Here's 10 Discworld Quotes Worth Remembering

There is almost no subject that Terry Pratchett hasn't explained better, funnier and more times than just about anyone else on the planet. Reading his Discworld novels is reading a master at work, and it seems like he gets more relevant the more time passes. Here are 10 of his most relevant passages to keep in mind.

Image: Night Watch cover art by Paul Kidby

1) Commander Vimes didn't like the phrase "The innocent have nothing to fear," believing the innocent had everything to fear, mostly from the guilty but in the longer term even more from those who say things like "The innocent have nothing to fear." - Snuff

Pratchett deconstructed this argument several times. Obviously in Snuff, but he also brought it up in Men at Arms ("The axiom 'Honest men have nothing to fear from the police' is currently under review by the Axioms Appeal Board.") and in Unseen Academicals ("It was all very well for the Watch to say 'the innocent have nothing to fear', but what was that all about? Who cared about the innocent and their problems when the Watch was on its way?"). People always trot this out when people protest expanding police powers, especially in the realm of surveillance. Vimes' (and Pratchett's) point is that people who say you have nothing to fear will eventually give you a reason to be afraid.

2) She was already learning that if you ignore the rules people will, half the time, quietly rewrite them so that they don't apply to you. - Equal Rites

Put this in giant letters on a poster and slap it up on your wall. It is vitally important to remember that this happens and to watch for it. Pratchett meant it to be a good thing for a character whose existence broke a number of spoken and unspoken rules, but the other side of it is an actual problem.

3) And, while it was regarded as pretty good evidence of criminality to be living in a slum, for some reason owning a whole street of them merely got you invited to the very best social occasions. - Feet of Clay

Pratchett explores this theme a lot, too — that for some reason large crimes not only go unpunished, they somehow lead to fame and fortune. He has another one about how having slavers and brigands for ancestors makes you elite, but anyone doing it now is a criminal.

4) Shoot the dictator and prevent the war? But the dictator is merely the tip of the whole festering boil of social pus from which dictators emerge; shoot one, and there'll be another one along in a minute. Shoot him too? Why not shoot everyone and invade Poland? In fifty years', thirty years', ten years' time the world will be very nearly back on its old course. History always has a great weight of inertia. - Lords and Ladies

For anyone who has ever advocated getting rid of the one person they think is the problem: It's systemic. It's historical. And there is so much more than getting rid of one or two or three people to blame.

5) Fear is a strange soil. Mainly it grows obedience like corn, which grows in rows and makes weeding easy. But sometimes it grows the potatoes of defiance, which flourish underground. - Small Gods

Here's a slightly uplifting one that has the benefit of a) being true and b) exhibiting, again, just how good Pratchett was with words.

Image: Cover art for The Truth by Josh Kirby

6) There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who, when presented with a glass that is exactly half full, say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty.

The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!

And at the other end of the bar the world is full of the other type of person, who has a broken glass, or a glass that has been carefully knocked over (usually by one of the people calling for a larger glass), or who had no glass at all, because they were at the back of the crowd and had failed to catch the barman's eye. - The Truth

The world belongs to the entitled, who somehow not only avoid blame, but avoid being included in the proverbs.

7) "The secret is not to dream," she whispered. "The secret is to wake up. Waking up is harder. I have woken up and I am real. I know where I come from and I know where I'm going. You cannot fool me anymore. Or touch me. Or anything that is mine." - Tiffany Aching, The Wee Free Men

Pratchett followed this by saying that you can't be "awake" all the time, that we dream because seeing everything as it really is would break us. And that explains why people complain when their "escapism" touches on truths.

Image: Vetinari, Paul Kidby

8) I believe in freedom, Mr. Lipwig. Not many people do, although they will, of course, protest otherwise. And no practical definition of freedom would be complete without the freedom to take the consequences. Indeed, it is the freedom upon which all the others are based. - Vetinari, Going Postal

Every single time someone complains about freedom of speech when people criticise them for what they have said, remind them of this.

9) It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone's fault. If it was Us, what did that make Me? After all, I'm one of Us. I must be. I've certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. No one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We're always one of Us. It's Them that do the bad things. - Jingo

A lot of Pratchett's books, especially the later Discworld ones, explored xenophobia and racism. Jingo, about a brewing conflict with "foreigners", feels more relevant now than ever. Pratchett always does more than just show us how, he always makes sure to get into people's heads and explain.

10) "All right," said Susan. "I'm not stupid. You're saying humans need... fantasies to make life bearable."

REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

"Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little — "

YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.

"So we can believe the big ones?"

YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.

"They're not the same at all!"

YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET — Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME...SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

"Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what's the point — "

MY POINT EXACTLY. - Susan and Death, The Hogfather

There is no exchange in all of Discworld that sticks with me more than this one. Pratchett was an atheist, and yet this is the most eloquent defence of faith in the unquantifiable I have ever come across. What is the point of anything if there aren't greater principles to believe in and fight for? I figured I'd end this with the most inspiring quote I could think of.

This story originally appeared on Gizmodo


Comments

    “Some humans would do anything to see if it was possible to do it. If you put a large switch in some cave somewhere, with a sign on it saying 'End-of-the-World Switch. PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH', the paint wouldn't even have time to dry.”

    - Thief of Time

    Wow. Number 10... far from inspiring, that's got to be the most depressing thing I've ever read. We have to have faith or we'll get crushed by the cold hard truth of reality.

    Passages like that are why I repeatedly failed to read Pratchett - it was either Goon-esque humour (that just makes me sad The Goon Show ended two decades before I discovered it) or just outright depressing. And then I remember Milligan passed fifteen years ago... RIP: Spike Milligna, you world famous typing error - you're still missed. :'(

      Yes. Faith is the only thing that will 'save' you from awareness of the crushing, inevitable void of oblivion. That, and trying really, really, really hard not to think about and distract yourself with stuff like friends, family, TV/movies and video games.

        Eh, oblivion is a fate we all share, so we should have fun while we're capable. Besides, it's not like two hundred years from now, I'll give a damn that I don't exist anymore, so why should I worry now about not being able to worry then? Seems like a waste of time and effort that could be spent enjoying things that are, or making things for those who come after us to enjoy in their own brief period of sentience between infinities.

        And if it turns out that two hundred years from now that I will be capable of rational thought... well, c'est la mort. Or, c'est la singularité, potentially.

          To my mind, the problem with oblivion isn't so much that you're concerned that your dead self will be dissatisfied, but rather that life is a trip you don't want to end, because there's still so much more to do. More than can actually be done.

      I tried many times to read the Discworld series, but could never get through them.
      Maybe it was something you had to do at the time of publication or something, but I found them really dull and never got fully through the first one, and I'll stick through reading most anything with a scifi bent to it.

      The quotes here haven't really changed my mind on it either, they just don't seem very good (*flame suit on*)

      I do like "The axiom 'Honest men have nothing to fear from the police' is currently under review by the Axioms Appeal Board.", but the rest don't really hit me.

      I really *want* to like the books, they have been recommended to me so many times, but I just can't get into them.

      Last edited 12/01/17 8:01 pm

        I felt the same when i first started trying to read his books as a kid!

        Then I stumbled upon The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents....a discworld novel aimed at a younger audience and therefore a bit easier to read....from there I was hooked!
        I think that...maybe....it helped to have a 'segway' read to get a taste of the flavor of his writing.

        Yeah, "The Colour of Magic" is a bit dry, the Rincewind stories are a bit hit and miss to start off with.

        Personally, my favourite arc is the Night Watch books. So if you're ever in the position to pick up Guards! Guards! then I'd thoroughly recommend it.

          Rincewind is my favourite Character. I will admit that Pratchett can be a bit hard to read at times due to his interesting sentence structures, which frequently border on breaking the English language but still somehow make sense when you stop to think about it.

          Guards Guards and Small Gods, my favorites. Started getting a little too many of them after a while, so I stopped after Postal. Will need to finish them off since they've ended :(

    Love this article.
    I miss that sonofabitch.

    I keep putting off reading The Shepard's Crown because I know when I finish it there will be no more Discworld books to read.

      I cried. And then I read the Afterword and it was sad and inspirational - and the prompt I needed to write my own novel. Do read it, you won't regret it. And then you can read the whole series again from the start and have another 30 years of wonderful reading (or binge it into a much shorter period).

        Yeah I should really just start reading it. I know I will love it. Still it's makes me sad that I'll never read a new adventure with the Watch or with Susan.

    Pterry was truly one of a kind, although knowing him he'd say, well so is everyone of course. We shall not see his like again.

    Damn it.

    DON'T THINK OF IT AS DYING, said Death JUST THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH"

    Vale Pratchett - we miss you.

    Better to light a flamethrower than to curse the darkness.

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