We can’t talk about fantasy worlds without talking about Discworld, the setting for the tongue-in-cheek book series of the same name by British author Terry Pratchett. Pratchett initially set out to parody fantasy writers like Tolkien, comically referencing and subverting many well-worn tropes of the genre. But over the course of three decades and forty novels, he has also developed a deep, intriguing world which embraces the truly strange. And that strangeness extends all the way to Discworld’s very cosmography.
You see, Discworld is quite literally a disc. It is held up by four elephants who stand atop a gigantic turtle named the Great A’Tun. The turtle swims on and on through space, carrying Discworld with him (or her, since the turtle’s gender is a matter of scientific debate).
As for the cartography of the surface of Discworld itself, Pratchett has declined to include a map with his books. In fact, he had this to say in the Foreword for the 1989 reprinting of the first book in the series, The Colour of Magic:
The Discworld is not a coherent fantasy world. Its geography is fuzzy, its chronology unreliable. A small traveling circle of firelight in a chilly infinity has turned out to be the home of defiant jokes and last chances.
There are no maps. You can’t map a sense of humor. Anyway, what is a fantasy map but a space beyond which There Be Dragons? On the Discworld we know that There Be Dragons Everywhere. They might not all have scales and forked tongues, but they Be Here all right, grinning and jostling and trying to sell you souvenirs.
I see Pratchett’s point, but with all due respect, I think everything is better with maps. And Pratchett’s cartographic prohibition has not stopped fans from creating their own maps. Below is one of the most detailed and delightful creations I was able to come across online, complete with fantastical creatures frolicking in the oceans and floating in the margins:
Personally, I have been thoroughly enjoying The Colour of Magic, and I highly recommend it for anyone looking for fun, escapist reading. Pratchett does a wonderful job with melding the comic and the serious, such that even the zaniest plots have an undercurrent of real dramatic stakes. I’m a little overwhelmed by the fact that there are 39 other books in the series, and I feel that I couldn’t possibly read them all. So if anyone has a recommendation for which installments are the most worthwhile, please feel free to leave a comment.