Non-Fiction Reviews

The Ankh-Morpork Archives
A Discworld Anthology Volume 1

(2019) Terry Pratchett & Stephen Briggs, Gollancz, £25, hrdbk, 240pp, ISBN 978-1-473-20535-2


Beautifully illustrated collection of Pratchett quips.  This brings together four previous editions of the annual Discworld diaries which had short mottos for some days and some pages dividing weeks and months.

Well, what is this?  Well, to use the full title, this is The Ankh-Morpork Archives: A Discworld Anthology Volume 1 written by the late, great Sir Terry Pratchett and Stephen Briggs, with illustrations by Paul Kidby, which brings together prose and illustrations that were published as far back as 1997.

It is a lavish big, weighty tome of a book, a sort of coffee-table-sized, non-fiction guide to a fantastic, fictional world divided into different sections.  Thus we have the: Unseen University, Assassins’ Guild, Thieves Guild, Post Office, Notable Dates, and an Artist’s Archive spread over 240 pages, with the first four sections getting 50 to 60 pages devoted to them.

Starting with the Unseen University, we have a quote from each of the contributor’s with Kidby marvelling at how much time has passed since he started these illustrations, while Briggs tells us that he lived in Oxford for a while and worked in the Bodleian Library, and also like, Pratchett, he was a fan of Tom Sharpe’s Porterhouse Blue, all of which helped conjure up the Unseen University. Pratchett muses on the atmosphere in the library, which is pretty similar to all libraries, anywhere, except for the dying scream of a student who didn’t treat that old magic book with the proper respect! Following an address from Mustrum Ridcully, the Archchancellor who ends by saying that his door is always open, but it might be best to pick your moment as he looks rather stern and is holding a crossbow. Fortunately, the chances of being shot are minimised by the length of the academic year which is split into eight terms, each lasting one week to reduce the time that students and staff have to be together.  There is also a guide to the library which is a must read if you want to survive reading any books, especially the chained ones. Being a university there are also a variety of societies and clubs to join, the Friendly Flamethrowers League looks interesting, but only if you have a swamp dragon. Dragons also feature in a guide of places to visit as The Morpork Sunshine Sanctuary for Sick Dragons is on the list, along with the Cemetery of the Temple of Small Gods, and the Dwarf Bread Museum.  There are also handy guides to the city’s many bars which includes the “Crimson Leech”, boasting “good sawdust, watery beer and a good Knuckle Sandwich”. Likewise there is a guide to eateries, but given that Death can sometimes be seen in the Curry Gardens, that’s possible best avoided.

Section two is about “The Cut and Thrust of The Assassins’ Guild” which according to Briggs “offers the best all-round education on Discworld”, although as Pratchett points out, only one is fifteen student becomes an assassin, but best not to dwell on what happened to the other fourteen. After the Headmaster’s Address we learn how to get around, the history of the Guild, prizes and awards, the Rules of Assassination, and how to survive your first few weeks.  There are also guides to Guild traditions, Guild rules and who the seventeen college tutors are and what they teach – varying from Climbing, Traps and Locks to Domestic Science and Organic Poisoning. There is also a guide to famous instruments used to despatch “commissions” which includes a mackerel, and poisoned wallpaper.  There is also a guide to famous despatches, and some that are still open commissions -carry them out at your peril.  Naturally, the Guild includes some pretty famous people in its long history and some infamous ones the Guild would rather forget belonged to their ranks.

What we get next in the next two sections is more of the same, but from the viewpoint of the Thieves’ Guild and the Post Office, but given their own unique slant on things to do with crime, or delivering the mail.  Finally, we have two sections devoted to Notable Dates and an Artist’s Archive, replicating some of artwork already seen, or showing them in their original Discworld Diary form. The cover of the book is in full-colour as are the first pages of the main four sections, and the apart from the odd page – say, showing coloured stamps, most of the book is black and white, or sepia and white.

So to sum up, Volume 1 is a pretty essential purchase for Discworld enthusiasts everywhere, and I look forward to volume 2, which hopefully will be as entertaining as this one.

Ian Hunter


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