I am never not reading a Terry Pratchett book. I’ve developed the habit of finishing one and then reading the first few pages of the next one. That way, I always know whatever happens in life, I have a Terry Pratchett book on the go and ergo, nothing can be too bad. I might not continue reading it for weeks, and I’ll read several other books in the meantime, but it is a reassuring presence, an indestructible ally. Also, if I am ever afflicted by the scourge of our times, the relentless and criminally under-feared man flu, I can crawl into bed with my Terry Pratchett book and read until I feel better or a certain someone hops off Binky to tell me that I’m cured, in the permanent sense.
So, when the good people at Transworld asked me to list my top five Pratchett books, I have decided to go with my top five assuming I’m feeling peaky and I’m about to take to my bed until we run out of soup. Upon my potential deathbed only Discworld is allowed.
Couple of important notes:
This is not just on the list as it so happens to be the book I am re-reading right now and how dare you suggest otherwise! It’s here on merit because it features my very favourite opening of any of the books. ‘Do you believe in angels?’ is just a stupendous piece of writing. Add to that, the wonderful redemption storyline for Moist, the brilliant takedown of the idea of the victimless crime and Sir Terry’s barely disguised rage at the dangers of unchecked capitalism run amok. It is a powerful and incredibly satisfying book. It reminds me of the Neil Gaiman quote about Terry Pratchett, ‘He’s not jolly. He’s angry.’ While this book is by no means the only example of that righteous anger, it is one of the very best.
This book was in a tie-breaker with an awful lot of other books to make it onto the list. Two things helped it squeeze a nose in front. Firstly, in contains the Captain Sam Vimes ‘boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness, which might just be the most quotable of all Pratchett quotes. Secondly, without wanting to give spoilers in the admittedly unlikely event that anyone reading this hasn’t read Men At Arms, but ‘the Cuddy moment’ might be the single most affecting moment in Discworld lore. This is a light-hearted fantasy book that can be read as a passionate testimonial on the need for gun control, a musing on the dangers of romanticising history and one of the many times that Pratchett addresses the scourge of racial enmity. All that, and there’s several good bits with a dog.
I know, two Watch books in the top five – this is the point some of you will start writing letters to your MP/witch doctor/Assassins’ Guild representative – delete as appropriate. What’s more I’m about to say that oddly, Terry Pratchett books aren’t about the story. Hear me out! The Discworld is the most brilliantly realised world in the history of literature (in your face Tolkien!) and so much of the joy in the books is immersing yourself in it. Ankh-Morpork is the centre of that flat world and the Watch books breathe life into it more than any of the others. The world, the characters, the themes explored, the perfect little diversion of wit and wisdom – in those lie the true greatness of Pratchett. Night Watch has the most satisfying plot of any Discworld book. It is an honest-to-Offler thriller plot wrapped up in Sam Vimes returning to his youth, while musing on life from the perspective of a soon-to-be father literally manning a barricade with his younger self, all while hunting down the Discworld’s most loathsome villain.
Now, this one I will admit is entirely based on its over-lapping with my actual life. You see, before I was a serious author with a beard and everything, I was the drummer in several bands that played music with rocks in. This book captures that sweaty pubescent adrenalin rush of making and performing music perfectly. Every time I read it; I’m drumming on all available surfaces for weeks afterwards while staring off into the distance. So there’s that, and this is one of the books that features Death. Aghhh – caught you, yes – I do know that all the books feature Death, but only in this one does he get a cool leather jacket. Also, CMOT Dibbler finds the role he was undoubtedly destined for by becoming a music manager.
An ex-journalist’s love letter to the perpetually dying art of print journalism, this book simultaneously functions as a rip-roaring tale, while also somehow manages to document the rise and fall of the newspaper business. Personally, I grew up with a hankering for the romantic ideal of what an investigative journalist was supposed to be and the fact that we get to watch William de Worde and Sacharissa Crisplock invent it in the Discworld is a delight. Full disclosure, I went on to write a book set in a newspaper and this book bears a great deal of responsibility for that. The Truth gets you fired up about the importance of a free press and that is undoubtedly Sir Sneaky Pratchett’s intention.
So there you have it. My top five list of Discworld novels. Now, to save us all some time, I’ve decided to write myself a letter of complaint, so that you don’t have to.
Have you lost what little of a mind you had? How on earth can you do a top five Discworld novels list and not have the witches in there anywhere? Come to that, where is Monstrous Regiment – a searing indictment of both the futility of war and the patriarchy? Thud! Is the best Watch novel and what about Thief of Time? A time-travelling thriller that makes the last Avengers film look like the last X-Men film? And Mort? Where is Mort? And Tiffany? Then there’s Rincewind, what have you done with Rincewind? And Moving Pictures is clearly CMOT Dibbler’s finest hour.
In summary, you are an abomination unto Nuggan and may the luggage eat you whole.
C K (Caimh) McDonnell is a former stand-up comedian and TV writer. He performed all around the world, before hanging up his clowning shoes to concentrate on writing.
His debut novel, A Man With One of Those Faces – a comic crime novel – was published in 2016 and spawned The Dublin Trilogy books and the spin-off McGarry Stateside series.
His latest book is Love Will Tear Us Apart, the third in his Stranger Times series about a weekly newspaper dedicated to the weird and the wonderful (but mostly the weird), set in Manchester, where Caimh also lives.