In this edition of the Worldseekers series we’re going to explore a setting that rests upon the back of a giant space turtle. That’s right, today I’m writing about Discworld!
Terry Pratchett is considered one of the most influential fantasy writers of all time, and for good reason. He created a world that’s so unique (and let’s be honest, just plain weird) that no reader will ever have a hard time parsing it from the countless Middle Earth clones out there in fantasy literature. After all, who else would have the gall to write about a world resting on the backs of four elephants, who in turn stand on the back of the great space turtle A’tuin?
There’s so much about Discworld that makes it one of my favorite settings, so let’s go from the top.
First, the world’s on the back of a friggin’ space turtle! Pratchett took the mythological idea of the world resting on the back of a great beast, and then decided to just roll with it. That’s not something you see in a lot of fantasy worlds; much of the time you’ll see a world with meticulously plotted out tectonic plates, climate charts, etc. It’s extremely refreshing to read works by an author who just decided that a world on top of a space turtle would be a cool idea and rolled with it, even though it makes no sense whatsoever.
That leads us to our second point—the world is crazy and unforgettable. The Discworld books tell the strangest stories, from the epic journeys of a tourist and an incompetent wizard to the story of a boy who becomes Death’s apprentice. Each book is so radically different from the others that you never forget a single one. If there’s one thing I hate about any series, it’s when I have to pause and ask myself, “wait, which book did this take place in again?”
The Disc is inhabited by colorful, wonderful characters and places. Death is an archetypal “grim reaper” fellow, except that he also loves curry and is actually a pretty cool guy. The metropolis of Ankh Morpork has so much going for it in worldbuilding terms, including the fact that crime is so strictly regulated to the point where thieves must leave their victims receipts so that nobody gets robbed too frequently, which is ridiculous, but makes complete sense when you don’t think about it. One of the most powerful beings in the world is a sentient luggage chest that devours its enemies and strikes fear into the denizens of the Disc, which I have in fact based several items upon in my D&D campaigns. Each place on the Disc leaves a lasting impression, which is a true mark of a well-constructed world.
In short, Discworld is such an amazing setting because of the writing. Terry Pratchett was an incredible writer capable of weaving stories that leave you laughing the whole way through, but that still leave a lasting impression. His (very British) sense of humor makes the stories enjoyable to read and nearly impossible to put down. He, by some miracle, had managed to create what’s undeniably one of the best settings in the fantasy genre.