Wizards writing back: what we can learn from the Discworld

Okay, so last week I wrote about the PhD proposal I submitted on exploring what kind of SODWworlds are being created in fantasy stories and how these magical worlds are relating themselves to our own. Sadly, I have to say that the proposal didn’t make the cut. Better luck next year though, when I have a masters degree in my pocket which will probably boost my chances seriously. Well, time for a post colonial gaze at the Discworld then! Yeah, that’s right, you heard me…

Speaking about masters degrees, now that I don’t have to worry about fine-tuning my proposal for the foreseeable future, more time to focus on this thing called the masters thesis. Of course with the same interest of the relationships between fantasy worlds and our own, my focus in this thesis is going to be on the Discworld. In particular, The Science of Discworld series. These books are particularly interesting because here the wizards of unseen university (just like any other academic institution, but with added magic) are looking at our own world from their perspective. They accidentally create Earth, start the Big Bang by poking around in it and then are amazed to see how a universe runs without any magic but these strange things that are our natural laws.


In a sense, this is returning the gaze that I’m taking in my research. Now it is not us looking at them, but them looking at us and wondering about the strangeness of our world. One might say that the wizards are “writing back” – a term stemming from post colonial literary theory that describes the process of natives writing to create their own national histories and identities, after decolonization, whereas of old an identity was forced upon them.  I have a feeling that we might actually learn a lot about ourselves and the world we live in by looking at it from a radically different perspective: a magical perspective.

There is this thing called ‘the philosophy of possible worlds’ which is based on the idea that things could have been different then they are. This is a widely used concept to think about science; creating ‘worlds of if’ in one’s mind to think about a certain question. What better way to do this then by using fictional worlds that are as elaborate and interesting as Discworld? The writers of course agree with me:

Because a lot of science is really about this non-existent world of thought experiments, our understanding of science must concern itself with worlds of the imagination as well as with worlds of reality. Imagination, rather than mere intelligence, is the truly human quality. And what better world of the imagination to start from than Discworld? (The Science of Discworld)


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