The Top 10 Characters from Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld’
Yesterday we lost the legendarily prolific fantasy writer and satirist Sir Terry Pratchett. Luckily for us we have his characters, who exist beyond the stories he told having grown beyond the pages they inhabited.
This could be a very, very long list but we’re facing the challenge of working it down to 10. If we missed someone you think should be on the list hit us up in the comments.
10 – Sacharissa Cripslock
You might be surprised to find this character on a list with dozens and dozens of potential entrants, but I liked Sacharissa. They’ll always be a place in my heart for a sassy journalist character. Joining William de Worde in creating the Discworld’s first newspaper, Cripslock found herself in the role of a reporter. The job didn’t exist before they did it, by Sacharissa had a knack for it. She finds it easy to get people (especially men, due to her poorly disguised buxom qualities) to tell her things and finds the angle that the public want to know. Even con-man Moist Von Lipwig learns to watch his words around Sacharissa. In addition, without it being overstated, Sacharissa is a strong feminist figure in a world still trying to work that concept out.
9 – Cohen the Barbian
So what happens to all those heroes? The brawny, loin-cloth clad heroes of old, carrying big swords and riding white horses, deflowering maidens and hauling away the treasure? An early part of the support cast in Discworld, Cohen was a barbarian (obviously in the mould of Conan) he came to realise that there’s no retirement plan for his profession.
It’s a clever twist on an old trope, and that represents what Pratchett did best. Cohen and his motley crew of pensioner heroes could have been a one note joke. But then they decided to take on the Gods face to face. It was an excellent subversion of a classic tale.
8 – Susan Sto Helit
I’ll have to put this out there early…I considered replacing Susan with Tiffany Aching. I love their no-nonsense approach to the supernatural world they inhabit. At the end of the day Susan has a unique backstory that’s hard to ignore. Her parents were the adopted daughter and apprentice of the Grim Reaper and although it makes zero genetic or biological sense, she has taken on some of her grandfather’s traits. She has a birthmark resembling a slap her father received from Death, she can fade from people’s awareness and she can do THE VOICE.
Raised aware from her grandfather, Susan was raised with a strong sense of logic and reasoning, her parents attempt to make her normal. Eventually Susan had to confront the reality of what was around her, and now she exists in two worlds. She’s a strict but effective middle school teacher, occasionally indulging in chocolate, and she’s a guardian against supernatural threats against the world. Susan is stern, serious and is not going to put up with the boogie-man’s shit.
7 – Rincewind
The first character to lead us into the fantasy world of Pratchett’s, Rincewind is fictions worst wizard. After getting one of the eight spells that bind the world together lodged in the back of his mind, Rincewind was chucked out of the Unseen University and left to live in the gutter. With his multi-legged chest – The Luggage – at his heels Rincewind has taken part in adventures across all the known (and some unknown) continents, but it’s the absolute last thing he wants. Rincewind is very much a coward, and will turn tail at the slightest provocation, where we would wind up in worse peril.
Rincewind is one of the strangest ‘everyman’ characters we’ve been granted in the world of fiction. He responds to demons and trolls the same way we would, by running our stupid ass away. Rincewind spent his time exasperated by the world around him and just wanting to take it easy. And eat potatoes.
6 – Moist Von Lipwig
One of the later characters to be introduced to the series, we were introduced to Moist when he was on his way to the gallows. Von Lipwig was blessed with a completely unmemorable face, which he put to use running cons. Having been ‘hanged’ for his crimes he was given a second chance by Lord Vetinari (see below) to take on bureaucratic challenges around the city, re-invigorating the post office and the bank. Moist treats the world as a stage, getting a read on people and spinning them to his advantage.
There’s possibly some irony in that we’d get drawn into Moist’s schemes just as easily as the people of Ankh-Morpork, thinking we had the drop of him because he was the narrator. We never really knew what he was up to though. There’s something about con-men we can’t help but watch, and Von Lipwig was among the best of them.
5 – Lu Tze
What, you haven’t heard of Rule One? Well, if you’re with a bunch of tough characters and you encounter a small, weak looking old man you are going to get your ass kicked. Although he appears to be a monk, Lu Tze is actually a humble sweeper in the monastery of the History Monks. He’s also a master practitioner of Déjà fu, a martial arts technique that involves slicing and bending space and time. It’s not easy to get your head around at first, but Lu Tze makes it plenty of fun.
It is certainly a cliché, the old kung-fu master, but the character was the perfect foil for a discussion about philosophy. ‘Thief of Time’ remains one of the most interesting and unique stories in the series and Lu Tze is a big part of that.
4 – Lord Havelock Vetinari
The great city of Ankh-Morpork is a sprawling mess of crime, corruption and sewerage. It’s the biggest, smelliest and most productive city in the world and, someone, it works. It takes a very special mind to make this metropolis function and no-one has a mind quite as special as Lord Vetinari, reigning Patrician of Ankh-Morpork.
If he ever had a story to himself he may have ranked higher on the list. As it stands he’s the only supporting character to make it on the list. We can assume he was born into wealth, having attended (and excelled) at the prestigious Assassin’s Guild before eventually taking office. We never learned exactly how he came to rule the city with a velvet glove, but that would be one hell of a story. He’s the worst kind of diabolical…the fascinating kind.
3 – ‘Granny’ Esme Weatherwax
During a period early in the series Pratchett played around a lot with fairy tales and storytelling clichés. At the centre of this was the three witches – because there were always three. The Mother, the Maiden and…the other one…
Granny Weatherwax deliberately defied stereotypes by not cackling, having warts or by luring children into a gingerbread house. Although ‘Granny’ isn’t an official title, Granny Weatherwax was the self-appointed guardian of her region of the countryside. Striking a balance between nature and ‘headology’ she runs a tough house. Although she wouldn’t admit it, she has a prideful streak that can put her on the backfoot. That said, if you ever cross her she’ll crush your sense of self before having to cast a spell. For god’s sake, she once stared down the sun.
2 – Death
Sir Terry Pratchett did not event the idea of the personification of Death, the Grim Reaper, but by god did he give him a voice. Introduced in the first Discworld book, Death has subsequently popped up in 40 out of the 41 novels in the main canon as both a supporting character and in a lead role. He first started to develop in ‘Mort’ when he took on a human apprentice. This marked the first time Death showed an interest in learning about humans, providing some of the most insightful commentary on the human race.
With a soft spot for cats, a flair for the dramatic and an unwavering respect for his role in the world, the almost innocent way Death views the world was never dull. He completely owned every finale he was involved with, whether it was wielding a scythe or a guitar. His attempts to understand Schrödinger’s Cat is especially memorable.
1 – Commander Sir Sam Vimes, Duke of Ankh
Don’t let the title fool you, Vimes is a man of the street. He grew up in one of the poorest districts of Ankh-Morpork, where there was nothing on the table but they kept that table clean. Having to fend for himself from an early age, Vimes grew up tough and able to think on his feet. He followed the family tradition of enlisting in the City Watch were he rose to the rank of Captain. This doesn’t mean much though, considering there were only two other men in the Watch and they were much less qualified. Up until the events of Guards! Guards!, when he was in his 40s, Vimes spent his nights in the bottom of the bottle.
Having sobered up and married to the wealthiest women in the city, Vimes saw the Watch grow into a significant part of the city. Although he has led armies, been named Duke and taken on ‘airs’, Vimes remains a man of the street. Being something of a more well rounded Dirty Harry character, he’s tough as nails, sharp as a tack and…pointy, I guess. The initial plan for the character was to kill him off in his first appearance, but instead Pratchett cleaned him up and made him a headline act.
As a result we’ve seen the character develop organically rather than follow a predetermined character arc. More than anything else we just love seeing him dropped into a strange situation and seeing what happens.
I wish Moist was higher. To each his own, though (and I’m probably biased because I started with Going Postal).
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Your top 3 are spot on but I could not put the in order like you have, well done good article