05 November 2013

A question about Terry Pratchett's novels

Over the past two months I've posted photos and stories about the bookcases and bookshelves of 18 readers of this blog.  After I featured Bruce and Carol's books and Emmy awards yesterday, I was struck by this comment from Adrian Morgan:
"I'm impressed that no fewer than three people in this series own a copy of the limited edition Once More With Footnotes -- the sure sign of a committed Pratchett fan..."
I've frequently seen Terry Pratchett mentioned at websites I harvest for this blog, but hadn't realized that such a high proportion of readers here were enthusiasts about his work.  Time for my confession:  I've not read anything by Terry Pratchett.  It's not that he lacks credentials or reputation -
Pratchett was the UK's best-selling author of the 1990s, and has sold over 85 million books worldwide in 37 languages. He is currently the second most-read writer in the UK, and seventh most-read non-US author in the US...
So my question to the readers of TYWKIWDBI is... where should I start?  It wouldn't have to be the best or most iconic work, but rather something to give me a flavor for the corpus of works.  (If I were introducing a naive reader to the Agatha Christie series, I wouldn't suggest The Murder of Roger Ackroyd as the first one to read).

Presumably the answer lies somewhere in the Discworld series.   I don't intend to read everything, so it shouldn't be mandatory to start with the first of the series.  On the other hand, if the novels build coherently on previous publications, would it be confusing or offputting to select a recent work for a first sample?

I await your advice...

45 comments:

  1. First, a couple of observations about the Discworld novels...

    1) The Discworld series does build on itself over time. Later novels seem to rely on things that have been set up in previous novels.

    2) It's just my opinion, of course, but I think the earliest books were not the strongest.

    3) There are several sub-series, if you will, within the overarching Discworld series. Some of them were started fairly early (Rincewind), while others started later (Moist von Lipwig).

    Given these observations, I don't think I'd encourage a first-time reader who, like you, does not intend to read the whole series to start with the very first book, The Colour of Magic. However, I do think it's wise to start fairly early so that there's not too much groundwork missed out on. I'd probably suggest starting with an early book in one of the sub-series that started early, perhaps the City Watch series and Guards! Guards! The City Watch sub-series is one of the better ones, again in my opinion, so if you feel moved, you might work through those as far as you care to, or once you have some grounding in the Discworld, you might move onto other sub-series, perhaps Moist von Lipwig or Susan Sto Helit.

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  2. Small Gods -- it's brilliant, and it's about 98% stand-alone in terms of characters & setting. There a reading-order guide which is a little out of date, but OTOH it's gorgeous, so: http://www.lspace.org/books/reading-order-guides/the-discworld-reading-order-guide-20.jpg

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  3. Check out this guide: http://www.lspace.org/books/reading-order-guides/the-discworld-reading-order-guide-20.jpg

    I would recommend starting at the beginning, as Rincewind and science series are my favorite. Or you can sample all the beginnings of the series and decide yourself, but I strongly suggest starting with "The colour of magic".

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  4. I always thought Monstrous Regiment was a good, and relatively stand-alone novel in the Discworld series...

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  5. "The Wee Free Men" is where I would start. It is part of several arcs, but is quite enjoyable without further context. However, it is often categorized in the Children or Young Adult section of our local library due to the heroine being about 9 years old, if I recall correctly. There is a delightful sequel called "A Hat full of Sky". Hope you enjoy!

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  6. While it's not in the Discworld series, and not entirely Sir Terry, I'd start with Good Omens. It's a standalone novel, and will give you a feel for his writing.

    After that, I agree that both Small Gods and Monstrous Regiment would be a good start as they are pretty standalone. Then, back to the beginning with Colour of Magic and the reading list.

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  7. pyramids -pure fun

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  8. Wow! I agree with every comment above, and here’s my particular introduction . . .

    Our local Pratchett pusher, Doris, got me started back in the late-nineties with Mort, probably the shortest Discworld book, but (for me) it was a seductive taste of the style and humor of the series, and to Death. Death is a continuing character with his own italic voice.

    Out of all the memorable people and creatures, Sam Vimes has become my favorite, he showed up for the first time drunk in an Ankh-Morpork gutter in Guards! Guards!, but has risen up well beyond that in many terrific books, especially, Night Watch.

    I’ve re-read the series in order maybe four times and hopped in and out of favorites too often to count. I got the hardbacks figuring that as my eyesight dimmed with age, they’d be easier to manage—and it’s proven true.

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  9. To some extent it depends what you're interested in. I know of people who read the Colour of Magic, hated the madcap style and gave up on the whole of Discworld, until randomly falling in love with a later book. My favourites are the Industrial Revolution series from that chart, but they aren't the funniest.

    Overall, I would say "Guards, Guards" is a pretty good representation of the Discworld flavour. It's early enough in the series that it's dense with classic Pratchettian turns of phrase, has a strong cast, and the reek of the Ankh about it. Small Gods or Pyramids would work too, although don't have obvious follow-ups. Wyrd Sisters is a good place to start the Witches series, if you prefer reading about rural politics to urban politics.

    I feel like that (very useful) reading order guide needs a stylistic dimension to it.

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  10. My favourite is Going Postal, although Small Gods is also very good.

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  11. I started reading TP with Guards! Guards! and continued with the rest of the Night Watch sub-series. I read some other sub-series, but this one still feels like the perfect beginning to Discworld.

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  12. I second the suggestion that you read "Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch" which is a collaboration between Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. The Wikipedia entry for Good Omens gives an excellent overview and interesting background on how the book came to be written. I buy & give away used copies of Good Omens whenever I find them. I love this book.

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  13. I don't think the problem is finding which one to start with, but rather where to stop. I wouldn't be surprised if you read one, then another, and then went through the whole lot of them just because they're such good fun. The footnotes are especially entertaining, and I'm amazed at how many times Pratchett takes pages and pages to work up to a pun that pays off like a brick between the eyes.

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  14. The Colour of Magic is the best place to start, most of the series is for younger people but the series builds into more mature types...
    read and enjoy

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  15. My wife is from England and she suggests to start with Men at Arms.

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  16. I started with Mort. The novels before that are of a slightly "wackier" brand of humor, and aren't completely representative of his style. Guards! Guards and Pyramids would also be good places to start, G!G! starting the Night Watch series and Pyramids being a stand alone novel.

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  17. As the comments show, where to start is a very individual choice. I started with Small Gods because there was a copy in my school library, and loved it. There were things I didn't fully understand until I'd read some of the earlier books, but if you have a rough idea of what the Discworld series is about (giant turtle, etc), then you already know more than I did at the time. My second book was Sourcery for the same reason.

    Each novel often has a theme, for example Small Gods is about philosophy and religion. Common advice is to choose a novel with a theme that interests you, but since your interests are very eclectic (this blog is a testament to that), I don't think that narrows it down much.

    There's nothing wrong with starting at, or near, the beginning, but these stories aren't representative of Pratchett's later work. Early books like Equal Rites or Mort are still good reads, though.

    Perhaps you'd like to start with a book that provides a gentle introduction to many different characters, which you can then enjoy meeting again when you go back and read earlier books. In that case, why not start with The Last Hero. It's shorter than a novel, is illustrated, has a relatively straightforward plot (so you can concentrate on getting to know the characters), and includes characters from several arcs.

    Perhaps you're intrigued by one character arc in particular, and would like a book that introduces you to that arc. For example, if you're interested in the Watch series (which is about Ankh-Morpork's police force and contains social commentary on policing and related matters), it begins with Guards! Guards! but I promise you'll be OK if you start with the second in the series, Men at Arms. (It's worth noting that the character arcs are not afraid to contradict themselves, since the story always comes first and sometimes Pratchett changes his mind.)

    Perhaps you'd like to start with a book from late in the series that happens to not assume much knowledge of previous books. I expect you'll be fine with The Truth (about journalism) or Going Postal (about the postal system and con-artistry), among others. Like everything else they build on previous books, but not in a way that's likely to be an obstacle.

    Because Christmas is coming up, you may be interested in Hogfather, about the Discworld equivalent of Christmas. This is an excellent novel, rich in literary themes, but not the gentlest introduction. Actually, it might not be a bad idea to choose two books, one from early in the series, one from later, to give you a birds-eye view of how Pratchett's style changes over time. Mort and Hogfather are a case in point. (I don't recommend Reaper Man, which comes in between these on the character arc, because I didn't enjoy it much. But that's a personal opinion.)

    I'm rambling. But that's because there's no "one size fits all" answer to the question "which book should I start with". Hopefully this comment thread has given you some useful advice, but to apply it you'll need to decide what you want out of your first Pratchett novel.

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  19. Terry Pratchett is wonderful. Read thirty of his books so far. For childish wonder, Wyrd Sisters is the high point. For enthusiasts of oddities like you, Stan, Going Postal and Moving Pictures are great. Guards! Guards! is the start of a police procedural mini-plotline featuring a classic character named Sam Vimes. For denser, weirder reading, Thief of Time and Monstrous Regiment are two of his most complex. [edited]

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    1. I own most of Pratchett's books, including "Once More with Footnotes," and I believe you have suggested a well-rounded plan. On another note, I love knowing that so many other fans also enjoy this blog, but I shouldn't be surprised.

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  20. Thanks for asking the question, as I've been wondering where to start, too.

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    1. I'm glad to read your comment; that's why I blog topics like this.

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  21. I'd recommend Guards! Guards! - yes, it is a police procedural but is a great lead in to one of the most awesome mini series within the overall series and also leads (after two more books) into Jingo, which is easily my favourite of the lot. It really depends on what you like though, if you're into Shakespeare then try Wyrd Sisters, for opera have a read of Maskerade, fantasy try The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic... The first Pratchett novel I read though was Good Omens which introduced me to both he and Neil Gaiman (American Gods is about my favourite book ever), then I think it was Strata which is a pre-Discworld Discworld book. I'd definitely say GG though, just enough fantasy for non-fantasy readers and extremely funny.

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  22. The cool thing about Good Omens, is that if you're familiar with Neil Gaimen's style, that as you're reading it you recognize the parts that are Gaimen and can assume the others are Pratchett... gives you a flavour!

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  23. I would actually recommend -against- colour of magic as a first book. I find that it's not representative of the way the majority of the series feels to me. It's still funny and interesting, but it's a different style to the Discworld series as a whole.

    Having said that, Good Omens is one of my favourite books, from 2 of my favourite authors :)

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  24. The early stuff isn't as polished as the later stuff. I find that a good starting point is Mort, introduction novel for one of the arcs, with some great characters in the Discworld universe.

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  25. Adding in my recommendation against starting with Colour of Magic, get to it eventually if you want, but it's not his strongest novel. Otherwise, I think Kniffler says about what I would say. tvtropes.org can fill you in on a lot of the references and brick jokes, if you feel lost.

    Oh, and we have a copy of Once More with Footnotes as well, picked up by Dear One at an ALA conference.

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    1. @Zhoen -- yes, you were one of the "no fewer than three people", the others being myself and Bruce/Carol. I noted your copy in the comments when your bookcase was posted.

      (My first attempt to post this comment was swallowed by Blogspot, perhaps because I included a link to the post featuring Zhoen's bookcase, for convenience. Trying again without the link.)

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    2. Ah, I hadn't realized our copy was visible. Sorry to be redundantly redundant.

      We looked up what that book would go for once, and the friend we were going to loan it to decided to just read it here a bit at a time.

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  26. I'd start with CoM, continue to Mort, then probably pick up later books at random if necessary but I'm a rabid old schooler who doesn't like the weak and reused/reheated jokes that make up the later books. I'd also recommend Strata and Dark Side Of The Sun (his non-Discworld sci-fi) - IMHO a lot better than most of the DW books...

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  27. I would recommend starting with the stand-alone-gems Small Gods and/or Pyramids

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  28. Oh, and don't be surprised that in spite of not planning to read all of his books, you do once you've read one. Potato chips, popcorn, chocolate chip cookies, and Discworld books. Can't stop at just one.

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  29. I don't want to rehash what many have said already, but I want to make sure you start in the right place (the first few books are a little weak when compared to the whole IMHO) Guards! Guards! or Pyramids from within Discworld, Good Omens or The Dark Side of the Sun from without.

    Looking forward to the arrival of the new one in the post tomorrow!

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  30. Given your interest in geology, Wee Free Men would be a great one to start. And it is absolutely hilarious. Far more than anything else I've read by him. Read it whether or not you want to become a fan.

    You should really do The Last Hero as well because the illustrations make the cosmology far more epic in your head.

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  31. There are some reasonable film adaptations too, I liked Going Postal. As always, not identical to the book but very enjoyable. Not to say to watch instead of reading, but you just might find yourself keen to explore further as you read along...

    Not his novels, but related: Pratchett sadly has the beginnings of Alzheimer's. Watch his enthralling, depressing, inspirational, and confronting documentary about euthanasia, Choosing to Die. Please read the YouTube introduction first, as it is quite an intense video.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=slZnfC-V1SY

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    1. I hated the film adaptation of Going Postal -- but explaining why would be a whole comment thread in itself -- and besides, I'd have to watch it again to comment fairly -- so I won't. (Let's just say: one factor is cringe-inducingly inappropriate behaviour on part of characters.)

      I have a review of the Hogfather adaptation -- which was better -- on my blog at http://outerhoard.wordpress.com/2007/12/25/hogfather-in-australia/

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  32. TYWKIWDBI Stan, not TYWKIDBI...

    ;-)

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    1. I did that on purpose to see if anyone was paying attention. Fixed now. Tx, anon.

      :.)

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  33. I was introduced to Terry Pratchett through the movie "The Hogfather" and then "The Colour of Magic" so I am starting from the beginning in the discworld series. Thanks

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  34. The first Pratchett novels I read were the Bromeliad Trilogy - Truckers, Diggers, and Wings. They are written for kids and I read them to my son when he was younger. We both really enjoyed them.

    I already loved Neil Gaiman so I read Good Omens next and adored it (it's co-authored by both of them and definitely has the flavor of both). I just started re-reading it on my Kindle and I'm distressed at the lack of footnotes that the book had. The footnotes are seriously half the fun of reading a Pratchett novel.

    I started The Discworld series at the beginning with The Color of Magic (main character is the wizard Rincewind) and I think I'm in the minority because I really liked it. I've also read the Tiffany Aching series (The Wee Free Men, Wintersmith, A Hat Full of Sky, and I Shall Wear Midnight) and also enjoyed them. They introduced me to the Granny Weatherwax character of Discworld, so I had to backtrack and find her other novels. I ADORE Granny Weatherwax and think she's one of the most brilliant characters I've read.

    I also loved Guards! Guards!, but then, I've enjoyed most of the Discworld novels I've read (the last Tiffany Aching was my least favorite). I'm currently reading Going Postal and I have Sourcery (another Rincewind novel) sitting on my desk next to me. :)

    I kind of love Terry Pratchett.

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  35. The first one I read was Guards! Guards! which introduced me to the whole Pratchett, and Gaiman, universes. I've read them all and have a start on a good collection of the books. If you are weird (like me) and like to start at the beginning so you can build into a series, the L-space web, here is the link that will take you there http://www.lspace.org/faqs/index.html, has a basic list of what comes where. The novels are not linear, the stories will jump around with characters and times, but it helps to know where to go next. Tiffany Aching is a separate, but entwined series with Discworld, the Bromeliad trilogy is great as a stand alone. As has been stated, they are addictive! There is even a children's book, read by one of the Discworld characters to his child, that has now been published, Where's My Cow.

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  36. I had friends touting Pratchett for years, but the couple of peeks I took into his books didn't do much for me. Then, somehow I found one of his books -- I couldn't tell you which -- in my hands when I was between other books to read, and I loved it! So I don't think it matters too much where you start. You WILL want to read more. I've read everything my library has in its collection...

    For you, Stan, I think you'd especially enjoy "The Science of Discworld," a weird and wonderful mash-up of the story of a Roundworld created by the wizards of the Unseen Academy with an extremely interesting overview of the science of our particular round world and its universe. Pratchett and his two co-authors deconstruct a lot of science [as popularly understood] "lies to children..."

    It's not the best Discworld story, so I'd suggest a couple Moist von Lipwig novels to get you started.

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  37. Given your attitude and opinion on politics in general, and the state of the world in recent years, I would start with 'Jingo!'. It's one of the City Watch arc, but it has some phenomenal characters, and is possibly one of his most brilliant and on-point observations about the nature of humanity and why we do what we do. "The Color of Magic" or "Hogfather" would be other good starting points. And if you don't have the time to read, look up the TV miniseries' that are based on those last two. Anything that can credit the inimitable Sir Christopher Lee as 'the voice of Death' must be worth watching, no?

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