on 11 September 2008
I got an advanced copy of this book at the Discworld Convention and read it straight away. It is written in an entertaining style and explains how the books of the Discworld series have been influenced by the folklore of Earth - for example, why there are 3 witches and why wizards have a university.
The book is split into chapters covering different aspects of the Discworld, e.g. the animals of the Discworld, the country of Lancre. Unlike the "Science of the Discworld" books, there isn't also a story to follow, only the description of the use of folklore. Don't expect to find full annotations of every reference to folklore in each of the Discworld books - it is more an extended essay on the subject, with good examples from the novels chosen to illustrate interesting points.
For fans of the Discworld familiar with the novels, it can be an illuminating experience reading this book - there were certainly times where I said to myself "I never knew that!". However, it is unlikely to be of interest to people who are not familiar with the Discworld universe, and there are even a few small spoilers which may annoy fans who haven't yet read all of the books.
Overall, I enjoyed this book very much and was only slightly disappointed because there isn't really any new Discworld in it - however it supports the Discworld novels very well and did increase my enjoyment of them!
Folklore, ancient or modern, is one of the major foundation stones of the Discworld books. Human nature being another, one assumes. Discworld folklore is a trivia test among Discworld fans who will slyly ask one another [generally over a pint], if they can identify the origins of a certain figure or idea. With some slight discrepancies between UK and North American versions, such exchanges can become, well, spirited. "Elves or elfs?" is always good for starting an evening.
Pratchett and Simpson sort all this out - and much else besides - in this delightful work on matters folklorish. Typically, the prompt for the book was Pratchett chanting as he signed a previous release: "How many versions of the Magpie Song do you know?" A distinguished-looking lady gave the query a moment's thought and responded "about nineteen" Thus began the wonderful collaboration leading to FoD. It's typical also of the theme of the book. Discworld and Roundworld [Earth] are linked by the universal presence of narrativium, which Dimitri Mendeleev inexplicably omitted from the Periodic Table. Pratchett knows all about narrativium, carefully explaining how it drifts between universes, carrying ideas or stimulating new ones. Folklore on the Discworld compared to that of Earth may demonstrate strong similarities, or just vague likenesses that have been severely modified. The process is unhelpful, the authors note, in determining which world is the source of the story, which is sometimes a let-down.
The book's organisation is appropriate for what it must cover - it begins with the entire universe. From there it works its way through Dwarfs and Elves, giving us an interesting account of how the Elves, feared and despised on Discworld for their dark and evil ways, have somehow become transformed in modern times into charming little creatures who make toys for children. Drifting through space, narrativium must form some bizarre isotopes. The two witch types - those from Lancre and the Witches of the Chalk Downs are described. The Nac Mac Feegle are given a full chapter, which might be viewed as insufficient as you read it. Granny Aching truly deserves a book of her own. The chapter on Heroes is extensive, justifiably, when you discover the variety of Heroes Pratchett has introduced to us. Finally, almost as icing on a delicious cake, the authors provide a "Bibliography and Suggestions for Further Reading". Plan your book budget carefully.
For those in North America who think this book might be too limited in scope to be worth the investment, think carefully of your own family ancestry. While much of the material is limited to the British Isles, no small part is derived from the rest of Europe and elsewhere. Those tales and legends your ancestors took on board ship to cross the Atlantic didn't go over the rail with breakfast at the first roll of the vessels on the high seas. Those stories survived to take root here and sprout new versions of themselves in the new environment. Go through this book and see if you can't find a few you recognise. Besides the bloody elves and the obese bloke with the demented laugh. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
If you've not read a Discworld book, then don't bother reading this one - you'll be mystified and bored. It is really only a reference book and the references will be meaningless to you.
However, if you have read several Discworld books, or, better, lots of them, then this is facinating since it ties together unexplained oddities and also shows some of the thinking behind the quirky ideas. Some of the strangest are based on the reality found here on the Roundworld.
Jacqueline Simpson has an excellent light and humorous style and I soon gave up wondering who wrote which bits, and just enjoyed the book.
I would have liked more of it, but then that is always true of good things.
on 17 December 2015
You shouldn’t need me to tell you too much about what this book is about, because the clue is in the title – it’s essentially your hands on guide to the lore and legends that make up the Discworld’s equivalent of our folk and fairy tales.
Because of that, you’re not going to be able to fully appreciate the book unless you’ve read a good chunk of Pratchett’s Discworld series – that said, there are plenty of thorough explanations of our own mythology as well, and so you’d still get a decent amount from it. It might even make you want to check out some of the Discworld books!
Simply put, Terry and Jacqueline segment some of the traditions of the Discworld into different categories, and then they systematically explain both the fictional tradition and its real-life equivalents – some of them are obvious, like the Hogfather being similar to Santa Claus, while others are tenuous links at best which still serve to show how much research Pratchett has done in to the field over the years.
Sure, it’s occasionally heavy-going, and it takes quite a long time to read, but it’s not as difficult as plenty of other books on the market – it’s a bit like how watching Q.i. takes up more of your brainpower than watching Deal Or No Deal does. Thing is, if you’re in to this sort of fantasy stuff, then you’re going to love it regardless, and you’ll find that it’s well worth the time investment that it takes if you plan to read the book from cover to cover.
To give you an idea of what to expect, the book is split in to sixteen different sections, covering everything from the different races (dwarfs, elves, the Nac Mag Feegle, trolls and others) to beasties, witches, heroes, lore, legends and, of course, Death.
Death is one of the Discworld’s most-loved characters, and you’ll be pleased to know that he gets his fair share of action here – the two authors often refer back to passages from Pratchett’s novels to give the reader examples of what they’re talking about, or to have something explained in a character’s own words. Because of this, and because of his immortality, Death makes quite a few appearances.
So do the myths and legends of the Ancient Greeks, the Romans and the Ancient Egyptians, all of which have their place – the Discworld’s Ephebe is essentially their equivalent to Egypt, and the denizens of the Disc owe a lot to the Greeks and the Romans, just as we do.
What’s cool about this book is that it makes you aware of your own ignorance whilst simultaneously rectifying it – you don’t know what you don’t know, until you find out about it. Terry and Jacqueline have done a fantastic job of teaching you about things that you might never otherwise hear about, without making you feel stupid while they do it. So buy it!
I have always been fascinated by folklore and legends, and as I am also a big Discworld fan I have been meaning to get this book for a while but never got around to it until now. The book is co-written by Sir Terry and folklorist Jacqueline Simpson who he met at a book signing event and I must say that it is very interesting and informative to read.
The book is nicely set out into short sections easy to read sections. Each section deals with a subject such as gods, fantastical sentient races such as trolls and dwarves, heroes and various miscellanies legends. The sections deal with how their subject is dealt with on the Discworld, as well as their Earthly counterparts. From what I can see, the book has been very well researched and includes many interesting facts, some of which I knew and some I didn't, from both the Discworld and Earth.
On the downside, the book can be a little dry in places and so people who are expecting to laugh out loud will probably be a little disappointed but in my view the book is never less than entertaining. Also the book is, understandably, mostly focused on the folklore of the British Isles and Europe, and I felt that there were a number of places where the book could be quite easily expanded to include some folklore from further afield.
Despite its minor faults, `The Folklore is Discworld' is a very entertaining book and one that I am sure any Discworld fan will find at least a little interesting and overall I will give it a full five stars.
There have been a number of books recently that have tried to be guides to the discworld series, most of which have been truly awful. This and the "unauthorised" Turtle Moves are two of the best I have seen.
As suggested by the title the books looks at the lore and legend which are used in the discworld stories and their links to earth lore and legend.
I found it gripping from beginning to end, and there were points that I really wished the author had expanded on further. If I have one problem with the book it is that it is far too short. Maybe it should have been in 2 volumes rather than the one book.
This is a book that has been produced for the growing US market, and it shows. Every chapter has a beautifully drawn interpretation at the beginning. It only goes to show that when something is produced for the US market they put a little more effort and thought into it.
Outstanding book, a must for Discworld fans everywhere.
on 31 January 2012
I'm a fan of both Terry Pratchett and folklore. I definitely learnt some things, but also knew quite a lot of it already, which perhaps reflects the four star rating rather than the five one might otherwise expect given my stated interests.
You don't need to have read all the discworld novels to get this book, but you do need to be a discworld reader or a large chunk of it will be lost on you. This book is a reference list that explains how earth's folklore (primarily British, but not exclusively so) has influenced the stories, and it comes with a really good index at the back. So you could have it on the side when reading through the various discworld books to look up the bits you weren't sure of. However, it works best on the novels set outside Ankh-Morpork. From memory the most referenced are Pyramids, Sourcery, Hogfather, Lords and Ladies, Soul Music, Monstrous Regiment and the Tiffany Aching books.
Another word on spoilers. Although there are a good number of quoted sections and explanations of references I don't think any of these directly related to the main plots of the stories. However, you might want to read the actual Discworld books before reading this one. You'll enjoy it all the more for being familiar with the stories.
While I was never a fan of the Science of Discworld series, I picked this one up since it seemed to approach things from an interesting new angle. I'm certainly not disappointed - there is a whole gamut of folklore covered within, showing the links and relationships between Discworld and the Earth. It's very well written, and flows like fine honey!
There isn't an awful lot of 'meat' to a lot of the content. It's very much a case of 'Here's a thing from Discworld, and here's it's real world equivalent.', and then after a paragraph or so it moved on to the next thing. I would have liked it to be a bit more in-depth, but there is a bibliography provided at the end that helps flesh out the detail.
I wholeheartedly recommend it, though.
on 15 October 2014
Great book, with some interesting background on where the ideas came from. Don't expect a discworld story, that's not what this is. What it is is a great addition to the knowledge of discworld, with examples of where they came from in roundworld folklore and legend.
on 5 October 2008
Since buying this book I couldn't put it down. Its a great addition to my discworld collection.
I would recommend it to any Terry Pratchett fan. It an easy read that is broken down into different chapters covering the many facets of Discworld, using examples for the books to illustrate the point being made. The book explains why certain things occur in the discworld books like why there has to be 3 witches.
An example of Pratchett at his best.