Miskatonic University Press

Desert Island Discworld

literature terry.pratchett

This summer I discovered Desert Island Discworld, a podcast where the host interviews a guest about a favourite book from the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. If you like Pratchett, I highly recommend it. There are other Pratchett podcasts out there, and I tried three but dropped them. They were too talky and rambling. This one is informed, interesting, concise and thoughtful.

Each episode is about an hour long. For the first half, the host talks to the guest about their life and work. Most come from comics or role playing games or comedy. They’re all good, and they have a lot of insight into stories and what makes them work. I learned a lot from these bits: for example, in episode 1.4, where game designer Grant Howitt talks about Witches Abroad, I was introduced to one-page role-playing games. He designed Sexy Battle Wizards, where characters have three traits: sexy, battle and wizard. Genius. Another game designer, Hannah Nicklin, in episode 2.6 on I Shall Wear Midnight, was also particularly good.

In the second half, they get into the book in question: how it works, why it works, what’s good, what’s not so good, how it fits in with the other books, and so on. This is far beyond merely recapping the story and quoting favourite lines (though of course there’s some of that, because some lines are so good). Every episode has given me new things to think about.

Cover of Monstrous Regiment.
Cover of Monstrous Regiment.

There’s a new episode just out for Monstrous Regiment, which I’m reading right now, so I’m holding off until tomorrow when I’m done. This is one of the first Discworld books I read, as it happens, and one of the best. I liked it back then and I like it even more now that I’m rereading them all in order and I know where it fits in the big structure. If I remember right, when I first read it I’d never read any of the Watch books, so I didn’t know about Sam Vimes and the others of the Watch who have small roles here. He’s a duke now, and on a diplomatic mission to solve a problem about two small warring countries.

Late in the book the hero(ine) Polly and her squad have been captured by the enemy. People from Ankh-Morpork (a distant city-state) come into their cell: soldiers and a few very well-dressed officers, led by Lord Rust, who’s in charge of the military mission. If you’ve read the novels in order, you’ve met Rust before. And you don’t like him. The others aren’t introduced. But then:

Polly was watching the officers. They looked nervous …

… except for the one at the back. She’d thought all the guards had gone and, while this man was dressed like a guard—dressed, that is, like a badly dressed guard—he wasn’t acting like one. He was leaning against the wall by the door, smoking half a cigar, and grinning. He looked like a man enjoying a show.

Behind the officers, the man with the cigar winked a Polly. His uniform was very old-fashioned—an ancient helmet, a breastplate, some slightly rusted chain mail, and big boots. He wore it like a workman wears his overalls. Unlike the braid and brilliance in front of her, the only statement his clothes made was that he didn’t intend to get hurt.

Vimes. He winks and gives her a thumbs up. If Vimes is on her side, you know it’s going to end well.

Night Watch, The Wee Free Men and Monstrous Regiment: three masterpieces in a row.