Terry Pratchett’s Discworld is a brilliant fantasy/comedy series consisting of 41 books. While earlier books seems to only be Terry’s attempt at poking fun at generic fantasy tropes and cliches, as the series went on, it seems like Terry found his stride in making his comedic fantasy more than just something slightly funny that people would forget in a short time. Instead, a lot of the middle/later books went on to become some of the most thought-provoking fantasy books out there, while still having the clever jokes and humor he had always had in his books. Discworld is known for the very surreal settings and characters. Just look at the setting, there’s a disc, sitting atop four elephants, who are standing on top of a giant turtle roaming space. And as for the character, there’s a sentient Luggage, who follows its owner everywhere they go. But, this doesn’t mean that the stories and the (other) characters cannot be grounded in reality, they do, and Pratchett mostly does this in a very elegant and ironic way.
Discworld is a dark world, however, this is offset by the unparalled humor style of Terry Pratchett. Had it not been for the humor, the grittiness and the grimness of the world would perfectly reflect our real world. And it reminds us that sometimes we need humor in our life. To distance ourselves from all the suffering and pain. Just don’t distance yourself too far, or you will live in an imaginary world created by your own fantasies.
In the book Hogfather, the character Death said :
“ Take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder and sieve it through the finest sieve and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy. yet you act as if there is some ideal order in the world, as if there is some … some rightness in the universe by which it may be judged.”
A very cynical way of thinking, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any merit. Like it or not, there is no ultimate order or rules in the universe, no ultimate and objective goal. You have to create yours yourself. Humans create legends and myths to support ideals such as truth and justice in order to cope with their own existence. After that quote, Susan replied
”Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point — “
Death answered by saying that that is exactly his point.
Somewhat similarly, in Guards! Guards! Lord Vetinari said
”I believe you find life such a problem because you think there are the good people and the bad people. You’re wrong, of course. There are, always and only, the bad people. But people like you put together little rafts of rules and vaguely good intentions and say, this is the opposite, this will triumph in the end. You have to believe that, otherwise existence would be a dark agony and the only hope would be that there is no life after death.”
Again, that is a very cynical and somewhat pessimistic view of life. But that doesn’t mean it’s not true, quite the opposite, injustice and evil do exist in the real world, but we should not let that fact discourage us. There’s the other side of the coin. There’s also good and hope in this world, we should grab on to it tightly. And most importantly, we should make more of it in this world and hope that we can overcome the sufferings.
By now I think it’s clear that the philosophy of Discworld, and to an extent, the philosophy of Terry Pratchett, holds that yes, it’s true, there are countless injustice and suffering in this world, but that does not mean we have to give in to it. There’s almost always something worth living for. It may be anything. From your hobbies, or people you love, or maybe you’re like Death and you like cats a lot, as seen from this quote from Sourcery.
“ What is there in this world that makes living worth while?’ Death thought about it. CATS, he said eventually, CATS ARE NICE”
The way you enjoy or fill your life with things you love is something that is brought up a lot in Discworld, take this quote as an example,
“ Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
Pratchett is saying that no matter what you do in life, you have to do something with it, and there has to be something for you that is worth doing, something that can make you a better person.
This idea is further expanded upon a lot of books. For example, here’s a quote from The Last Continent
” It is said that your life flashes before your eyes just before you die. That is true, it’s called Life”
The life you live is not without limit. For some it may even be as short as “flashes”, but however long it is, you have to make the most out of it and don’t just waste it.
Another example of this idea is when Death talks to Susan in Soul Music,
“But most people are rather stupid and waste their lives. Have you not seen that? Have you not looked down from the horse at a city and thought how much it resembled an ant heap, full of blind creatures who think their mundane little world is real? You see the lighted windows and what you want to think is that there must be many interesting stories behind them, but what you know is that really there are just dull, dull souls, mere consumers of food, who think their instincts are emotions and their tiny lives of more account than a whisper of wind.”
A lot of people waste their lives on trivial things, from too much food, or too much drugs or many other things. I’m not saying that you should not do these things. But if you want to life your live at the fullest, you should be more active and maybe do things that other people don’t really do much. Because by doing so you may discover new things that you didn’t know you would like, and thus, making your life more enjoyable and meaningful.
There’s also this quote from Thief of Time,
”The only appropriate state of the mind is surprise. The only appropriate state of the heart is joy. The sky you see now, you have never seen before. The perfect moment is now. Be glad of it.”
It is indeed a beautiful worldview to live your life with. But, depending on your situation, it may not be easy. Especially with the current climate of the world. Still, you should try as best as you can to do it.
Finally, this is one of my favorite quotes from the whole series, from Moving Pictures,
“The whole of life is just like watching a film. Only it’s as though you always get in ten minutes after the big picture has started, and no-one will tell you the plot, so you have to work it out all yourself from the clues.”
Sure, our parents may guide us in the early parts of our life, but in the end, when you’re transitioning into an adult, there’s nobody that will really make you understand everything. Except for yourself. And that means nobody can pick and choose what you should do. Only you yourself can, whatever it may be.
In the end, I believe when boiled down to its core, one of the most important messages of Discworld is this, Death is inevitable, and despite its pain and suffering, life is worth living and it’s fleeting, so don’t waste it.
Discworld is far from the skepticism and cynicism of postmodernism. But it’s also not exactly the total freedom and progress of modernism. In a similar note, Discworld is not the typical good vs evil battles of Tolkienesque high fantasy, nor does it fall to the dark and gritty world of the recent phenomenon of grimdark fantasy. But it is something else, something unique and definitely something worth reading.