It’s difficult to describe Terry Pratchett to somebody who hasn’t come across him before; but it’s more than likely that you’ve heard his name, even if you haven’t read one of his many, many books. Satirical and downright hysterical, his books are based on a world shaped like a disc (the namesake of his Discworld series), held up by four elephants on the back of a gigantic turtle named Great A’Tuin. Pratchett’s universe takes its inspiration from a bizarre combination of Shakespeare, fairy tales and trends in science, religion and pop culture – whether it’s the rise of the postal service, the birth of rock music, or Hollywood’s humble beginnings, Pratchett has invariably written something about it.
Pratchett’s novels are all parodies to a certain extent, riffing on often controversial themes while liberally coating them in clown makeup. He kick-started the Discworld series in 1983 with The Colour of Magic after a successful career as a journalist, partly influenced by his childhood ambition to be an astronomer. Like all classic fantasy novels, the Discworld series contains your standard witches, trolls and even Death (WHO LOVES CATS AND ALWAYS SPEAKS IN SMALL CAPS) – but Pratchett uses these colourful characters make you laugh and think in equal measure. Despite being deeply rooted in fantasy tradition, they’re all remarkably human. Pratchett shows a fondness for his characters and their quirks, summing them up in a 2013 Daily Telegraph interview as his ‘people-are-rather-silly-but-they’re-not-that-bad voice’.
Pratchett’s world-building is as fascinating as his characters – the main city of Ankh-Morpork is a mirror image of London, evolving from a medieval cesspit to a sophisticated hub of human ingenuity, where people pull things apart and put them back together in different ways with alarming abandon. The Disc is as diverse as it is strange, including the icy Hub, the deserts of Klatch and the more temperate Lancre, with all the physics and whatnot precisely worked out by Pratchett in his Science of Discworld. His irreverent writing formula simply works, and Pratchett has the knighthood for services to literature to prove it. In 2007, he was diagnosed with a form of early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease, and his later books subsequently became more like soliloquies, never losing their quick-fire wit and keen social commentary.
With his death in 2015, we lost one of the world’s sharpest, brightest authors. He blazed a trail in the fantasy and surreal genre that many authors have since followed, and that is what makes surreal fantasy so mind-bendingly brilliant – it’s an amalgamation of ideas and influences that can instantly transport you on a journey to somewhere gloriously implausible while retaining its roots in the real world. Terry Pratchett’s signature style asks you difficult questions along the way, then steals your valuables when you aren’t looking.
Watch a clip from Discworld’s 25th anniversary below: