In the fantasy genre, few books are as quotable as Discworld. Terry Pratchett's long-running series contains a staggering 41 entries, each filled with his unique wisdom, charm, and wit. There's a Discworld quote for every occasion if you know where to look for it.
Every book has at least one memorable quote in it, powerful enough to change the way you see the world. Here are some of our favorite quotes from throughout Discworld.
Given how many great lines and quips Pratchett wrote, this is by no means an exhaustive list!
On the Poverty Cycle
The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.
Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars.
Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.
But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while a poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.
This was the Captain Samuel Vimes "Boots" theory of socioeconomic unfairness.Men at Arms
Sometimes the best quotes don’t seem to have anything to do with the rest of the plot. This one, which details the reasons for why the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor, uses boots as a baseline for purchases.
As it goes, the poor might only be able to afford cheap boots that only last a year or two and then must be bought again every time, while the rich can afford to pay one time for boots that last a lifetime. The rich, Sam Vimes muses, are able to spend less money simply by having more upfront.
This quote can be used to explain how modern economy feels skewed in favor of the wealthy. Those with the ability to spend more money often find themselves insulated and protected from economic uncertainty while soaring inflation and tax bumps always hit the poorest hardest.
It's a complicated concept that Pratchett manages to explain in the most elegant of terms, making it perhaps the most popular Discworld quote of all time. It's certainly been repeated ad nauseum on Reddit and the like.
On Power and Politics
What kind of man would put a known criminal in charge of a major branch of government? Apart from, say, the average voter.Going Postal
Moist von Lipwig is a conman and criminal, condemned to hang for his part in several schemes over the years. And yet, he's given a fate worse than death—he's put in charge of the post office.
His task is to revive the failing institution, and it's a task that requires his full set of skills, lies, and charm offenses. Despite his best efforts, and despite how tenuous his grasp on morality is at times, Moist manages to make an honest living of his position.
This quote, which displays Pratchett’s characteristic disdain for those in power, offers reassurance to the reader who might feel it's absurd that a criminal is given a promotion rather than be punished for their crimes.
This mentality can help people—who have become numb to the countless scandals that we hear about—put things into perspective. We put them into that position, yes, but we can also remove them if we want.
On the Reality of Virtues
"SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY."Death in Hogfather
This quote from the character of Death, on the surface, is a depressing one. It suggests that there's no true good in the world, that the concepts we hold dear—like love and compassion—aren’t real.
What are things like love or compassion if they don’t actually exist? Just existential concepts that have no bearing on the actual world.
The better interpretation, however, is as a challenge to the reader to create these concepts in their world, to shape the world into one in which we wish to live in.
Death, for all his morbid attitude and mannerisms, wishes for his adoptive daughter Susan—to whom he's speaking—and the reader to remember that there's no inherent structure to the universe. It's neither good nor is it evil; it's only what we make of it.
On Good Intentions and Bad Deeds
History was full of the bones of good men who had followed bad orders in the hope that they could soften the blow.Jingo
Ankh-Morpork might stand on the surface of a flat world that's sailing through space on the backs of four great elephants, who themselves ride upon a cosmic turtle. And yet, despite the fantastical, Ankh-Morpork is wonderfully representative of our own world.
In Jingo, Pratchett explores how those who have power often twist and corrupt logic and reason to justify their wars, almost always to the detriment of the people fighting them. The thing is, those in power often only talk big but leave the details of their plans to their followers.
An individual follower might be good at heart and see themself as a barrier against the more selfish impulses of the rich and powerful, but they will always, without fail, end up being the one to deliver doom to the masses.
The only way to prevent bad people from doing bad things, Pratchett says, is to actively stop them from doing them.
On Fighting Corruption
It's better to light a flamethrower than curse the darkness.Men at Arms
Many Discworld books tackle the concepts of corruption, inequality, and general unfairness in the world. Characters like Sam Vimes—the leader of the City Watch—rail and fight against not just the villains of the books but the society that allows those villains to rise up and thrive.
Often, the only way to fight something intangible is to burn everything down and start again.
This quote is actually a play on a similar saying: "It's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness." By switching out the candle for a flamethrower, Pratchett emphasizes that victory comes from going all-out against your enemy with everything you've got.