Since the publication of The Colour of Magic 25 years ago, Terry Pratchett has been spinning tales of comedic fantasy set on Discworld. The realm sits as a disc on the back of four elephants who, in turn, stand on the back of a giant turtle, swimming through space, and it gets more complex from there. Wizards are old nutters conjuring mayhem in their Unseen University, Death himself undergoes multiple identity-crises, great heroes tackle obstacles like getting the mail through and introducing rock and roll music. With ample tongue-in-cheek British humour full of silliness and awkwardness, Pratchett serves as the great champion (and arguably creator) of the sub-genre of comedy-fantasy.
Thirty-six novels (and three films, two of which are animated) have spun out onto Discworld. With such a massive background, it’s intimidating to think of where to get in on the fun of reading about it. Even for the seasoned Discworld-veterans, it’s hard to keep track of who did what where, when, and how. Fortunately, there are books about books, and Lawrence Watt-Evans’ The Turtle Moves: Discworld’s Story Unauthorized is there to fill any possible gaps.
Written in an approachable, chuckle-producing, almost blog-like manner (complete with parenthetical asides and winking footnotes), the book captures all one needs to get a grasp on the multitudinous novels in the Discworld series. It’s broken into parts, some giving summaries of Pratchett’s work while others provide commentary. First come the introductions, where Watt-Evans explains why everyone needs to read this book, and the overall commentaries on the founding of the series.
Next is a huge section detailing every novel. While each is given a few pages in description and summary (always enough to get an inkling of what happened, but never too much to ruin the story if you haven’t read it), there are three dozen of the things, and that’s a lot of fantasy ground to cover.
To round out The Turtle Moves, Watt-Evans gives a series of short essays and comments on different subjects that crop up time and again in Discworld. For all the jokes and puns, Pratchett actually produces a good many themes that require a great deal of thought. By anthropomorphizing Death, we get into the head of the Grim Reaper and learn a little something about balance and the important parts of life. Belief and its place in the magical world as well as the real world is another common topic upon which characters muse. There there’s details about background characters, mixing myths, and borrowing from legends, as well as plenty of reflection on Pratchett’s own position in the writing world.
It makes for a lot of material crammed between two covers. Yet, despite the density (or perhaps because of it), the easy-going language, with which Pratchett-fans should be well familiar, allows it all to be easily digestible. Definitely a must for all those trying to figure out just how everything in the massive Discworld fits together.