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Nilanjana S Roy: A Discworld A-Z

Nilanjana S Roy 

Nilanjana S Roy

Terry Pratchett died, far too early, on March 12 at the age of 66, after a long struggle with Alzheimer's. He inspired fantasy writers across the world, who reasoned that if a grown man like Terry could spend his life making up worlds that actually didn't exist, perhaps they could too. In memoriam, a short alphabet of some of the things I loved about his books.

A is for Assassins Guild, based in Ankh Morporkh. If everyone followed its sensible motto - Nil Mortifi, Sine Lucre - instead of killing on grounds of religion, conquest, general bad temper and/or using up defence budgets, there would be far less requirement for the services of Death (see D).

B is for Bingely Bingely Beep, the annoying sound made by the imps who run your pocket Organizers to draw attention to their annoyingness. The annoying sound is unfortunately the same across all worlds, Disc or Round.

C is for the Clacks, the telegraph system with semaphore towers that Pratchett created in Going Postal. Workers on the line believe that "a man is not dead while his name is still spoken"; so the names of the dead are transmitted along the towers. Shortly after Pratchett died, Redditors began adding "GNU Terry Pratchett" into their HTML headers as a gesture of respect. He will live on, coded into the Net's architecture.

D is for Death. Feel free to call him Bill Door, or Mr Door, but not Bill. Death speaks softly, if in CAPITAL LETTERS, and carries a sharp scythe; he is punctual about his appointments.

E is for Elephants. The Discworld rests on the shoulders of four elephants, who stand upon the carapace of the world turtle. Their names are Tubul, Jerakeen, Berilia and the Great T'Phon; there is a fifth elephant, but that is a murky story.

F is for fantasy, of which the Discworld is a spectacularly brilliant example. There are people who don't like fantasy. They are dessicated and dour in spirit, cannot imagine dragons, will show you slideshows of their vacations, and have dreary romantic lives, but aside from this there's nothing really wrong with them.

G is for Great Big Thing, a close cousin of Salman Rushdie's P2C2E (Process Too Complicated To Explain). The GBT is what you want when there are rumours that your own QBT (Quite Big Thing) will be displaced by a VBT (Very Big Thing). Nobody knows what the BTs do, but they run on many P2C2Es and are of crucial importance to all institutions.

H is for Headology, as practiced by Granny Weatherwax and other witches. It is elementally simple: what people believe makes up their reality. Extrapolating from this, you arrive at the Weatherwax Rule: what you can bully the universe into believing will become reality.

I is for invaders, who frequently come to a bad end in the Discworld, spending their loot freely until "within a couple of months they were just another minority group with its own graffiti and food shops". The scariest invaders in the Discworld are the Auditors, modelled on the scariest people in the Roundworld - chartered accountants and tax officials. Well may you shudder.

J is for Jingoism, which Pratchett was allergic to. Nation and Jingo express his distrust of invocations to national spirit, and disputes over boundaries (or squid). The crime that the city watch confronts in Jingo is so big, Pratchett wrote, that there's no law forbidding it. It's called "war".

K is for Kirby (Josh) and Kidby (Paul), the two illustrators who bring the Discworld to life. Kirby did the books from The Colour of Magic (1983) to The Thief of Time (2001); Kidby came in from The Last Hero (2001) to Snuff (2011). Pratchett said about Kirby: "I miss him. If I ever criticized in this tiny little way he'd say, 'You do the pictures and I'll do the words.'"

L is for the Luggage, which is a bad-tempered, many-legged object made from sapient pearwood. Most luggage is indeed sentient, which explains why your cases are often to be found in a destination different from the one you're in.

M is for Magic. Can be found in the High Energy Magic Building in Unseen University and in Granny Weatherwax's head - it is considered unsafe to go into either without a map, a torch and an exit plan.

N is for Narrativium. "Iron contains not just iron but also the story of iron, the history of iron…. Without narrativium, the cosmos has no story, no purpose, no destination." Roundworlds, unlike Discworlds, tend to run out of narrativium a lot.

O is for Orangutans. The Librarian has a "fetid, book-lined nest" he calls home; his chief aim at the University was to protect the books against wizards who might mess them up by reading them. Like the best bibliophiles, he is easily bribed by gifts of food. Bring your own bananas.

P is for Pies, a staple streetfood item much beloved by vendors of persuasive power and dubious repute. Despite the no-rat guarantee, about as safe to eat as a day-old fluorescent-red chicken tikka roll.

Q is for quantum weather butterflies (Papilio Tempestae), which can create weather by flapping their wings. First spotted in Interesting Times, we suspect that they are the cause of climate change.

R is for the Roundworld Project, and the Roundworld Universe. The Project is a magical force field that keeps magic out; the Universe (that would be ours) resides, undusted, on a shelf in Rincewind's office.

S is for small gods. Despite their often low levels of followers, wars have been fought over them, for the usual prophet motive.

T is for turtles. Pratchett scattered them generously through his books, starting with the Great A'Tuin, who bears the universe on her/his back. He explored the possibility of turtle wars over the inflammatory phrase, The Turtle Moves - De Chelonian Mobile. This last delighted both turtle and Galileo fans, who otherwise have very little in common.

U is for universities and universes, both in Pratchett's world considerably bigger on the inside than the outside.

V is for Vetinari, the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork. He runs the city on the well-known "One Man, One Vote" system - he is the man, and he has the vote. It is true that he is a despot, but in his defence, he hates mimes, and had them banned.

W is for Wizzards and Witches. Wizards learn spells and go to university and have ranks; witches are loners, dislike hierarchy and it is revealing that the collective noun for a group of witches is said to be "an argument". It is unwise to offend either.

X is for XXXX (FourEcks) or Terror Incognita, which is such a good pun for a fictional desert land that some of us could barely speak of Pratchett afterwards for envy.

Y is for yetis, werewolves, vampires, trolls and other creatures Pratchett borrowed from the vast reservoir of fantasy, changing them subtly in the Discworld. In his version, yetis are bright creatures who make excellent manipulators of time.

Z is for Zombies, who deserve your protection. See the speeches of dead rights activist Constable Reg Shoe, who will fill you in on the Glad To Be Grey movement. As he says, you may be dead, but You Don't Have To Take This Lying Down.
Twitter: @nilanjanaroy

First Published: Mon, March 16 2015. 21:42 IST