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|Created by||Terry Pratchett|
|First appearance||The Colour of Magic (24 November 1983 )|
The Discworld is the fictional setting for all of Terry Pratchett's Discworld fantasy novels. It consists of a large disc (complete with edge-of-the-world drop-off and consequent waterfall) resting on the backs of four huge elephants which are in turn standing on the back of an enormous turtle, named Great A'Tuin (similar to Chukwa or Akupara from Hindu mythology) as it slowly swims through space. The Disc has been shown to be heavily influenced by magic and, while Pratchett has given it certain similarities to planet Earth, he has also created his own system of physics for it.
Pratchett first explored the idea of a disc-shaped world in the novel Strata (1981).
Great A'Tuin is the Giant Star Turtle (of the fictional species Chelys galactica) who travels through the Discworld universe's space, carrying four giant elephants (named Berilia, Tubul, Great T'Phon, and Jerakeen) who in turn carry the Discworld. The narration has described A'Tuin as "the only turtle ever to feature on the Hertzsprung–Russell diagram".
Great A'Tuin's gender is unknown to the inhabitants of Discworld (though in The Colour of Magic Pratchett describes the turtle as male), but the subject of much speculation by some of the Disc's finest scientific minds. The sex of the World Turtle is pivotal in proving or disproving a number of conflicting theories about the destination of Great A'Tuin's journey through the cosmos. If, as the Discworld version of the popular "Big Bang theory" states, Great A'Tuin is moving from the Birthplace to the Time of Mating, then at the point of mating the civilizations of the Disc might be crushed, simply slide off, or else the entire world will end. The hypothesis is that all stars in the sky are obviously also worlds carried by giant turtles, and that when all the turtles meet they will mate passionately, for the first and only time; from that mating, it is hypothesized that new turtles would be born to carry a new pattern of worlds. Attempts by telepaths to learn more about Great A'Tuin's intents have not met with much success, mainly because they did not realise that its brain functions are on such a slow timescale. All they've been able to discern is that the Great A'Tuin is looking forward to something.
The other theory, described as being popular among the Discworld's academics as the Discworld version of the steady state theory, which in-universe is known as the "steady gait" theory, is that he/she came from nowhere and is going to keep swimming through space to nowhere forever. Eric shows Great A'Tuin being made instantly from nothing, seemingly in support of the "steady gait" theory; however, the events in The Light Fantastic, in which the Great A'Tuin attended the hatching of eight baby turtles, each with four baby elephants and a tiny discworld of their own, would seem to support the Big Bang hypothesis.
The little turtles have since gone off on their own journeys. Whether this was the event the Great A'Tuin was looking forward to or merely one step towards its ultimate goal is not mentioned.
Great A'Tuin has been mentioned to frequently roll on its belly to avoid asteroid and comet collisions, or even to snatch these projectiles out of the sky which might otherwise destroy the Disc. These stunts do not affect the Disc's population, other than to induce severe seasickness on anyone who happens to be looking at the night sky at that time. A'Tuin has been known to do more complex rolls and corkscrews, but these are rarer. This is similar to real-world sea turtles' habit of rolling over with their shell down to protect themselves from sharks.
Due to the Great A'Tuin's travelling through the universe, the night sky of the Discworld, unlike that of our world, changes markedly over the course of decades, as the turtle departs older constellations and enters new ones. This means that astrologers must constantly update and alter their horoscopes to incorporate all-new zodiacs.
A tiny sun and moon orbit the Great A'Tuin, both about 1 mile in diameter when described at the start of the series, but the description of their diameter is increased to at least 80 miles later in the chronicles. The moon is slightly closer to the Disc than the sun, and is covered, on one half, with silvery glowing plants, which feed the lunar dragons. The other half is burnt black by the sun. The moon rotates, and completes a full revolution in about a month; the full moon occurs when the luminescent side is completely visible from the Disc, the new moon when the dark side is shown. The sun's orbit is so complex that one of the elephants has to cock its leg to allow the sun to continue on its orbit.
According to the wizards of Unseen University, Chelys galactica, and thus Great A'Tuin, are composed largely of the fictional element chelonium, the properties of which are apparently known to them (they do tests to look for it in Roundworld [the Discworld analogue of Earth] in The Science of Discworld), but not to readers.
The Disc itself is described as roughly 10,000 miles wide, giving it a surface area two-fifths that of the Earth, which would make it roughly the size of the Pacific Ocean. In addition to its flatness, Pratchett gives it another principal geographic feature; Cori Celesti, a great, 10-mile-high spire of rock that lies at its exact centre and is the point of origin for its standing magical field. Cori Celesti is also the location of the Discworld version of real-world Greek Mythology's Mt. Olympus, named Dunmanifestin, the home of many of the Disc's gods. The area including Cori Celesti is known as The Hub, a land of high, icebound mountains that serves as an analogue to the real-world Himalayas, polar regions (since, although the Disc has no poles as such, it is as far as possible from the Disc's edge and thus the sun), and Scandinavia – the Hublanders share many features with vikings. Polar bears are renamed "Hubland bears", while the Disc's equivalent of the aurora borealis (described as being produced by the Disc's magical field, rather than by magnetism) is known as the "Aurora Coriolis". Directions within the Discworld are not given as North, South, East and West, but rather as directions relating to the disc itself: Hubward (towards the centre), Rimward (away from the centre) and to a lesser extent, turnwise and widdershins (respectively, with and against the direction of the Disc's spin). The mountain chain centred on the Cori Celesti is known as the Ramtops and is home to a number of tiny, isolated kingdoms, most notably Lancre. Thanks to the influence of the Cori Celesti, the Ramtops are alive with magic.
The areas closer to the Rim are warmer and tropical, since the Disc's sun passes closer to them in its orbit. At the Rim, a great, encircling waterfall (the Rimfall) sends the Disc's oceans cascading into space. Pratchett is evasive about how the water eventually returns to refill the oceans, only saying, "Arrangements are made." The mist from the plunging waters creates the Rimbow, an eight-colour (the eighth is octarine) double rainbow consisting both of light and of magic.
The Disc has four main continents, along with a number of geographical and political regions and islands, some of which have not been described in detail in the novels, and the main information for which comes from The Discworld Mapp and footnotes. The majority of the Disc's landmass is described as being composed of a single supercontinent comprising a large main region and a smaller Counterweight Continent, a Discworld analogue to the Far East connected by a narrow isthmus. The Counterweight Continent is home to the Agatean Empire, a play on Jade Empire, a parody of China. The opposing supercontinent is composed of the unnamed continent upon which most of the novels are set (the Discworld version of Europe), and Klatch, akin to Africa and the Middle East. The Sto Plains, the Disc's analogue to Western Europe, are separated from Klatch by the Circle Sea, an analogue to the Mediterranean. The principal political entity on the continent of Klatch is a large empire, also called Klatch, inspired by the Ottoman Empire. Farther south, Klatch becomes Howandaland, which serves as the Disc's jungle region, and includes many jungle cultures inspired by those on Earth, such as Mesoamerica. The island continent of Fourecks, the smallest of the four, resembles Australia. It is also known as Terror Incognita (a play on terra incognita). On these continents, a large number of countries, kingdoms, cities and towns can be found; the most widely mentioned in the books being Ankh-Morpork, Lancre, the Klatchian Empire and Überwald. In The Discworld Companion, Pratchett writes "there have been other continents, which have sunk, blown up, or simply disappeared. This sort of thing happens all the time, even on the best-regulated planets."
Of all the regions in the Disc, Ankh-Morpork has been shown in the most detail. It is inspired by a number of different cities, particularly London and New York. It holds an economic dominion over the Sto Plains, which includes city states like Pseudopolis, Sto Lat and Quirm (inspired by France). Lancre is another region focused on the novels, inspired by the rural regions of England and Scotland and the folklore contained therein. Mountainous and intensely magical, it is nominally a kingdom but for all intents and purposes is governed locally by witches. Überwald, a play on Transylvania ("Uberwald" means "beyond the forest" in German, which translates to "Transylvania" in Latin), is not so much inspired by Transylvania itself as the Hammer Horror-Universal Monsters take on it. Humans have never held much power in Uberwald; it is ruled by vampires, werewolves and, most notably, dwarfs, who control the entire region below ground.
The Disc contains a number of substances. One such is octiron, a dense black metal that is a large part of the Discworld's crust. Its melting point is above the range of metal forges. The gates of Unseen University are made out of it, as is Old Tom, the university's bell. It is used to make magic needles and bells. It releases magical radiation, but if it becomes negatively polarised, it can be used to absorb such radiation. It generates significant amounts of heat under pressure, accounting for most of the volcanic geological processes on Discworld. When struck (such as with Old Tom), instead of producing a sound it briefly silences anything around it.
Another is fingles, insinuated in Eric to be an important part of human psychology. Their absence, according to the Creator, can cause psychological problems. "On the surface they were all right, but deep down they knew something was missing", as he put it, referring to the inhabitants of a world where he forgot to include any. Since fingles do not exist on Earth, it is implied that Earth is the planet the Creator is referring to, and humanity is the species that is fundamentally incomplete because of their absence.
Another is slood. First mentioned in The Last Continent, slood is a natural substance that could be discovered by intelligent beings, but that humans on Earth have been too unintelligent to find; it is said to be much easier to discover than fire, and only slightly harder to discover than water. One of Rincewind's many accumulated positions is Reader in Slood Dynamics. The General Theory of Slood was discovered by Archchancellor Sloman, and a stained glass window representing this event is in the meeting room of the Unseen University college council. The University's plumbing system contains pipes for maintaining slood differential.
Magic is the principal force on the Discworld, and operates in a similar vein to real-world elemental forces such as gravity and electromagnetism. The Disc's "standing magical field" is essentially the local breakdown of reality which allows a flat planet on the back of a turtle to even exist. The force called "magic" is really just a function of the relative absence of reality in the local area, much in the same way that the absence of heat is described as "coldness". Magic warps reality in much the same way as the real universe's gravity warps its space-time. The act of performing magic is, essentially, telling the universe what you want it to be like, in terms it can't ignore. This is very draining to magic users, due to Discworld science's Law of Conservation of Reality (which states it takes the same effort to do something with magic as it would to do it mundanely). This is why most Discworld wizards store magic in a staff (with a knob on the end) which is a sort of capacitor for magical energy.
On the Discworld, where magic has more in common with particle physics than Houdini, high-level background magic (most likely a reference to real-world background radiation) occurs when a very powerful spell hits, creating myriad sub-astral particles that severely distort local reality. Building a house in (or even walking into) a region where this has happened is extremely dangerous, as it is mentioned that an individual may not remain the same species, shape or level of sanity as they were when they entered. Medium levels cause odd effects, such as coins landing on their edges and turning into caterpillars. Areas with larger than normal quantities of background magic tend to display unusual qualities, even for the Disc. Very high quantities of magic can knock a hole in Discworld reality, leading to an invasion by Lovecraftian monstrosities from the Dungeon Dimensions, or, almost as bad, the world of the Elves.
In the Discworld universe, magic is broken into elementary particulate fragments in much the same way that energy and other forces are in real-world quantum physics. The basic unit of Discworld magic is the thaum (from the Greek thauma, marvel), equal to the amount of mystical energy required to conjure up one small white pigeon, or three normal-sized billiard balls. Several SI-modifiers have been applied to it (e.g. millithaum, kilothaum) in the books. Magic can be measured with a thaumometer, which is described as a black cube with a dial on one side. A standard thaumometer is good for up to a million thaums, beyond that level, Discworld reality starts to break down. Parodying the introduction of the metric system, later Discworld novels refer to the introduction of the newer unit, the Prime, to avoid arguments over the standard sizing of pigeons. It is more defined as the magical energy required to move one pound of lead one foot, referencing the Joule.
The thaum also appears to be a particle, the Discworld physics equivalent of the atom. "Splitting the thaum" revealed that it was in fact composed of numerous sub-particles, called resons ("thingies") which in turn are created from a combination of up to five "flavours": up, down, sideways, sex appeal, and peppermint (parodying the real-world quarks).
In the opening books, the number eight is generally significant and has magical properties on the Disc, (e.g. the number of the colour of Magic, octarine) and should never be spoken by wizards especially in certain places. Doing so may allow the ancient dungeon dimension creature "Bel-Shamharoth the sender of eight" to break through (this is taken to a somewhat extreme end in one book, as even the narrator takes great pains to avoid saying the word). On the other hand, eight turns up in many places one would expect the number seven in the real world (e.g. the Discworld week contains eight days, not seven). After The Colour of Magic, both the colour and the number eight no longer appear as dangerous.
The Disc's magical field is centred on Cori Celesti. Everyday natural forces, such as light and magnetism, are muffled by the power of the Disc's magical field, and rather than a magnetised needle, navigators on the Disc use a compass with a needle of the magical metal octiron, which will always point towards Cori Celesti. Light is so oddly affected by magic that, as it passes into the Disc's atmosphere, it actually slows down from millions to hundreds of miles an hour. One odd effect of this is that the Disc has time zones, when, as a flat world, it shouldn't. Another effect is that, as reported in Thud!, the red- and blue-shifting of light becomes noticeable when traveling at speeds of merely a hundred and twenty miles per hour.
Reality is spread thinly on the Disc, so events may be affected by expectations, especially those of 'intelligent' species such as humans, dwarves, etc. As such, the Discworld is not governed by real-world physics or logic but by belief and narrative resolution. Essentially, if something is believed strongly enough, or by enough people, it may become true. Jokes such as treacle mines and drop bears are real on the Disc; in reality lemmings don't actually rush en masse off cliffs; on the Disc, they do, because that is what people believe (actually, since mass suicide would seriously foul up natural selection, they tend to abseil (or rappel) down them instead). These concepts of Discworld physics are also exploited in both wizard and witch magic. For example, when a character wishes to turn a cat into a human, the easiest way is to convince the cat, on a deep level, that he is a human. In fact, the main reason the Auditors of Reality dislike sentient beings in the Discworld universe is that the Auditors are the personifications of the real-world laws of physics, but the Discworld physics' power of belief and the humans' ignorance constantly remake the world, making their work fruitless.
More significantly, it is also belief that gives Discworld's gods their powers. Discworld gods start off as tiny spirits, and gain power as they gain believers; this is explored most thoroughly in Small Gods. A similar effect has led to the personalisation and "reification" in the Discworld universe of mythological beings symbolising abstract concepts, such as Death, the Hogfather and other anthropomorphic personifications. In Hogfather, the assassin Mr. Teatime tries to kill the patron of Hogswatch by using an old magic that involves controlling a person with a part of their body (in this case, the teeth collected by the Tooth Fairies), in order to stop children from believing in him, and almost succeeds.
Such is the nature of belief on the Disc that new gods come into being on a regular basis, and often for such mundane things as stuck drawers and potatoes; Anoia, Goddess of Things That Get Stuck in Drawers, came into her powers in such a manner, though she was previously a volcano goddess. During Teatime's attempt to kill the Hogfather, his near-success resulted in the excess belief that would have been used for the Hogfather finding new outlets in the form of various creatures suggested by the Unseen University staff, including the God of Hangovers, the Hair Loss Fairy, and the Eater of Socks, although all but the God of Hangovers seemingly ceased to exist once the Hogfather was restored.
The Disc's nature is fundamentally teleological; its basic composition is determined by what it is ultimately meant to be. This primary element, out of which all others spring, is known as narrativium, the elemental substance of Story. Nothing on the Disc can exist without a Story first existing to mold its destiny and determine its form. This is, perhaps, a take on the fact that nothing can ever happen on the Disc unless it is written in a story by Terry Pratchett. On the Disc, if a story or legend is told often enough and believed by enough people, it becomes true. This is known as the law of narrative causality.
For example, characters in Guards! Guards! describe the marauding (noble) dragon as an "impossible" creature, yet it is able to fly and breathe fire because that is what dragons are expected to do. Similarly, a witch gone bad may meet a bad end after building a house of gingerbread. If a miller has a third son, he will invariably leave him only his cat. A hero will always win when outnumbered, since million-to-one chances are dramatic enough to "crop up nine times out of ten", but always lose when faced with "a little bald wrinkly smiling man" who is almost always highly trained in martial arts.
Discworld witches often employ narrative in their magic, but consider it ethically tricky since it interferes with free will. Discworld wizards avoid doing so because narrative that severely strains credibility requires outright sources of magic to feed on, sometimes indiscriminately. Knowledge of stories, their use and how to change them forms the basis of many forms of magical power in Discworld physics. Pratchett characters who use and/or change stories include Lilith, Black Aliss, and Granny Weatherwax. The habit of many Discworlders to take metaphor literally has combined with the power of belief to produce some very odd areas on the Discworld. The Place Where The Sun Does Not Shine, for instance, is a deep crevasse in Lancre, incidentally located between A Rock And A Hard Place.
The colour of magic on the Discworld, also referred to as the eighth colour. This fictional colour is strongly indicative of magic and can only be seen by wizards (who sometimes describe it as resembling a fluorescent greenish-yellow purple) and cats. Given that the normal human visual system works by the presence of cones and rods in the eye, the ability of Discworld wizards to see octarine is explained by the additional presence of octagon cells.
Pratchett has created or adapted a variety of fictional lifeforms for the Discworld setting, both sentient and non-sentient.
Pratchett has populated the Discworld with his interpretation of numerous classic fantasy and mythological races as well as humans. While humans are portrayed as the main inhabitants of the major Discworld cities, many other races have left their traditional domain and integrated with other, sometimes hostile, species in Discworld's cities. Though Discworld races are often inspired by other authors' versions or by real-world mythologies, they may have different characteristics than their prototypes. For example, Discworld trolls are made of stone rather than being turned to stone by sunlight like Tolkien's trolls; Discworld Furies have physical similarities to the Furies of Greco-Roman myth, but have different roles. In the list below, Discworld races are followed by the real-world inspiration for them.
Pratchett has also created a variety of other fictional life on the Discworld. Like the sentient species, these also have a real-world connection, although most of these connections take the form of slight changes to existing real-world animals, as shown in the .303 bookworm, which is a worm that evolved differently due to the danger of consuming magic books, or the hermit elephant, which is an elephant who has evolved hermit crab-like living conditions.
The Discworld's Unnamed Continent's fictional calendar was first defined in a footnote in The Colour of Magic, and has been expanded upon in later novels and The Discworld Almanak (2004). It has numerous oddities, the chief of which is its length.
The calendar is based on a Great Year, or Astronomical Year, defined as the time it takes for the Disc to revolve once on the backs of the elephants. This lasts 800 days and contains two of each season (Midsummer occurs at a given point when the sun passes directly overhead, midwinter when it passes perpendicularly. However most people, especially farmers, consider four seasons to be a year, so an Agricultural Year of 400 days is used for most purposes.
The agricultural year is divided into 13 months:
Each week has eight days: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Octeday.
The first of Ick is Hogswatchday, the Disc's New Year, and the winter solstice from the perspective of Ankh-Morpork. In the Astronomical Year the second midwinter (the year's midway point) is called Crueltide, but due to people using the Agricultural Year this is the same festival.
The 32nd of December, or the day before the New Year, is known as Hogswatchnight; The name is a pun on "hogwash", Hogmanay and Watch Night, and possibly on the ancient holiday of Samhain. Traditionally associated with pig-killing, to ensure there is enough food for the rest of the winter. Many Hogswatch traditions are parodies of those associated with Christmas, including a decorated oak tree in a pot, strings of paper sausages, and, of course, a visit by the Hogfather. Witches do not leave the house on Hogswatchnight more because of tradition than any practical reasons. The witch Nanny Ogg gets around this by simply inviting everyone to her house for the holiday instead.
In the Omnian religion, Hogswatchnight is called the Fast of St Ossory. Omnians celebrate with fasting, prayer meetings, and the exchange of religious pamphlets.
Hogswatch was also a holiday celebrated in The Dark Side of the Sun, a non-Discworld book by Pratchett.
The 25th of May is quietly celebrated by the survivors of the People's Revolution, which ended the reign of Lord Winder. They wear a sprig of lilac and gather at the Small Gods Cemetery to honour the Watchmen who fell: Cecil Clapman, Ned Coates, Dai Dickins, John Keel, Horace Nancyball, Billy Wiglet, and (albeit temporarily) Reg Shoe.
In the Roundworld (following Terry Pratchett's diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease), Match It For Pratchett has called on fans to wear lilacs on 25 May in support of Terry.
The slogan of the People's Revolution is "Truth, Justice, Freedom, Reasonably Priced Love, and a Hard-Boiled Egg!"
The calendar in general use in the Sto Plains and Ramtops ("Ankh-Morpork years") uses the agricultural year, and counts from the founding of Unseen University. Years and centuries are also given names by the UU's astrologers. 2005 AM, for instance, is the Year of the Prawn, the fifth year of the Century of the Anchovy. The majority of the Discworld novels are set in the 20th century AM, the Century of the Fruitbat, with the later ones entering the 21st, the Century of the Anchovy.
Other calendars count from various other events, and different schools of astronomy give the years different names. The Theocracy of Muntab has a calendar that counts down, rather than up. The reason for this is unknown, though it is agreed that waiting around for it to reach zero is unwise.
Pratchett has given Discworld a variety of fictional languages, though most, if not all, of these are versions of real world languages renamed to match country names created for the novels. Alongside those of the non-human species (such as Dwarfs, Trolls and orangutans), the Disc's fictional human languages include:
The Folklore of Discworld is a book written by Terry Pratchett and Jacqueline Simpson as an ancillary to the Discworld series of novels. It details the folklore aspects of the Discworld novels and draws parallels with Earth's folklore. It is divided into sections, each with an accompanying sketch by Paul Kidby.
As it is the only Discworld book published in 2008 – 25 years after The Colour of Magic, the hardback editions display a sticker stating "25 Years of Discworld".