Bingo 3: Gateway
I initially got into Terry Pratchett because of the interesting and wacky cover illustrations of the original British paperbacks done by Josh Kirby. I remember picking one up a few times in a used bookshop before actually purchasing it. The interesting thing about the Discworld series is that it contains several character focused threads: Death, the witches, the wizards, the Watch, and assorted. This is one of the first series’ that I can remember starting and then chasing down all past and subsequent volumes; it was also the beginning of my immersion into contemporary fantasy.
I’m pretty sure I may have started with Thief of Time, but I don’t think that’s the one that really hooked me, and it’s also not the epitome of Pratchett that might really get someone interested. To me, that honor goes either to Guards!Guards! (the Watch #1) or Interesting Times (Rincewind #3). Of those two, the one that most reflects the characters, world, style, and the allusive intellectual yet still somehow entertaining nature of Pratchett is Interesting Times.
This story follows Rincewind the unlucky yet always lucky when it counts untalented wizard (or Wizzard- read the book for the running gag with that). He ends up in the Counterweight Continent as the result of politics in Ankh Morpork and a game between the gods Fate and the Lady (figuring out who she really is is typical Pratchett; he doesn’t tell you but gives you just enough information to eventually figure that out if you don’t mind putting some thought into it). Rincewind gets caught up in a chosen one saves the world thing involving a Great Wizard reviving the Red Army and saving the kingdom, or rather its people, in this case possibly from the oppression of their current rulers. You will definitely notice historical, cultural, and literary/folkloric parallels with a real-world place, but that’s part of the fun too.
The story also features Cohen the Barbarian and his hoard; one the one hand they are the stereotypical wandering fighter group, but Pratchett’s twist is that they are all in their 80s, and one is even wheel-chair bound. They have with them Mr. Saveloy, a former teacher who is trying to teach them to be civilized, in language and in interacting with other people.
One classic Pratchett ‘character’ who really gives you an idea of the silliness is The Luggage, an actual piece of luggage (a trunk) with lots of feet and a mind of its own. How people react to it, what it gets up to, and what that has to do with anything is again typical Pratchett. The same goes for ‘Hex’, a potentially sentient magical device built by some of the younger wizards at Unseen University that would be well recognized as a riff on a particular now extremely common and maybe even slightly out of date bit of modern tech. This joke has actually aged reasonably well (the book was written in the mid 90s) even though technology has progressed considerably (or has it? the cheese related error message is somehow funnier than it should be).
There are two possible minor things about starting with this: 1) it does drop you into a story that knowing previous volumes might help with a little in terms of catching some details and jokes, and 2) it’s not quite as outright funny as some of Pratchett’s other work. That said, Interesting Times would be a pretty good introduction to a lot of things that makes Terry Pratchett’s work so good. Just make sure you don’t skip the footnotes.