Oct 2, 2008

The Folklore of Discworld by Terry Pratchett and Jacqueline Simpson

For The Folklore of Discworld, subtitled Legends, myths and customs from the Discworld with helpful hints from Planet Earth, Terry Pratchett joined efforts with folklorist Jacqueline Simpson to create a humorous and informative treaty on the traditions of the Discworld, and on how these were influenced by the myths, legends and customs of our world. There are chapters on Discworld gods, on the several species that inhabit it (including, of course, the Nac Mac Feegle), on two of my favourite Discworld places, Lancre and The Chalk, on heroes, legends and Hogswatch, and of course, on Death. The Folklore of Discworld also explores the historical sources and the literary influences – which go from Shakespeare and Milton to Lovecraft, Poe and Robert E. Howard – that we see in the series.

The Folklore of Discworld
is a dream come true in the shape of a book for me. Take two words that normally make a book an instant winner– “Discworld” and “folklore” – and combine them, and how could the result be anything but wonderful? I was already familiar with many of the myths and legends that are alluded to in Discworld, but I was surprised to find out how much of what is in the books is not just a product of Terry Pratchett’s wonderful imagination. Just like he understands people, he understands stories (and the two, of course, are more than a little related). And he knows how to use stories expertly. Of course, no writer makes everything up out of thin air, but knowing exactly what Terry Pratchett incorporated into his books made me appreciate Discworld even more. And I had my doubts that this was possible.

I learned a lot of things from this book, but here are some of my favourites: that little notes with requests still left in between the stones of Biddy Early’s cottage in Ireland, just like they are left in Miss Treason’s grave in A Hat Full of Sky; that the White Horse carving we see in The Wee Free Men actually exists on the Berkshire Downs in England; and that the famous poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” was largely responsible for popularizing the image of Santa Claus we have today.

Another thing I loved about The Folklore of Discworld was the fact that the authors share my sceptical attitude towards speculative or interpretative theories of folklore, myths and fairy tales. Like they say, some of the explanations people come up with make very good stories, which just might be an indication that that’s exactly what they are.

The Folklore of Discworld, just like the Discworld books, shows a great understanding that telling stories is not just what people do, but a part of what they are. “Narrativium” is indeed a powerful force. This book made me want to read the whole Discworld series all over again, but most particularly Hogfather, Small Gods, Witches Abroad, Reaper Man and The Wee Free Men. And with that illustrated edition of this last one coming out soon, I think I will do just that.

This can't be said often enough: Terry Pratchett is awesome.

And since I'm sharing cool links: On top of everything else, John Green has great taste in music.


  1. Oooh, this sounds like one for the Christmas list. :-)

  2. sounds very interesting! so it's kind of like a guide for the Discworld books?

  3. I wil absolutely be pickin this one up! Thanks!


  4. Ok, I've never heard of the Discworld books(I know, you're probably cringing right now) but wow does this whole concept sound fascinating to me. This will definitely be something I will look into. Thanks for this awesome review Nymeth.

  5. I know this book made you happy indeed :p And I totally agree that John Green has great taste in music! I didn't know if you were a reader of his blog and I was actually going to email you the link earlier...glad you found it :)

  6. Sounds like a great book, even though I haven't read more than one Discworld book. I really need to remedy that!

  7. And I am convinced that I should wait no more to get my hands on at least a copy of Terry Pratchett's work. Thanks for the great review, Nymeth!

  8. oops!!!
    I thought terry was a woman. Sorry haven't read any of his books before, but have heard a lot about his books. This one sounds interesting.

  9. It says a lot about Pratchett's work that a book like this could even exist. Pretty cool. I was thinking about reading another of his books sometime this month if I can finish all my challenge obligations quickly (or at all!).

  10. "The Folklore of Discworld is a dream come true in the shape of a book for me."

    ...and for me too!!!

  11. Cath: You'll love it :)

    Naida: Not quite a guide like a companion or anything (though there is one of those :P), but a guide to how folklore is used in the series. It's really interesting!

    Lezlie, I hope you enjoy it!

    Dar: No, I'm not cringing :P But I hope you'll give them a chance! This reading order guide will be helpful.

    Chris: I found it not too long ago and I think it was after you mentioned it in one of your posts. I became hooked right away, of course!

    Kim: Yep, you do :P

    Alice: I'm glad you're convinced, otherwise I would have to try to convince you :P The chart I just told Dar about is useful to decide which one to start with.

    Violetcrush: Well, now you know :P I hope you enjoy his work when you get to it.

    Trish: Yes it does! I hope you manage to read one more this month. And I'm glad I'm not the only one to plan all my reading ahead and trying to see what else I can fit in :P

    Ken: I knew you'd agree :D

  12. Thanks so much Nymeth for the link.

  13. One of my online groups picked on the books in this series but I didn't have the time to read all of the books that came before it (I refuse to read a series out of order). So I still haven't read any of the Discworld books although I would really like to! I love learning new things about a series or a book I loved though!

  14. Dar, you're welcome!

    Ladytink: The thing with Discworld is that there are several right orders :P You can follow publication order or the order of each subseries. The very first were the Rincewind books, and while they are enjoyable I think they're a lot weaker than the Death, Witches or Guard books. I always worry that if people start with them they'll be disappointed and not want to read the rest of the series. So if you do start with them, keep in mind that the series gets muuuuuch better!

  15. I just stumbled upon a listing for this one in the library catalogue yesterday and promptly put a copy on hold. After reading your post, I'm anticipating it even more eagerly! I've read all but two of the Discworld novels now, and I've been thinking about embarking on a reread of all of the Night Watch ones as that series is my favourite.

  16. Kate, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I'm partial to the Death and Witches books myself, but I love the Night Watch too. I want to re-read them all!

  17. this book has inpired alot of my current and future tattoo projects, i love folklore and how terry makes it come alive. on the discworld myths, stories and legends are reality, i get so dragged in to his work i feel as though i'm living it!!!!!!


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