APF Chapter 5: Thoughts and Themes [Prev Page] [Index] [Next Page]

The Turtle Moves!

It was already mentioned in one of the annotations: on alt.fan.pratchett there will at any given moment in time be at least one discussion ongoing about some aspect of the Discworld considered as a physical object. What does it look like? Where did it come from? Does it rotate? What do constellations look like for the people living on it? Where are the continents located? Is there a map of Ankh-Morpork [There is now] ? What are the names of the Elephants [Berilia, Tubul, Great T'Phon and Jerakeen, just in case anyone'd forgotten] ? Is Great A'Tuin male or female? [See the annotation for p. 8 of The Colour of Magic ] That sort of thing.

Summarising these discussions is useless: nobody ever agrees on anything, anyway, and besides: half the fun is in the discussion itself -- who cares if these issues ever get properly 'resolved'. Nevertheless, I think it will be in the spirit of this annotation file, and of interest to the readers, if I reproduce here some of the things Terry Pratchett himself has said on the various subjects, at those times when he chose to enter the discussion.

To start with some history: many people think the appearance of the Discworld as described in the novels was an invention of Terry's. This is not really the case: in Hindu mythology, for instance, we find the idea of a lotus flower growing out of Vishnu's navel. Swimming in a pool in the lotus flower is the world turtle, on whose back stand four elephants facing in the four compass directions. On their backs is balanced the flat, disc-shaped world. See also Josh Kirby's magnificent drawing of the Discworld in the illustrated version of Eric.

Terry: "The myth that the world is flat and goes through space on the back of a turtle is, with variations, found on every continent. An African fan has just sent me a Bantu legend, which however does not include the character of N'Rincewind."

Next up are the various questions concerning (a) exactly how the Discworld looks, and (b) how it interacts with other celestial objects. Some relevant quotes from Terry (as before, quotation marks (" ") indicate the beginning and ending of quotes from different Usenet articles):

"The elephants face outwards. The spinning of the Disc does not harm the elephants because that's how the universe is arranged."

"I've got some drawings I did of the Discworld at the start and I've always thought of it like this:

The shell of the turtle is slightly smaller than the world, but the flippers and head and tail are all visible from the Rim, looking down -- as Rincewind does in The Colour of Magic."

"The Discworld revolves. The sun and moon orbit it as well. This enables the Disc to have seasons. And the DW 'universe' -- turtle, world, sun, moon -- moves slowly through our own universe."

"Where is the sun at noon? There are two answers.

A) It's directly over the centre of the Disc;
B) It's in a small cafe."

On the subject of constellations and what they would look like (see also the file discworld-constellations available from the L-space Web):

"GA must move fairly fast -- in The Light Fantastic a star goes from a point to a sun (I assume GA halted somewhere in the temperate orbits) in a few weeks. I've always thought that Discworld astrology would largely consist of research; we already know the character traits, what we're trying to find is what the new constellations are, as the turtle moves. And of course some particular constellations might have very distinct and peculiar characteristics that are never repeated. Some constellations, facing in front and behind, would change very little. The ones 'to the side' would change a lot. Bear in mind also that the sun revolves around the disc and the disc revolves slowly, so that every group of stars in the sky would have a chance to be a constellation for birth date purposes. In short, we need hundreds and hundreds of constellation names -- good job there's Usenet, eh?"

Finally, on the less cosmic subject of planetary maps:

"The map of the Discworld in the Innovations comic is just an artist's squiggle. The surface of the Discworld in the Clarecraft model is... er... rather amazingly close to my idea, although the vertical dimension is hugely exaggerated. And Stephen Briggs, having just sent off the 'definitive' map of Ankh-Morpork, has said that he can deduce a map of the Disc. Fans have also sent me fairly accurate maps. Once you work out that the Circle Sea is rather similar to the Med, but with Ephebe and Tsort and Omnia and Djelibeybi (and Hersheba, one of these days) all on the 'north African' coast, Klatch being 'vaguely Arabic' and Howondaland being 'vaguely African' it's easy.

But all maps are valid."

"I've never thought that any parts of Discworld corresponded exactly to places on Earth. Lancre is 'generic Western Europe/US rural', for example -- not the Ozarks, not the North of England, but maybe with something of each.

The Sto Plains are 'vaguely Central European'; Klatch, Ephebe, Tsort, etc, are all 'vaguely Southern European/North African'.

Genua was designed to be a 'Magic Kingdom' but in a New Orleans setting -- I hope the voodoo, cooking etc. made that reasonably obvious. Genua and the other countries mentioned in Witches Abroad are all on the other side of the Ramtops, which more or less bisect the continent.

As far as the Ankh-Morpork map is concerned, we've decided to get it right at a point in time. In any case, it's a developing city; the city of Guards! Guards! has evolved some way from the one in The Colour of Magic."

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