Thursday, December 14, 2006

Creatures of Discworld

Recently I acquired a copy of THE ART OF DISCWORLD. I originally didn't plan to buy it, because I thought it would be mostly graphic art with little text, but it does contain a lot of interesting commentary in Terry Pratchett's own voice. He explains how he developed some of the many different species that inhabit Discworld. For example, he decided to make dwarfs traditionalists who maintain profound respect for their kin who dwell in deep mountain caves and work in the mines, even if they themselves have lived in the city for generations. The dwarven veneration of tradition and love for arguing about how to apply it leads some fans (according to Pratchett) to claim Discworld dwarfs must be Jewish. :) Other dwarven cultural elements include bread that can double as a weapon, a centuries-old feud with trolls, and unisex appearance. (Outsiders can't distinguish females from males, and female dwarfs who shave their beards and wear dresses are frowned upon by their peers.) In creating trolls, Pratchett questioned why folklore says they turn to stone in daylight. The answer: They evolved to live in a cold climate. Heat slows and, at extremes, shuts down their silicon-based brains. That's why all the trolls we meet act so stupid. In below-freezing environments, they become intelligent. Swamp dragons (bred by Commander Vimes' wife like show dogs) emit flames from both ends because of gases produced in their digestive tracts, a physiological feature that makes them dangerous pets. As for Uberwald (a literal translation of "Transylvania"), home of vampires and werewolves, Pratchett drew its inspiration from classic horror films. Since every vampire or mad scientist needs a servant named Igor, there must be countless Igors (and Igorinas), all highly skilled surgeons.

One feature of Discworld I especially enjoy is the diversity of the police force in the great city of Ankh-Morpork. Under Commander Vimes, the force is an equal-opportunity employer, including representatives of all the major races. In a recent book Vimes was even persuaded to hire a vampire. The female werewolf cop, who keeps her nature secret from most people, has a budding romantic relationship with one of her human colleagues.

Other topics covered in THE ART OF DISCWORLD include witches, wizards, Unseen University, the Assassins' Guild, the character of Death, and many additional places and creatures in Pratchett's world. If you're a fan of his work, don't miss this book. It's a wonderfully entertaining glimpse into the creative world-building processes of a fantasy writer's mind. Amazon.com lists it as out of print, but they offer plenty of secondhand copies, and the Science Fiction Book Club carries it.

1 comment:

  1. david gray5:28 AM EST

    I'm intrigued. Having heard of Discworld round-about but never having read any of those books, I'm now tempted to do so. Sounds oh so other-worldly.

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