I love the Discworld books. Always a good rollicking romp, and sometimes a welcome relief from the intensity of ‘the world is ending’ in other fantasy. I like to read Discworld between The Wheel of Time and The Sword of Truth and all the other books filled with intense heroics and life-changing events.
Which is not to say the Discworld books don’t tackle serious issues, because they do, but in a comedic way that allows them to get away with it, and in a way that is nevertheless entertaining. So here are my top five major Discworld characters.
Is this an odd choice? And if it is, do I like Vetinari because I’m like Vetinari? Or at least, so say the Discworld quizzes which tell you the characters you are most like, and if there is any truth to it, perhaps I should be afraid… On the other hand, Vetinari is, as dictators go, a most benevolent dictator, and I should like to think I would be, too. Benevolent, I mean. I can do the dictator part standing on my head.
Vetinari is a fascinating character. He is always one step ahead of everyone else – even when you (and everyone else) thinks he isn’t. You can’t fool him, no matter how hard you try. I would hate to play chess against him! Or poker, either, I expect. He rules the city by playing faction against faction and knowing how each will respond – even before they do! He is held in contempt by several Ankh-Morpork factions, but mostly because they fear him, hate him, envy him or are just too plain stupid to realise how cleverly dangerous he is!
It is said Vetinari failed his stealth class at the Assassins’ College, even though he attended every class, because the master never saw him there.
“Don’t let me detain you. What a wonderful phrase Vetinari had devised. The jangling double meaning set up undercurrents of uneasiness in the most innocent of minds. The man had found ways of bloodless tyranny that put the rack to shame.”
Opposite to Vetinari, he totally doesn’t understand people. But his quest to try and understand us is hilarious, and he has some of the best cameos in the entire series. And I just love the way he talks LIKE THIS.
Death has a daughter (adopted, of course), a white horse called Binky, and a scythe that can slice anything in half. I don’t recommend cutting yourself by accident on that scythe.
“The Rite of AshkEnte is the most serious ritual eight wizards can undertake. It summons Death…The wizards stared into the magic octogram, which remained empty. After a while the circle of robed figures began to mutter amongst themselves.‘We must have done something wrong.’‘Oook.’‘Maybe He is out.’‘Or busy…’‘Do you think we could give up and go back to bed?’WHO ARE WE WAITING FOR, EXACTLY?”
Head of her coven of witches in the Ramtop Mountains in the miniscule kingdom of Lancre. Like Vetinari, Granny has a very good grasp of people (although she calls it ‘headology’, or akin to psychology I expect). I’m not sure if they have ever met, but if they did, I expect there would be a certain amount of mutual respect and wariness.
Like Vetinari, you can never get one over on Granny, even when you think someone has. Unlike Vetinari, though, Granny can’t fall back on being a tyrant – although she can and does fall back upon being a witch – in some parts just as bad or worse than tyranny – and is more or less a law unto herself. What Granny wants, Granny gets. She is, though, always conscious of the risk of ‘turning bad’ and cackling (a sure sign a witch has gone bad).
Granny likes to always be right (forget admitting she is wrong) and she doesn’t much like losing. Perhaps that’s what I like about her… According to the quiz, there’s a dose of Granny in me as well!
“‘Blessings be upon this house,’ Granny said. It was always a good opening remark for a witch. It concentrated people’s minds on what other things might be upon this house.”
2. Sam Vimes
Once head of the night watch, and more recently risen to Commander of the Watch and Duke of Ankh, Vimes is very different to the three preceding characters. He’s cynical and very much against privilege and wealth and all about the common man, even if the definition of ‘man’ does keep getting shifted to include other species, which he’s not too keen about, and even if he has now been lifted to rank and privilege, which he’s also not too keen about.
Justice is important to Vimes, and legality, as he tries to shake off the spectre of his ancestor who was a regicide. It annoys him quite a bit when ‘Old Stoneface’ is declared a hero, because he believes you can’t just rewrite history and change the facts. The means does not justify the end where Vimes is concerned, but sometimes he is caught between what is right and what is legal.
Vimes is the Sherlock Holmes of the Discworld and he always gets his man. As you progress towards the end of the series, there are whole countries that shake in their boots when they hear Vimes is on the case.
Vimes is most concerned with ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?’ – who watches the watchers?
“’I’ve been running around looking for damn Clues instead of just thinking for five minutes!’ said Vimes. ‘What is it I’m always telling you?’‘Never trust anybody, sir?’‘No, not that.’‘Everyone’s guilty of something, sir?’‘Not that, either.’‘Just because someone’s a member of an ethnic minority doesn’t mean they’re not a nasty, small-minded little jerk, sir?’‘N- When did I say that?’‘Last week, sir. After we’d had that visit from the Campaign for Equal Heights, sir.’”
Of all the characters here, Rincewind is the only one completely unlike me, and yet also my absolute favourite. He is either impossibly cowardly or incredibly pragmatic, and yet somehow he still manages to save the world. Over time, this develops into a certain sense of fatalism about how events will unfold.
Technically a graduate of Unseen University, Rincewind is still undeniably a failed wizard and we never see him of his own free will cast a spell. He even has ‘Wizzard’ written on his hat, just so people don’t mistake him for something else. Like magic, spelling clearly is not his forte.
Rincewind provides, in my opinion, some of the funniest moments, along with his luggage… er, Luggage, which carries itself around on hundreds of little legs and has homicidal tendencies. As he staggers from disaster to disaster, accidentally staving off certain death for the world along the way, we just can’t help but laugh… and laugh… and laugh.
“’But there are causes worth dying for,’ said Butterfly.‘No, there aren’t! Because you’ve only got one life but you can pick up another five causes on any street corner!’‘Good grief, how can you live with a philosophy like that?’Rincewind took a deep breath. ‘Continuously!’
Who are your favourite Discworld characters? Would you list any here, or others? There were plenty of more minor characters I would love to have listed, but then the list would have grown rather unwieldy.
I’m considering doing a series of these posts. What other Top 5 Discworld posts would you like to see? Or are there other fantasy Top 5 posts you are interested in? I’d love to hear your suggestions.
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All quotes from ‘The Wit and Wisdom of Discworld’ by Terry Pratchett.