There seems to be a great deal of writing here on the mechanics of Discworld; its inhabitants, its creator
, its lore
. I was somewhat shocked, then, to find a dearth of scholarship on what the place actually is
I'm hampered, here, in my usual style of finding Clever and Funny Quotes By Other People and putting them up to introduce the subject. Not because they're hard to find, but because there are so damn many, it's impossible to choose among them. With thirty-seven full books set in Discworld by Mr. Pratchett at the time of this writing, it is certainly one of the most well-chronicled worlds out there whether of the fantasy genre or general literature.
Discworld, at base, is fantasy. Although it contains liberal saltings of other genres, it is incontrovertibly a place where the world is flat, contains magic, and rides on the backs of four enormous elephants who in turn ride on the back of an enormous turtle which swims the stars. As another commenter has said, truly, the only place where an enormous elephant has to cock a leg to let the sun go by.
So, fantasy. All the ingredients are there, from heroes and princesses to wizards and tyrants and Assassins and dragons (of all types, it must be admitted). The problem with calling it straight fantasy is that there are also coppers, Postmasters General, newspapermen, bankers, tourists, and more. Oh, dozens more. And you know what? While the traditional fantasy types are present in every story, the stories all, eventually, seem to revolve around these uncomfortably recognizable normals.
And that's not all. Other elements creep into the story. Futuristic weapons. Time travel. Even space travel, right at the beginning. There are tales of international intrigue and war, tales of women's suffrage, tales of the tooth fairy and of The Phantom of the Opera! Tales of daring exploration and even exile and return.
In sum, the thing that makes Discworld so damn irresistable is that it...is a world. A big one, for all that Sir Pratchett tells us it's a couple thousand miles across. Of course, it helps that light only travels a few miles a second here, I suppose.
In this unbelievable playground, Pratchett treats his creations as props in a magic sandbox to tell us truths about our own world. Not sappy truths about love and life and happiness and evil (although those are there too!) but about things that we would, until a hot second ago, have sworn were indelibly parts of our own modern and sensible world, thank you very much.
Modern theories of money, along with corrupt financiers and corporate raiders. Ethnic strife. Prejudice of all sorts. Addiction. Diplomacy, and in a manner probably rather closer to the truth than its real practitioners would like. Good heavens, they've even got the movie industry and the great steaming primal beast that is Rock and Roll, and all of these change worlds. There are entirely fanciful but deeply chilling theories about Cities and their gestation, as well as the beast that is an aroused populace. Why we have death even comes into play. The futility of war. Even, in the most recent installment, the true nature of Sport.
Discworld is a place where, should you wake up and find yourself there, you might panic for all of ten minutes before realizing that it's just like home.
And that's the most impressive kind of fantasy I've ever seen.