Discworld by Terry Pratchett: A Reading Guide

Imagine a flat world that lies on top of four elephants, which are standing on top of a turtle, which is flying through space. That’s the Discworld! A fantasy world created by the late Sir Terry Pratchett, known for his satirical novels

In 2011 I discovered the works by Terry Pratchett via a friend of mine who recommended them to me. The Discworld series intrigued me because it was not a straightforward series. It requires a map, a guide, an order. I’m sure that when the works came out since 1983 people simply read the next book as they came out so one can definitely read them in the order that they were published. However, my friend shared a map/guide with me that has been super helpful in figuring out which book to read next. From that guide (which I can’t actually find anymore because it’s outdated) I created the following guide for myself:

My first ever plan for reading Discworld based on an old version of the guide

So in the image above you can see that I separated each group of novels and was marking when I owned a book (first bullet) and when I finally read the book (second bullet). There are also some floating short stories and novellas that are connected to some of the groups of novels but are not really their own book (as far as I know). I actually checked out “A Blink of the Screen” from the library and read all the short stories from there. My goal is to buy it eventually since it does have some cool illustrations. It is now 2021 and I’m nowhere near done buying or reading all the books in the series!

My current Discworld collection

On to the current guide! After Terry Pratchett’s death in 2015 😦 a final guide was released:

As you can see the guide is now updated with all the released novels and some of the group novel titles have also been changed from what I had previously. Depending on your interests you could easily just read one group of novels or jump around depending on what you’re interested in reading. I’ll try to summarize each group of novels a bit:

  • Science Novels: These books are really about the science of our own round planet Earth as seen through the eyes of some of the Discworld characters. These do not follow the other characters’ stories although there is a plot throughout while they teach the reader about the science of our world. (Not a good place to start!)
  • Rincewind Novels: The Rincewind novels are called that because we follow a wizard named Rincewind. He’s a bit of a clumsy guy who most of his peers think is more trouble than is worth. Unwillingly, Rincewind tends to get into a lot of trouble and into the strangest of situations! I started my Discworld journey with The Colour of Magic although now I know that the author considers Sourcery a better place to start (even though it’s the third one chronologically in the story… curious). So far this group of novels is the one I have read the most of and it is also the largest group of novels. Definitely a good place to start!
  • Industrial Revolution: I haven’t read any of these yet but these novels have to do with technological advancements in the Discworld and how the characters (who are technologically at a medieval level) react to such advancements. For the most part these take place in the main city of Ankh-Morpork. (Also not a good place to start!)
  • Watch Novels: I’ve read the first of this group of novels and it was so so funny! All of these books tend to have me laughing but this one was just excellent. It follows what would be the police force of the city of Ankh-Morpork and how they deal with crime and enforcing all the laws (or not). This is also a good place to start!
  • Death Novels: These are my favorite novels hands down. We follow the character of Death, a personification of death, as they go around doing the job of meeting people at the end of their lives and showing them the way into the next thing. Death’s dialogue is always in CAPS so it gives you a sense of their presence in the page. These novels are philosophical but with a tongue in cheek type of dialogue. Funny, heartfelt, I just love them! A great place to start too!
  • Tiffany Aching Novels: I haven’t read any of these novels but if you follow the publication dates, these novels started to come out in 2001, almost 20 years after the start of the Discworld series. For that reason alone I’d say these novels would best be read after reading at least one of the other Starter novels or a whole group of novels so that you have good knowledge of the world. I haven’t bought any of those yet and I think I’ll probably read them nearer the end of my journey through Discworld.
  • Ancient Civilizations: I can’t explain how excited I am to get to these novels. These two novels are about ancient mythologies of the Discworld, one of the books is reminiscent of ancient Egypt while the other is generally about religion and philosophy. The adjacent short story in this group of novels, “Death And What Comes Next,” is a conversation between Death and a philosopher, it is available online here and I honestly recommend it without any need of reading any of the Discworld novels (read it! takes 5 mins! trust me!)
  • Witches Novels: This is my second favorite group of stories. We follow a group of witches who are probably the most sensible characters in all the novels I’ve read so far. They can use magic but choose not to and work as healers in the Discworld. These are a good place to start!

So as you can see, the Discworld can be enjoyed from many different perspectives. If you want to follow wizards, Death, witches, or just stay within science and philosophy, there’s something for you. One of my favorite things about these novels are actually the footnotes! These are 9/10 a source laughter and I always look forward to getting to the next footnote as I read. British humor and satire are the style of these fantasy novels (plus a lot of puns!) I hope you’re able to read and enjoy the Discworld!

Let me know if you’ve already ventured into the Discworld or which of the different novel groups grabbed your attention!