THE FOLKLORE OF DISCWORLD
by Terry Pratchett & Jacqueline Simpson
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
The Folklore of Discworld by Terry Pratchett and Jacqueline Simpson is quite different from the similar Science of Discworld books offered up by Pratchett, Ian Stewart, and Jack Cohen. While the earlier three books included chapters of fiction by Pratchett interspersed with scientific explanations for what Pratchett's characters are doing, in The Folklore of Discworld, Pratchett and Simpson focus more on the folklore in Discworld, occasionally tracing it back to the folklore of our own world. Pratchett does not offer any fiction to go along with these explanations.
The book is divided into chapters which look at a variety of mythic beings who live in Discworld. In each chapter, Pratchett and Simpson explain the evolution of the creatures, both the lore which surrounds them and the actuality of the creature in the milieu of the Discworld. On occasion, and to a varying degree, the authors explore the tie between the folklore Pratchett has created on the Discworld and the folklore of the analog creatures in our own world. Unfortunately, this comparison, which is one of the most interesting aspects of the book, is not done for every discussion.
One of the most intriguing aspects of The Folklore of Discworld is the examination of how lore evolves over time. It is this discussion which is strengthened by the comparison to the real world mythology, but seeing that Pratchett has changed the lore of his fantasy world over the years is also interesting, sort of a study in a controlled environment. The authors also do a good job of indicating that age-old lore may in fact only be a couple of generations old. The widespread existence of printed matter makes this more evident than in previous times, but it is a key point of The Folklore of Discworld.
Pratchett has been publishing books about the Discworld for a quarter of a century, and although the books are satirical looks at our society, the role of lore has always been a major theme in the works, giving Pratchett and Simpson a great deal of material to work with. When that material allows them to look at myth in a broader sense, such as the overall lore that governs attitudes and behavior in Lancre or the differences between the perception of witches in Lancre and on the Chalk, the study really comes together, forming a coherent look at the world.
Unlike the Science of Discworld books, which have the hook of a story to draw readers in, The Folklore of Discworld is squarely targeted at those readers who already know and care about the Discworld. The relatively small amount of examination of folklore on the real world further limits the discussion, even though the "rules" of folklore on the Discworld mirror those on our own world. The work is of interest to the Discworld reader, and may serve as a jumping stone to learning about folklore, but it doesn't stand on its own.