Going Postal (Discworld Series #33)

Going Postal (Discworld Series #33)

by Terry Pratchett
Going Postal (Discworld Series #33)

Going Postal (Discworld Series #33)

by Terry Pratchett

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“[Pratchett’s] books are almost always better than they have to be, and Going Postal is no exception, full of nimble wordplay, devious plotting and outrageous situations, but always grounded in an astute understanding of human nature.” — San Francisco Chronicle

The 33rd installment in acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Sir Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, a splendid send-up of government, the postal system, and everything that lies in between.

Suddenly, condemned arch-swindler Moist von Lipwig found himself with a noose around his neck and dropping through a trapdoor into . . . a government job?

By all rights, Moist should be meeting his maker rather than being offered a position as Postmaster by Lord Vetinari, supreme ruler of Ankh-Morpork. Getting the moribund Postal Service up and running again, however, may prove an impossible task, what with literally mountains of decades-old undelivered mail clogging every nook and cranny of the broken-down post office. Worse still, Moist could swear the mail is talking to him. Worst of all, it means taking on the gargantuan, greedy Grand Trunk clacks communication monopoly and its bloodthirsty piratical headman. But if the bold and undoable are what's called for, Moist's the man for the job—to move the mail, continue breathing, get the girl, and specially deliver that invaluable commodity that every being, human or otherwise requires: hope.

The Discworld novels can be read in any order but Going Postal is the first book in the Moist von Lipwig series.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062334978
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication date: 10/28/2014
Series: Discworld Series
Pages: 480
Sales rank: 24,872
Product dimensions: 4.10(w) x 7.50(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Terry Pratchett (1948–2015) was the acclaimed creator of the globally revered Discworld series. In all, he authored more than fifty bestselling books, which have sold more than one hundred million copies worldwide. His novels have been widely adapted for stage and screen, and he was the winner of multiple prizes, including the Carnegie Medal. He was awarded a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II for his services to literature in 2009, although he always wryly maintained that his greatest service to literature was to avoid writing any.


Salisbury, Wiltshire, England

Date of Birth:

April 28, 1948

Place of Birth:

Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, England


Four honorary degrees in literature from the universities of Portsmouth, Bristol, Bath and Warwick

Read an Excerpt

The Angel

  • In which our hero experiences Hope, the greatest gift
  • The bacon sandwich of regret
  • Somber reflections on capital punishment from the hangman
  • Famous last words
  • Our hero dies
  • Angels, conversations about
  • Inadvisability of misplaced offers regarding broomsticks
  • An unexpected ride
  • A world free of honest men
  • A man on the hop
  • There is always a choice

They say that the prospect of being hanged in the morning concentrates a man's mind wonderfully; unfortunately, what the mind inevitably concentrates on is that, in the morning, it will be in a body that is going to be hanged. The man going to be hanged had been named Moist von Lipwig by doting if unwise parents, but he was not going to embarrass the name, insofar as that was still possible, by being hung under it. To the world in general, and particularly on that bit of it known as the death warrant, he was Alfred Spangler.

And he took a more positive approach to the situation and had concentrated his mind on the prospect of not being hanged in the morning, and, most particularly, on the prospect of removing all the crumbling mortar from around a stone in his cell wall with a spoon. So far the work had taken him five weeks and reduced the spoon to something like a nail file. Fortunately, no one ever came to change the bedding here, or else they would have discovered the world's heaviest mattress.

It was a large and heavy stone that was currently the object of his attentions, and, at some point, a huge staple had been hammered into it as an anchor for manacles. Moist sat down facing the wall, gripped the iron ring in both hands, braced his legs against the stones on either side, and heaved.

His shoulders caught fire, and a red mist filled his vision, but the block slid out with a faint and inappropriate tinkling noise. Moist managed to ease it away from the hole and peered inside. At the far end was another block, and the mortar around it looked suspiciously strong and fresh.

Just in front of it was a new spoon. It was shiny. As he studied it, he heard the clapping behind him. He turned his head, tendons twanging a little riff of agony, and saw several of the wardens watching him through the bars.

"Well done, Mr. Spangler!" said one of them. "Ron here owes me five dollars! I told him you were a sticker! ‘He's a sticker,' I said!"

"You set this up, did you, Mr.Wilkinson?" said Moist weakly, watching the glint of light on the spoon.

"Oh, not us, sir. Lord Vetinari's orders. He insists that all condemned prisoners should be offered the prospect of freedom."

"Freedom? But there's a damn great stone through there!"

"Yes, there is that, sir, yes, there is that," said the warden. "It's only the prospect, you see. Not actual free freedom as such. Hah, that'd be a bit daft, eh?"

"I suppose so, yes," said Moist. He didn't say "you bastards." The wardens had treated him quite civilly these past six weeks, and he made a point of getting on with people. He was very, very good at it. People skills were part of his stock-in-trade; they were nearly the whole of it.

Besides, these people had big sticks. So, speaking carefully, he added: "Some people might consider this cruel, Mr.Wilkinson." "Yes, sir, we asked him about that, sir, but he said no, it wasn't. He said it provided"—his forehead wrinkled—"occ-you-pay-shunall ther-rap-py, healthy exercise, prevented moping, and offered that greatest of all treasures, which is Hope, sir."

"Hope," muttered Moist glumly.

"Not upset, are you, sir?"

"Upset? Why should I be upset, Mr.Wilkinson?"

"Only the last bloke we had in this cell, he managed to get down that drain, sir. Very small man. Very agile."

Moist looked at the little grid in the floor. He'd dismissed it out of hand.

"Does it lead to the river?" he said.

The warden grinned. "You'd think so, wouldn't you? He was really upset when we fished him out. Nice to see you've entered into the spirit of the thing, sir. You've been an example to all of us, sir, the way you kept going. Stuffing all the dust in your mattress? Very clever, very tidy. Very neat. It's really cheered us up, having you in here. By the way, Mrs.Wilkinson says thanks very much for the fruit basket. Very posh, it is. It's got kumquats, even!"

"Don't mention it, Mr.Wilkinson."

"The warden was a bit green about the kumquats, 'cos he only got dates in his, but I told him, sir, that fruit baskets is like life— until you've got the pineapple off of the top you never know what's underneath. He says thank you, too."

"Glad he liked it, Mr.Wilkinson," said Moist absentmindedly. Several of his former landladies had brought in presents for "the poor, confused boy," and Moist always invested in generosity. A career like his was all about style, after all.

"On that general subject, sir," said Mr.Wilkinson, "me and the lads were wondering if you might like to unburden yourself, at this point in time, on the subject of the whereabouts of the place where the location of the spot is where, not to beat about the bush, you hid all that money you stole . . . ?"

The jail went silent. Even the cockroaches were listening. "No, I couldn't do that, Mr. Wilkinson," said Moist loudly, after a decent pause for dramatic effect. He tapped his jacket pocket, held up a finger, and winked.

The warders grinned back.

"We understand totally, sir. Now I'd get some rest if I was you, sir, 'cos we're hanging you in half an hour," said Mr.Wilkinson. "Hey, don't I get breakfast?"

"Breakfast isn't until seven o'clock, sir," said the warder reproachfully. "But, tell you what, I'll do you a bacon sandwich. 'Cos it's you, Mr. Spangler."

The foregoing is excerpted from Going Postal by Terry Pratchett. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022

Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions from the Publisher
1. When the character of Moist is first introduced, his virtues are described in the language of business and money. "Moist always invested in generosity"; "he made a point of getting on with people." What is the effect of this device?

2. Discuss the role of golems in Ankh-Morpork society. While they glaringly exhibit inhuman characteristics - they never sleep, they never eat, they have glowing red eyes - they are nevertheless made up of earthy material and are frequently referred to as moral and honest. In the text, Miss Dearheart attributes this morality to their lack of "existential angst" (63). What does Pratchett seem to be saying here? Can we blame our uncertainty about our purpose in life for much of our immoral behavior? For any of it?

3. In this first section of the book we meet Stanley, a self-professed "pinhead." What would be the most popular modern equivalent of collecting pins? And what can we therefore infer about the system used by the "moribund" post office?

4. "Stupidity had a limited life in this city" (110). In Ankh-Morpork, intelligence seems to be crucial for survival, even if it can lead to people being conned and otherwise hurt. How do you think this relates to Terry Pratchett's statement that he likes the theory of evolution because he finds the idea of a "risen ape" more beautiful than that of a "fallen angel"?

5. Referring back to last week's discussion about the golems, how does the human need for intelligence (with all its guile and dishonesty) in order to survive reflect on golems' apparent morality? Is it the case that golems are able to be moral not because they have no "existential angst", as Miss Dearheart claimed, but because they are not vulnerable like humans to injury, starvation or disease? Does the combination of intelligence and mortality introduce a species to moral dilemmas?

6. "You have to be clever to refrain from doing [magic] when you knew how easy it was" (148). Pratchett satirically equates magic in Discworld with aspects of experimental science in our own - particularly by having the magicians deal with seemingly fantastical knowledge that is actually perfectly respectable modern physics, like possible worlds and quantum unpredictability. Do you think there are scientific experiments we should "refrain from doing"?

7. Going Postal tackles the subject of corporate greed and corruption, contrasting the "modern" clacks communication giant with the "old-fashioned" post office. What do you think Pratchett is trying to say about today's work environment in his portrayal of the two entities? On the subject of the clacks, Moist muses that "maybe it was something so big that no one could run it at a profit. […] maybe the profit turned up spread around the whole of society" (366). Do you agree that companies should not pursue money alone? Are there some services which should lie outside the free market?

8. Terry Pratchett has said that he is writing about what happens "after fantasy," when golems are put to work pumping water and werewolves make good police officers because they can track down criminals. To what uses might you put these fantastical creatures in modern America?

9. Reacher Gilt, unofficial head of the clacks company, 'spins' the failure of the clacks in the newspaper by using "meaningless" corporate jargon like "core competencies," "change management," "systemic" and "synergistically" to confuse the public (287). Later, Moist reflects that this is like dragging innocent words into the gutter, but concedes that "synergistically" had "probably been a whore from the start." Are there any words currently used in business or politics that you think belong "in the gutter" with it?

10. One of the book's central themes is hope. Lord Vetinari says that "hope is the curse of humanity" (292) and Moist repeatedly cites hope as the reason that glass can be made to look so much more like diamond than diamond does. He also claims that "people enjoy the experience of being fooled, if it promises a certain amount of entertainment" (307). On a number of occasions, Moist dupes the Ankh-Morporkian public. But on the whole, do you think the hope they gave him was misplaced? Do you think he chose not to destroy the clacks for the public good, or because his alternative was more dramatic? Does it matter?

As a side question, why do you think the image of a glass diamond which looks more real than a real one is repeated so often in the book? Does it work as a metaphor for something (or someone)?

12. Terry Pratchett has said that Going Postal is about the "redemption of a basically good man." In what ways is that redemption made manifest? Moist reconciles himself to the prospect of an honest life by resolving that "All he had to do was remind himself, every few months, that he could quit anytime. Provided he knew he could, he'd never have to. (370)" Do you think that's a realistic portrayal of redemption? 13. Another overriding theme is choice - a concept which is intimately bound up with that of freedom. Specifically, we see a lot of choices being offered which turn out not to be choices at all. Moist is given a choice between a(nother) drop to his death and a job. He even jokes about it to Dearheart: Dearheart: "Why did you take it?" Moist: "It was a job for life" And Lord Vetinari tells the clacks company that "the only choice your customers have is between you and nothing." But Moist makes at least two very important choices entirely of his own volition. What are they? And what does Pratchett seem to be saying? Is freedom a universal right, or is the freedom to choose tied up with self-sacrifice? (Literally, in the case of Vetinari's door!) The golems 'buy' their freedom. Ultimately, is that all any of us can do?

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