6 Times Pratchett Made Us Laugh Out Loud

By: Sam Fletcher, September 13th, 2023 10:09 am.

Getting a polite chuckle is easy. Making someone genuinely laugh is hard. Doing this while highlighting a profound truth is harder still. Then, if you really want to go for the hat trick, try building an entire fantasy world from scratch, all while affectionately poking fun at the genre. That would be a true stroke of genius.

Enter the ring Terry Pratchett. His Discworld novels (which we’ll focus on here) are excellent examples of what fantasy can do as a genre. So what are some of his funniest moments, and how do they hold up?

Carrot and Colon – Guards! Guards! (1989)

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Well, anything involving these two is good. Serving for the Ankh-Morpok City Watch, they have some memorable moments in the eighth Discworld novel. And not forgetting Captain Vimes losing his cool either.

One stand-out moment is the ever-honorable Carrot Ironfoundersson attempting to cite Havelock Vetinari for a parking violation. Fred Colon steps in to save the day, sending Carrot marching in the opposite direction, all while Samuel Vimes breaks down completely. It’s a great example of everyday situations blown up to ridiculous proportions that Pratchett did so well.

Madame Dawning – Maskerade (1995)

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Okay, sure, this is a minor character (to say the least), but her description stuck with me.

Visiting a dress shop in Ankh-Morpok, Lady Esmerelda Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg enter the premises of Madame Dawning. Described as being ‘like a gyroscope,’ her outlook on life remains steadfast, no matter how much it’s rocked. Even if society breaks down leaving us eating cockroaches, she’ll still be peering down on those eating them the wrong way without a napkin.

Yeah, she’s a snob.

The passage may be brief, but it perfectly showcases Pratchett’s descriptive skills. Never wasting a single detail, he’d let you know exactly who someone was in the funniest way possible.

The Boots Theory – Men at Arms (1993)

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Honestly, I wanted any excuse to include this one. It’s the perfect example of Pratchett taking a big idea – here being the economy of capitalism – and condensing it into a fun and easy-to-understand analogy.

So we see Samuel Vimes explaining the differences between the rich and the poor. The rich, he surmises, remain rich because they get to keep their money, while the poor must pay out multiple times for everything. In this case, Vimes is explaining using boots, describing how a rich person will buy a pair that’ll last a decade. Meanwhile, someone poor spends way more over the same period for cheap boots that will only last a season because they’ll never be able to afford the expensive sturdy pair.

And, after all that, they’ll still have wet feet.

‘Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder. Elves are marvellous. They cause marvels. Elves are terrific. They beget terror’ – Lords and Ladies (1992)

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Discussing elves’ nature, Pratchett reveals the allure of beauty and what lurks beneath. Breaking down the nature of language, the passage contorts words, showing how they conceal the truth. The piece then finishes by advising us to find what lies behind words and not blind ourselves to them.

Words can ‘twist like a snake’ Pratchett tells us. And to see the snake we need to look beyond.

Because ‘no one ever said elves are nice. Elves are bad.’

So it’s politics 101.

King My God He’s Heavy The First – Carpe Jugulum (1998)

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Naming a baby can be tricky at the best of times, especially when a slip of the tongue could be permanent. At the royal naming ceremony, Mightily Oats is the new priest in Lancre set to officiate. Queen Magrat is giving her daughter her middle name Margaret. But, in the instructions, she leaves ‘Note Spelling’ (observing the correct way to spell Margaret ), leading Oats to nervously make the blunder of officially naming her ‘Princess Esmerelda Margaret Note Spelling of Lancre.’

And now it’s set in stone.

Nanny Ogg then consoles King Verence telling him there was once a king named ‘My God He’s Heavy the First.’ Also, never mind, the crowd outside has been drinking for hours, so they’ll cheer whatever name they hear announced.

It’s the best comment on the dogma of tradition.

Running from Auditors – Thief of Time (2001)

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As an unimaginative race of bureaucrats overseeing the fundamental laws of nature, the Auditors of Reality hope to freeze time. In doing this they’ll rid themselves of the messiness of unpredictability, allowing them to catch up on their paperwork. Out to stop them, Lu-Tze and his apprentice Lobsang Ludd head to Ankh-Morpok to prevent the building of a special clock that will trap time forever.

While there are many convoluted philosophical elements at play, the narrative mainly has fun with the conventions of the action genre. And, when stripped down, the story is a straightforward adventure that’s good honest fun. Not to mention the hilarious Auditor chase and chocolate fight, as who wouldn’t want to see that in an all-out fantasy action extravaganza?

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