If you’ve ever found yourself chuckling at a grumpy, anthropomorphic Death or a suitcase on hundreds of little legs, then you have fallen under the spell of the late, great Terry Pratchett.
His legendary Discworld series, a mirthful, satirical romp through an absurd universe teetering on the back of four elephants (all of whom are perched on a giant turtle, naturally), has left a lasting imprint on the landscape of modern fantasy literature.
But how, you might ask, has Pratchett’s peculiar brand of comedic genius influenced contemporary works?
Well, let’s take a wander through the literary Unseen University and find out…
Breaking the Mould: Subverting Tropes
Pratchett’s Discworld, in essence, is a satirical deconstruction of fantasy, a genre often accused of taking itself a smidgen too seriously.
With a healthy dose of parody, Pratchett took typical fantasy tropes and turned them on their heads, doing a metaphorical handstand.
Take, for example, “The Colour of Magic,” where the protagonist, Rincewind, is a thoroughly incompetent wizard.
He’s not the archetypal wise and powerful sorcerer but a cowardly academic with a single spell in his head, and he doesn’t even know what it does.
The Unseen University Effect
Pratchett’s Unseen University, the centre of magical education in Discworld, parodies the stuffiness and bureaucracy found in many academic institutions.
It’s an amusing hotbed of ineptitude, where wizards devote more time to sumptuous feasts than actual magic.
This style of satire has been taken up by authors like Lev Grossman in ‘The Magicians.’
Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy, although more ‘American fraternity’ than ‘British academia,’ embodies the same tongue-in-cheek critique of educational institutions.
Witty Social Commentary
Pratchett was no stranger to using his novels as a platform for social commentary.
He tackled everything from politics and religion to gender and racial discrimination, all neatly packaged within sharp wit and humour.
“Monstrous Regiment” is a perfect example.
It’s a delightful romp about a young woman dressing up as a man to join the military, only to discover that most of her regiment are also women in disguise.
It brilliantly challenges gender norms and expectations, all with a knowing wink.
Modern fantasy authors have taken this baton and run with it.
N.K. Jemisin’s “The Fifth Season” not only uses a unique narrative structure to tell its story but also delves into complex themes of oppression, discrimination, and social hierarchy.
And she does it with such style, Terry would be proud.
Ankh-Morpork: City of Possibilities
Ankh-Morpork, Discworld’s bustling city-state, is a melting pot of species, cultures, and ideas.
Pratchett uses the city to explore themes like multiculturalism, commerce, and urban life.
Its influence is evident in Scott Lynch’s “The Lies of Locke Lamora,” where the city of Camorr is as much a character as the protagonists themselves.
The Nanny Ogg Impact
Pratchett’s characters are wonderfully flawed, human (even when they’re not), and often, unapologetically female.
Take Gytha Ogg, known as Nanny, a witch known as much for her risqué songs and love of a good tipple as she is for her witchcraft.
Nanny Ogg’s influence echoes in characters like Kaz Brekker in Leigh Bardugo’s ‘Six of Crows.’
Both are shrewd, street-smart, and have a wicked sense of humour.
They’re not afraid to enjoy life, even in the face of danger—a refreshing departure from the stoic heroes that often populate fantasy narratives.
The Power of Narrative: Storytelling in Discworld
Pratchett often played with the idea of narrative causality—the concept that stories, once in motion, have their own momentum and tend to follow certain patterns.
This meta-narrative approach has influenced works like Patrick Rothfuss’s “The Kingkiller Chronicle,” where the power of stories and storytelling is a recurring theme.
The Luggage Legacy
Pratchett’s Discworld is known for its wacky, sentient objects—the most famous probably being The Luggage, a travel trunk made of sapient pearwood, running around on countless little legs.
This tradition of giving life and personality to inanimate objects has been carried forward by authors like V.E. Schwab.
In her ‘Shades of Magic’ series, the magical coats, which change their form according to the wearer’s needs, bear a striking resemblance to Pratchett’s sentient artefacts.
The Night Watch and Modern Morality
The characters of the Night Watch, particularly Sam Vimes, embody Pratchett’s commentary on law, justice, and moral complications.
Vimes’ character development, from a drunken night watchman to the Duke of Ankh-Morpork, resonates with characters like Sand dan Glokta in Joe Abercrombie’s “The First Law” series, where a tortured inquisitor grapples with his own morality.
Embracing the Absurd
Perhaps one of the most distinctive aspects of Pratchett’s writing is his embracing of the absurd and ridiculous.
This is a man who created a character called Death who SPEAKS LIKE THIS and has a fondness for cats.
This embracing of the absurd has found a home in modern fantasy as well.
Neil Gaiman’s “Neverwhere” is a prime example, with its bizarre characters and surreal Under-London setting.
It’s like Alice in Wonderland fell down a rabbit hole and ended up on the Underground.
The Granny Weatherwax School of Hard Knocks
Lastly, we can’t forget Granny Weatherwax, with her sharp wit, sharper tongue, and penchant for ‘headology’ instead of traditional spellcasting.
Her influence can be seen in characters like Minerva McGonagall in J.K. Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter’ series.
Both are no-nonsense, wise, and possess a firm but fair approach to their charges.
The Patrician’s Political Prowess
Pratchett’s portrayal of the Machiavellian Patrician, Lord Vetinari, is a keen-edged satire of political systems.
Vetinari’s rule, while autocratic, is surprisingly effective and popular.
Pratchett uses Vetinari to question what makes a ‘good’ leader.
This style of political satire resonates with George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire,” where the struggle for power and the concept of ‘rightful’ rulership are central themes.
The Pratchett Paradigm
Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series has undeniably left an indelible mark on the realm of fantasy literature.
His unique blend of humour, satire, and insightful commentary, intertwined with memorable characters and absurd situations, has shaped the genre in ways that continue to resonate with readers and writers alike.
His legacy is a testament to the power of fantasy as not just escapism, but a lens through which we can examine our own world, one magical, absurd, and profoundly human story at a time.
Discworld continues to cast its spell over the fantasy genre, from its satirical institutions to its unconventional characters.
And we’re all the better for it.
After all, as Pratchett himself said, “Fantasy is an exercise bicycle for the mind. It might not take you anywhere, but it tones up the muscles that can.”
So, here’s to the continued toning of our mind muscles, courtesy of Discworld’s legacy.