Everyone will have their own favourite characters from the hundreds of humans, vampires, trolls and golems who stalk the plains and cities of Pratchett’s disturbingly familiar fantasy world. Here are 10 of the finest.
Death (and the Death of Rats, and Susan. Death pops up in the first few books as a classic Grim Reaper, a skeleton with cloak and scythe, but takes centre stage in Mort, the first unarguably great Discworld novel. Death is brilliant because of his bewildered fascination with the living creatures over whose little lives he presides: he ends up a sort of benignly chilling figure, fond of cats and curry, who has to be reminded not to boom “COWER, BRIEF MORTALS” in his voice like slamming coffin-lids while dressed up as Father Christmas for a children’s party. Sublime.
Granny WeatherwaxThe moral conscience of the witching business, Granny Weatherwax is the presiding spirit of the tiny, sheep-farming hill country of Lancre (a close analogue, one suspects, to Wales) and one of Pratchett’s most enduringly brilliant creations. Crotchety, eminently no-nonsense (the trolls call her “She Who Must Be Avoided”) and one of the prime exponents of Pratchett’s number-one virtue of common sense, Granny Weatherwax is another of the tough thinkers with hearts of gold who stalk through Pratchett’s fiction and are, one suspects, an important factor in its endless popularity. Catchphrase: “I can’t be having with that kind of thing.”
The Patrician, Lord VetinariThe kind of benign despot who would make Machiavelli faint with fear and envy, Vetinari presides over Pratchett’s capital city-state of Ankh-Morpork without ever needing to raise his voice (“Lord Vetinari wouldn’t stop at sarcasm,” says one character, quaking. “He might use … irony.”) Vetinari’s family motto is Si non confectus, non reficiat — if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it — which gives a clue to the formidable realpolitik behind this ex-Assassin’s government: Vetinari maintains control because everyone thinks he’s in control. Looks, from behind, “like a carnivorous flamingo”.
Nanny Ogg’ Hedge-witch extraordinaire, grandmother to thousands and possessor of “a grin that should have been locked up for the sake of public decency”, Nanny Ogg is the boozy, garlicky, song-singing counterpoint to her formidable colleague Granny Weatherwax. Never far from the sound of a popping cork, ever-ready to join in on memorable Discworld ditties such as “The Hedgehog Can Never Be Buggered At All” and “A Wizard’s Staff Has a Knob On the End”, Nanny Ogg is the life and soul of the Witches books. Pratchett, incidentally, says he’s always thought “that Nanny is, deep down, the most powerful of the witches, and part of her charm lies in the way she prevents people from finding this out.”
Sam Vimes is The most gloriously long-suffering of Pratchett’s characters, Vimes is a weary, unshaven, golden-hearted homage to every Tired Copper of page and screen who ever proclaimed that he was getting too old for all this. Perpetually called on to walk the mean streets again for one last job even when whisked off into aristocratic retirement, Vimes is the Discworld’s arch-detective, a cigar-chomping supercop with a moral pragmatism that rivals even the formidable Patrician. The first line of Night Watch sums him up pretty well: “Sam Vimes sighed when he heard the scream, but he finished shaving before he did anything about it.”
The Librarian. Originally a human wizard at Unseen University, the Discworld’s hub of magical academia, the Librarian was transformed into an orang-utang in a freak magical accident and refuses to be changed back. Such is the absent-minded inclusivity of the University that now, “if someone ever reported that there was an orang-utang in the library, the wizards would probably go and ask the Librarian if he’d seen it.” Also chief organist for the University, and terribly strong: “we’ve got,” claims Unseen U’s Archchancellor, “the only librarian who can rip off your arm with his leg.” Conversation limited to “Oook”.
Former conman and international man of mystery Moist von Lipwig who was almost hanged at the beginning of Going Postal for crimes against the state of Ankh-Morpork. But Survived, at the behest of the city’s cryptic Patrician, to become the motive force behind the capital’s modernisation. Lipwig masterminds the postal service, introduces paper money to Ankh-Morpork, constructs (in the 40th Discworld novel Raising Steam, out this month) a rail network and gives Pratchett the opportunity for some of his finest satiric stabs at modern culture. Also an expert cat-burglar.
Tiffany Aching is a trainee witch first introduced, in The Wee Free Men (2003), one of Pratchett’s many books to tackle very adult themes under the guise of children’s fiction. Only three of the Aching books are really good (you might as well skip I Shall Wear Midnight) but those three are some of the best Discworld stuff in years. Tiffany is a witch, but her main gifts are the peerlessly common-sensical ones of “First Sight and Second Thoughts” — the ability to see through groupthink and self-delusion and to reflect upon one’s actions. Brilliant stuff.
Cut-Me-Own-Throat DibblerThe Del Boy of Discworld, “purveyor of anything that could be sold hurriedly from an open suitcase in a busy street and was guaranteed to have fallen off the back of an oxcart”. So named for his refrain “And that’s cutting me own throat,” Dibbler turns his hand to several ventures in the three decades of Discworld novels — shampoo vendor, musical impresario, motion-picture executive, snow-globe salesman — but is rarely more than a deal-gone-wrong away from his most reliable staple, the trays of rat-onna-stick and sausage-inna-bun that “find a use for bits of an animal that the animal didn’t know it had got”.
The LuggageSpeechless, lethal and heralded only by the patter of thousands of tiny feet, this ambulant, man-eating suitcase is one of Pratchett’s most disturbing and brilliant creations. Constructed from “sapient pearwood” and faithful unto death to its owner, the hapless Rincewind (qv) the Luggage can snap up predators or dirty socks with the same blank abandon, popping open its lid again to reveal piles of clean laundry smelling of lavender. Also capable (in one of Pratchett’s finest phrases) of developing “a particularly malevolent look about its keyhole, the sort of look that says ‘Go on — make my day.’”
Wincanton, Somerset was officially twinned in 2002 with the fictional city of Ankh-Morpork from the novels, becoming the first UK town to link with a fictional place.Peach Pie Street and Treacle Mine Road are among the list of streets named after the comic fantasy series of novels at the Kingwell Rise development