisters that the witches really come into their own, and it’s in Wyrd Sisters that Discworld witchcraft becomes more fully formed.
Pyramids. This is a stand-alone novel telling a story largely independent from the main groups, and so is a rather good point of entry for a new reader. It’s also tremendous fun, starting out with an assassin’s exam that strongly resembles a British driving test and expanding into an exploration of the Disc’s version of ancient Egypt.
Guards! Guards! The first of one of the most popular sub-series, that featuring the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, introducing their commanding officer, Samuel Vimes and their newest recruit, Carrot Ironfoundersson.
Moving Pictures. A largely independent story, but since this book also introduces the faculty of Unseen University, it’s a particularly good introduction to the series as a whole.
The Amazing Maurice And His Educated Rodents. The first Young Adult Discworld novel and a stand-alone story, so this is a good place to begin if you’re looking for something a little shorter and simpler.
Going Postal. If you’d rather explore the more complex later novels, this, as the first of the three Moist von Lipwig stories, is a good one to try. If your tastes run more to complex, steampunk-flavoured fantasy societies, you might prefer this one, and since it highlights a new set of characters, it’s a decent place to start.
Mort is one of the most popular recommendations for new readers and the Death sub-series, which is relatively short and doesn’t really reach the more complex later novels, is a good one to try. For someone who has read and enjoyed the Death stories, we’d recommend looking next at the Witches stories, stopping at Carpe Jugulum if preferred (which leaves out the Young Adult books and stops at the mid-point of the series). After that, we’d probably go for the Rincewind series, the Wizards series and the stand-alone stories, read in any order the reader prefers, then the City Watch books and, finally, the Moist von Lipwig stories. If you skipped the Young Adult stories, add Tiffany Aching here to finish on the final book. For readers who’ve started with Wyrd Sisters, Equal Rites, or The Amazing Maurice And His Educated Rodents (follow this with the Witches), we’d make the same recommendation, with the Witches and Death books switched around.
We’d recommend that anyone who’s started with and enjoyed Pyramids follow it up with Moving Pictures and Small Gods, which both tell individual stories and have a similar tone and feel to them. After that, the Wizards series is a good place to go, since those characters have been introduced in a sub-plot in Moving Pictures and several of their stories are, again, similar – but the Wizards series overlaps substantially with the Death stories, so go back to Mort and proceed with the Wizards stories from there. By that point, if you want more wizards, catch up on the Rincewind stories, if you want something a bit different, go for the Witches series and if you want to continue with the broad tone and feel of Pyramids, you might like to start on the City Watch books (and throw in the rest of the stand-alone stories in there somewhere as well). Once again, you can finish up with the Moist von Lipwig series, or with Tiffany Aching if you prefer to separate her from the adult witches. For those who’ve started with Moving Pictures, we’d suggest the same, possibly swapping the Death/Wizards stories with Pyramids and Small Gods.
For those who’ve started with and enjoyed Guards! Guards!, naturally we’d recommend continuing on to read the rest of the City Watch books first of all. These stories will take you right up through some major changes on the Disc, all the way up to the third from last novel, Snuff. Follow these with The Truth and then the Moist von Lipwig stories. After that, you’ll need to go back in time. Read the Death books, the Wizards books and the Rincewind books, combining them into our Rincewind/Death/Wizards super-group as outlined above if you want to. Throw in the other stand-alone stories whenever you feel like a bit of a break, or read them next. Finally, finish off with the Witches group, making sure to include the Tiffany Aching novels, to take you all the way up to the final book. We’d recommend the same for anyone who’s started with Going Postal, swapping around the Moist von Lipwig and City Watch books.
And there you have it! There is absolutely no right or wrong way to read the Discworld novels – we can’t remember at all what order we first read most of them in, and haven’t met anyone who read them all in publication order (but if you did, let us know in the comments!). Hopefully this roadmap offers a few useful suggestions and a possible way in for new readers, and some ideas for how re-readers might try different approaches to re-discovering the stories.
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