Secrets of The Wee Free Men and Discworld: The Myths and Legends of Terry Pratchett's Multiverse

Secrets of The Wee Free Men and Discworld: The Myths and Legends of Terry Pratchett's Multiverse

by Linda Washington, Carrie Pyykkonen

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A fascinating guide to the international bestselling Discworld series and the award-winning The Wee Free Men—soon to be a major motion picture

Before J. K. Rowling became the best-selling author in Britain, Terry Pratchett wore that hat. With over 45 million books sold, Pratchett is an international phenomenon. His brainchild is the Discworld


A fascinating guide to the international bestselling Discworld series and the award-winning The Wee Free Men—soon to be a major motion picture

Before J. K. Rowling became the best-selling author in Britain, Terry Pratchett wore that hat. With over 45 million books sold, Pratchett is an international phenomenon. His brainchild is the Discworld series—novels he began as parodies of other works like Macbeth, Faust, and The Arabian Nights. The Wee Free Men, one of Pratchett's most popular novels, will be made into a movie by Spider-Man director Sam Raimi. It's the story of 9-year-old wannabe witch Tiffany Aching, who unites with the Nac Mac Feegle (6-inch-tall blue men who like to fight and love to drink) to free her brother from an evil fairy queen.

A fun, interactive guide that will explore the land of Discword, Secrets of The Wee Free Men and Discworld is filled with sidebars, mythology trivia, and includes a bio of the fascinating author Terry Pratchett, and an in-depth analysis of his work. This unofficial guide is a great resource for readers of The Wee Free Men and the other books of the Discworld series.

Editorial Reviews

AGERANGE: Ages 12 to adult.

Fans of Pratchett’s wildly popular fantasy/satire series may enjoy dipping into this chatty guide to Discworld, and the forthcoming movie of The Wee Free Men is sure to create a new audience for his clever and funny writing. The authors, who have written a similar guide to the Chronicles of Narnia, give some background on Pratchett and explain the mythology he draws on and the many literary allusions in his work. The book is divided into three sections: “Pratchett, Parodies, and Plots: The Literary Roots of the Discworld,” including a chapter on Shakespearian references; “The Few, The Proud, The Inept: Who’s Who in the Discworld,” with chapters on the witches, Death, heroes, villains, thugs, and more; and “Power, Police and Paraphernalia: The Way Things Work in the Discworld,” with chains of command, weapons, warfare, and so on. There’s lots of trivia, sidebars, and charts, along with references to both the classics and pop culture. The tone is highly informal, with asides to the reader, which may appeal to some and annoy others (it isn’t to my taste). In a final chapter, “The Real World,” the authors speculate on how Pratchett’s characters would do on various TV reality/game shows, like Survivor and Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader? Wonder what Pratchett would make of that? Reviewer: Paula Rohrlick
March 2008 (Vol. 42, No.2)

School Library Journal

Gr 9 Up- This fan-fueled guide to all things Pratchett compares and contrasts the contents of the "Discworld" series with references to popular culture and not-so-well-known science and history. Written in a humorous style with footnotes (in tribute to Pratchett), this is mainly a work for and by devotees of the 35-plus novels. Chapters are themed based on origins of the Discworld or a comparison to other works including the mystery genre and theater. Characters are discussed in depth, including Death, the witches, and wizards. Spoiler warnings are given as major plot points are divulged along the way. Wikipedia and other online sources are heavily relied upon for quotes and references. The book suggests a larger focus on the juvenile series that begins with The Wee Free Men (HarperCollins, 2003), but its audience is really well-versed Pratchett readers.-Corinda J. Humphrey, Los Angeles Public Library

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Secrets of the Wee Free Men and Discworld

The Myths and Legends of Terry Pratchett's Multiverse

By Carrie Pyykkonen, Linda Washington

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2008 Carrie Pyykkonen and Linda Washington
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-3488-6


Blueprint for a World


Sometimes old buildings inspire us, sometimes the opposite is true. We look at an old building and ask ourselves, "What on earth were those people thinking of?"

— Witold Rybczynski, The Look of Architecture

If you were on an architectural tour of, say, Saint Peter's Square in Rome, maybe your tour guide would say something like, "This is a true example of Italian baroque — one of Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini's finest" in the lilting tone that many tour guides have. Then, while telling you how the architect was inspired to design such a masterpiece, he or she might slip in a genteel pun, one certain to be a cut above the if-it-ain't-baroque-don't-fix-it variety that you might hear and chuckle at out of pity back home.

We brought that up for two reasons: (1) A fantasy writer like Terry Pratchett is an architect of sorts, but on a much grander scale than an Italian baroque master like Bernini or his rival, Francesco Borromini. After all, he had a whole world to design. Bernini and Borromini only had to influence Italy and several generations of would-be architects. (2) In this chapter, we're about to take you on an architectural tour of the Discworld, but one without the lilting tone or even remarks (at least not many remarks) about the actual architecture, such as Unseen University. (You would've bought The Discworld Mapp or The Streets of Ankh-Morpork for that, wouldn't you?) Instead, we'll discuss words — the building blocks of Discworld. Like the furniture in the office of Ladislav Pelc, the Professor of Morbid Bibliomancy in Going Postal, Discworld is a world designed out of books. It is a veritable library of literary allusions. By the end of the tour, you might feel like A. Clarence Shandon in Silverlock by John Myers Myers — as if you've walked through literary history.

And since we're discussing Discworld, where characters named Flatulus (the god of winds, of course) abide, we'll throw in puns for free. Let's get write to it, shall we? (Feel free to ask questions while on the tour. We'll do our best to answer them. No question is considered dumb.)

Since this is not a short chapter, maybe you should send out for pizza. We like pepperoni....

Like any good architect's, Pratchett's work should be judged by whether it fulfills the three purposes of good architecture, namely: (1) to shelter people; (2) to be durable against the elements and gravity; (3) to be beautiful or delightful. Judging by the millions of fans, shelves of books written over decades, awards, and several Discworld conventions (the first North American one coming in 2009!), we would venture to say that Discworld fulfilled all three.

If you read Strata, you caught the gleam of Discworld in Pratchett's eye. But if you read Ringworld by Larry Niven, you caught the inspiration for that gleam. After all, Strata is considered a parody of Ringworld, Niven's 1970 sci-fi classic detailing the discovery of a 600-million-mile, ring-shaped world by an intrepid, eclectic collection of explorers. (In comparison, the Disc is only 10,000 miles wide.)

But the world beginning with The Color of Magic didn't just spring into being in 1983, or two years previous to that when Strata appeared, or even when Ringworld was read. If you look even further back, you'll find other elements that went into the blueprint of Discworld. There's a little bit of this and that in Pratchett's design.


Throughout our history we have clung to elements of our past as carriers of our culture.... Where we can, we need to preserve its triumphs and occasionally its follies, the best and even sometimes the mundane examples of how our society lived, worked, worshiped, and played.

— John George Vanderbilt Henry Spencer-Churchill

An architect can look at an old building, with its crenellations or cornices, its Gothic or baroque style, and find inspiration to design something new to wow a twenty-first-century population. Or he or she, for the love of a particular time period (say, the 1920s), might design a building to revive a style of the past.

Terry Pratchett looked at several old myths and was inspired to create Discworld.

Greek, Roman, and Norse Mythology: Pratchett Mines the Myths

Pick any of the Discworld books at random and you'll soon know that Terry Pratchett is very familiar with Greek, Roman, Norse, and Celtic mythology. Go on. We dare you. First, look at the Disc itself. In the world of Norse mythology, Earth is a flat disc in the branches of a tree called Yggdrasil. (Not a name you'd stick on a baby these days.) In Pratchett's world, the earth is a flat disc mounted on the backs of four elephants standing on a humongous turtle traveling through the multiverse (rather than the universe). That turtle is based on a myth he read as a child. More on that myth later.

Second, check out the population. As you remember from high school or even middle school if you went to a fancy one, in Greek and Roman mythology, there are creatures like centaurs, fauns, satyrs, naiads, dryads, nymphs. But intervening or interfering in their lives are gods/goddesses such as Zeus, Hera, Minerva/Athena, Ares, and so on, who live on Mount Olympus. (Yeah, yeah. Like in the old Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journey shows.) In Norse mythology, the gods/goddesses Odin, Thor, Eir, and so on live in Valhalla. Let's begin our population examination (it won't hurt) with the Discworld pantheon.

The Gods Must Be Crazy. In the pantheon of Discworld, there's a smidgen of Greek and Roman mythology, plus a smattering of Norse as well. Instead of the two-eyed chief god Zeus (Jupiter in Roman mythology); Thor, the Norse thunder god; or even Thor's father, Odin, the one-eyed chief of the Aesir gods in Norse mythology, Blind Io, the thunder god, is the chief of the Discworld gods. Instead of Bacchus, the Greek god of wine, there's Bibulous, the god of wine and things on sticks. Instead of Loki, the trickster god kicked out of Valhalla, there's Hoki the Jokester. Instead of Aphrodite/Venus, the goddess of love, there's Astoria (like the hotel). And who can forget Pratchett's Fedecks — the messenger of the gods? ("When it absolutely has to be there overnight," as a FedEx advertising slogan proclaimed.) He can give Hermes, the messenger god (Mercury in Roman mythology), a run for his money. And of course, Discworld has minor deities similar to those in Greek and Roman mythology: Vulcan (the Greek Vulcan) and Hephaistos (the Greek Hephaestus).

Pratchett includes unique gods and goddesses as well, like Anoia, the minor goddess of things that stick in drawers (and also lost corkscrews and things that roll under furniture), and Aniger, the goddess of squashed animals. (She must work overtime.)

Although we said we wouldn't talk about architecture, we can't help mentioning one place — Dunmanifestin, the place where the gods apparently were done manifesting. In The Last Hero, Ghengiz Cohen (a.k.a. Cohen the Barbarian with a bit of Genghis Khan, the Mongolian conqueror of the thirteenth century) and his posse, the Silver Horde, argue with the Valkyries who want to take them to the Halls of the Slain in Dunmanifestin on Cori Celesti. Well, Dunmanifestin is referred to as "the stuccoed Valhalla" in Guards! Guards! (The Valkyries, the female warriors who take the dead to Valhalla, come from Norse mythology.)

According to Fairies and How to Avoid Them by Miss Perspicacia Tick (a book mentioned in Hat Full of Sky), the Nac Mac Feegles believe that Earth is like Valhalla.

Other Stories (But the Gods Are in Them, Too). Not content to tweak just the gods of Greek myths, Pratchett tweaks other people or their situations to include in Discworld. For example, you know the story of King Midas, right? An allusion to the greedy king's story appears early in Witches Abroad, which seems to be a veritable "glod mine" of allusions. Instead of King Midas, there is Seriph Al-Ybi, whose curse by a god with poor spelling causes everything he touches to turn to a dwarf named Glod.

And how about the story of Daedalus and Icarus? It gets a send-up in Jingo and The Last Hero. Leonard of Quirm, Pratchett's answer to Leonardo da Vinci (more on them in chapter 19), has a similar goal of perfecting the art of flying, but not airline food.

And of course, there is the story of Prometheus, the Titan and creator of man (according to the Greek myth) who dared to steal fire from the gods and suffered for it by having his liver eaten by an eagle every day. (But not with bacon or onions.) He's Mazda in Discworld and his theft is the inspiration for The Last Hero, where Ghengiz Cohen and the Silver Horde try to return fire to the gods by blowing them up. (A weird way of saying thanks. Flowers would've been better.)

At this point, we have to mention another place — the Underworld, or realm of the dead. The Greeks and Romans had it in their mythology. This kingdom is ruled by Hades and surrounded by rivers that include Acheron, Styx, and Lethe. A three-headed dog named Cerberus guards this realm.

Discworld not only has an Underworld, it has an inferno similar to the one described in The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. (See "The Devil Made Me Do It" later in the chapter.) In Wintersmith, the Nac Mac Feegles and Roland de Chumsfanleigh journey through the Underworld to wake up the Summer Lady and meet an unnamed, overcharging ferryman. Pratchett cleverly reminds us where they are by having one of the Feegles shout, "We're right oot in the Styx noo!" The three-headed dog, however, meets its end thanks to the loads of boggles in the Underworld.

As the Feegles explain, a trip through the Underworld is traditional for heroes, because a number of heroes in classical mythology journeyed through it. We're told of a myth of Ephebe — the rescue of Euniphon by Orpheo, which is an allusion to two Greek myths: (1) The story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Orpheus, the son of Apollo (the god of fine arts) and Calliope (a muse), was a poet and musician known especially for playing the lyre. (In Pratchett's book, a lute and a lyre are mentioned.) He sorrowed so much when his wife, Eurydice, died, that Hades allowed her to return to Earth with him on one condition — that Orpheus not look back until he returned above ground. (In Wintersmith, Rob Anybody cautions Roland in a similar manner.) But in a move like that of Lot's wife in the Bible, Orpheus looked back and Eurydice returned to the Underworld. (2) The story of Persephone, whose enforced stay in the Underworld caused winter on earth. But in Discworld, the rescue is all about the return of summer — hence the Summer Lady's stay in the Underworld.

As we read this journey, we couldn't help thinking of Odysseus, whose trip through the Underworld to seek the aid of Tiresias, a blind prophet, is chronicled in The Odyssey by another architect of worlds — Homer (but not Simpson).

Speaking of Homer (still not Simpson), both of his epics, The Iliad and The Odyssey, and Virgil's The Aeneid have a place in Discworld mythology. In Eric, the Trojan Wars from The Iliad and The Aeneid are the Tsortean Wars in which the Ephebians (the Greeks) fight the Tsorteans (the Trojans), because of Elenor, the Helen of Troy of the story. Lavaeolus, the Odysseus of the story, is trying to return home.

The Tsortean Wars are woven even tighter into the fabric of Discworld mythology when Nanny Ogg refers to them (and an Achilles's heel situation) in Witches Abroad.

Lest we forget, Roland de Chumsfanleigh is an allusion to Roland, the hero of Chanson de Roland (Song of Roland) the twelfth-century French epic by Turoldus.

A Nod to the Norse Myths. Moving on to Norse mythology, some of its population find equal opportunity in Discworld, namely elves, dwarfs (or dwarves, as Tolkien popularized), trolls (the faithful Sergeant Detritus), werewolves (of sorts), and Valkyries.

The large number of werewolves prowling around Uberwald owe their fictional lives to the long history of werewolf stories, starting with Loki's wolf son, Fenrir — who was so fearsome that the other gods had to bind him to prevent him from killing them — and continuing with "White Wolf of the Harz Mountains," an 1839 story by Frederick Marryat, and the 1941 Lon Chaney movie The Wolf Man. (More on werewolves in chapter 4.)

European Folklore and History

I Dream of Jenny with the Light Green Teeth. Although The Lord of the Rings was meant to be a mythology of sorts for England, many folktales already existed around the British Isles. Some of these folktales derived from tales elsewhere in Europe and the world. Take, for example, the tale of Jenny Green-Teeth, whom Pratchett mentions in The Wee Free Men. Jenny, a hag of the river and a "Grade 1 Prohibitory Monster" according to Miss Tick (see chapter 6), was known to lure children to their doom — a fate that nearly befalls Tiffany's sticky brother, Wentworth. She's a sort of antiondine or undine — a water elemental of folklore based on Ondine, a water nymph in German myths, who fell in love with a faithless human. (Reminds you of "Little Mermaid," doesn't it?) Whereas water nymphs are said to be beautiful and helpful (if helping suits their needs), Jenny's the Ugly Betty of the water spirit world. She's not so much concerned about gaining a soul, which undines seek (if you read Hans Christian Andersen's "Little Mermaid," you know that was the goal). She just wants lunch, as other famous child-eating witches (Baba Yaga, the witch of Russian folklore, or the witch in "Hansel and Gretel") could relate to.

Freaks and Geats, Plus Arthur — Warts and All. Pratchett admits to reading Beowulf, the thousand-year-old Anglo-Saxon epic, as a boy. Beowulf, the great Geat hero with amazing strength, had the gumption to fight the monster Grendel with his bare hands. And who doesn't know the story of King Arthur, told in a cycle of medieval stories? Beowulf, supposedly written by a monk, and the legend of King Arthur — realized by Sir Thomas Malory (Le Morte d'Arthur, based on French and English tales) and T. H. White in The Once and Future King and The Book of Merlyn — set the standard for heroic tales.

Carrot Ironfoundersson, who was named after a guy with red hair who worked on Pratchett's house, has both the manner of a Beowulf-type hero and the legacy of a King Arthur, even though he considers himself a dwarf. Like King Arthur, formerly known as Wart in Once and Future King, Carrot is an orphan who is probably the rightful king of the land. Both have heirloom swords. Unlike Arthur, Carrot was raised by dwarfs and is content to remain a simple watchman for now, rather than rule over corrupt Ankh-Morpork.

In The Fifth Elephant, Carrot agrees to fight a werewolf with his bare hands. Shades of the Beowulf-Grendel match perhaps? Only Pratchett knows. But a direct allusion to the monsters in Beowulf occurs in Guards! Guards! when one hero says to another, "Monsters are getting more uppity, too. I heard where this guy, he killed this monster in this lake, no problem, stuck its arm up over the door ... . Its mum come and complained."

An allusion to the King Arthur legend occurs in Wintersmith, when Roland throws his sword into the river while in the Underworld. The sword is caught in a manner similar to that of the Lady of the Lake in the King Arthur stories, who caught the sword, Excalibur, when it was returned to her — her stipulation upon granting Arthur the sword.


Excerpted from Secrets of the Wee Free Men and Discworld by Carrie Pyykkonen, Linda Washington. Copyright © 2008 Carrie Pyykkonen and Linda Washington. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

LINDA M. WASHINGTON, a freelance writer, has written several books for kids. She lives in Carol Stream, Illinois.

CARRIE PYYKKONEN has degrees in Early Childhood Education and Geography. She lives in Wheaton, Illinois.

Linda M. Washington, a freelance writer, has written several books for kids, including Just Plain Mel and Gotta Have God (with Jeanette Dall).
Carrie Pyykkonen has degrees in early childhood education and geography and became interested in Narnia as a young child.

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