The Discworld is Terry Pratchett's best-known, longest-running and most successful creation. If you're here you probably know what it is, but it never pays to assume...
Discworld is a series of comedic fantasy novels set in a world which is equal parts parody, pastiche, homage and re-invention of the standard medieval fantasy world. It has wizards, witches, dragons, trolls, dwarfs, kings, guards and more - but none are quite like they appear in other stories.
There are forty-one Discworld novels, but - with the exception of the first two - they don't tell one long story. Each is a more-or-less self-contained adventure. They were published in (mostly) chronological order - i.e. the events in the newer ones happen after the events in the earlier ones - and sometimes references are made to previous books, but you don't need any special knowledge from other books in order to follow the plot.
The books feature various groups of protagonists, most of whom return over multiple books, creating several "sub-series". These include:
- Rincewind the cowardly "wizzard" and his friends;
- the witches of the tiny mountainous country of Lancre, and later, in a series for younger readers, their protege Tiffany Aching from the lowlands area known as the Chalk;
- the anthropomorphic personification of Death and his family and friends;
- the pompous wizards of the Unseen University;
- the Watch of the city-state of Ankh-Morpork, led by Sam Vimes; and
- reformed con-man Moist von Lipwig and his employees.
The sub-series are probably best read in publication order, as they do grow and evolve over time, but really you can dive in at any point.
There are also several books that are considered more standalone than the others, in that they feature protagonists and often locations that don't appear in other books.
And there's a supporting cast of characters who appear in many of the books, especially the ones set in the city of Ankh-Morpork, notably its leader, the current Patrician Havelock Vetinari, and food vendor turned entrepreneur, Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler (whose name comes from his common exclamation that his prices are too cheap).
The Discworld (often called "the Disc" by its inhabitants) is literally a flat disc. It sits on the shoulders of four gigantic elephants, who stand on the back of Great A'Tuin, the world turtle, who swims through space. It is explicitly magical, and can only exist thanks to a field of magic that infuses and surrounds it. While the basic physical laws are similar to Earth, it also obeys the laws of narrative causality - i.e. things follow the conventions of stories.
Most of the Disc's inhabitants seem to be human, but there are also many other intelligent peoples, including dwarfs, trolls, pictsies, gnomes, zombies, werewolves, vampires and more. Some of the inhabitants, especially wizards and witches, can use magic. Like on a lot of fantasy worlds, this doesn't change life for the average peasant much.
Geography and Cosmology
The Disc has its own tiny sun and moon which orbit around it in a complicated pattern to create night and day. In addition, the Disc itself also slowly revolves - clockwise, as seen from above - over 800 days, a full Disc year. The seasons occur because the Sun rises and falls closest to the sides of A’Tuin’s shell, so as the Disc revolves parts of it move closer or further away from the Sun’s path. This means they get two full sets of seasons during one rotation, so most inhabitants measure time in "common years" of 400 days.
The centre of the Disc is called the Hub, and is the location of Cori Celesti, a tall spire at the top of which is Dunmanifestin, the home of the gods. The edge of the disc is called the Rim. The four directions are thus Hubwise (towards the Hub), Rimwise (towards the Rim), Turnwise (in the direction the Disc turns) and Widdershins (the opposite of Turnwise).
The middle of the Disc and one side is largely taken up with the main continent, which doesn't have a name. It hosts Discworld equivalents of Europe, Africa and the Middle East, though the Disc doesn’t generally have names for these equivalents. Discworld citizens are more concerned with individual kingdoms, countries and city-states than larger cultural or political blocks. The main continent is balanced on the other side of the Disc by "the Counterwreight Continent", which is smaller but heavier; this is said to be because it’s largely made of gold. It and the islands around it are the Discworld's equivalent of Asia, largely comprising the Agatean Empire, which - at least up until the events of Interesting Times - ruled most of the Counterweight Continent. Widdershins of Agatea are many small island chains, while Turnwise of it is the small continent of Fourecks, a Discworld analogue for Australia. Later maps also have “The Land of Fog”, presumably the Discworld’s version of Aotearoa (“Land of the Long White Cloud”, aka New Zealand).
The climate gets generally warmer as you head from the Hub towards the Rim, since the Sun passes closer to the Rim than the Hub.