Table of Con­tents | Arti­cle doi: 10.17742/IMAGE.VT.11.3.6 | PDF

Visu­al Rep­re­sen­ta­tions of Ter­ry Pratchett’s Dis­c­world Anikó Sohár

Each to Their Own: Visual Representations of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld in Time and Space

Anikó Sohár
When a book is trans­lat­ed, pub­lish­ers will often mod­i­fy or com­plete­ly change the cov­er design. This paper exam­ines the sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences that result in a sam­ple of cov­er designs tak­en from Ter­ry Pratchett’s Dis­c­world series. The essay ana­lyzes these images as a form of inter­semi­otic trans­la­tion, which pri­or­i­tizes the mar­ket­ing appa­ra­tus of a nov­el over its nar­ra­tive content.
Lorsqu’un livre est traduit, les édi­teurs mod­i­fient sou­vent, voire changent com­plète­ment l’image de cou­ver­ture. Cet arti­cle exam­ine les sim­i­lar­ités et les dif­férences qui résul­tent d’un échan­til­lon de cou­ver­tures de livre tiré de la série Dis­c­world de Ter­ry Pratch­ett. L’essai analyse ces images comme une forme de tra­duc­tion inter­sémi­o­tique, qui favorise l’outillage de mar­ket­ing d’un roman au détri­ment de son con­tenu narratif.

Now, there is a ten­den­cy at a point like this to look over one’s shoul­der at the cov­er artist and start going on at length about leather, tight­boots and naked blades. Words like ‘full,’ ‘round’ and even ‘pert’ creep into the nar­ra­tive, until the writer has to go and have a cold show­er and a lie down. Which is all rather sil­ly, because any woman set­ting out to make a liv­ing by the sword isn’t about to go around look­ing like some­thing off the cov­er of the more advanced kind of lin­gerie cat­a­logue for the spe­cial­ized buyer.

Ter­ry Pratch­ett, The Light Fantastic

In this essay, I exam­ine Ter­ry Pratchett’s book cov­ers from the 1980s to the 2010s across dif­fer­ent trans­lat­ed edi­tions, com­par­ing the images as a form of inter­semi­otic trans­la­tion. In so doing, I analyse how pub­lish­ers and artists have visu­alised the Dis­c­world uni­verse, how they have trans­lat­ed the texts into pic­tures and typog­ra­phy, and how much Pratchett’s ideas are there­fore trans­fer­able into oth­er code sys­tems.1

Col­lect­ing and exam­in­ing the mate­r­i­al, I ini­tial­ly con­sid­ered a lot of ques­tions, but soon real­ized that answer­ing all of them goes beyond the scope of this rel­a­tive­ly short paper, so the focus of the project shift­ed, and now this case study only aims at clear­ing the way for fur­ther research by ascer­tain­ing if the Dis­c­world book cov­ers can be regard­ed at least to some extent as inter­semi­otic trans­la­tions. To do this, I shall exam­ine the attrib­ut­es of a rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple of a much larg­er set, select­ed from dif­fer­ent cul­tures and decades.

The Author: “The Grin Reaper”

Sir Ter­ence David John Pratch­ett, bet­ter known as Ter­ry Pratch­ett, or Pter­ry by his fans (1948-2015), wrote more than 70 books, among them 41 Dis­c­world nov­els. Sev­er­al of these were adapt­ed to the stage, radio, tele­vi­sion, and cin­e­ma (both ani­ma­tion and films), or turned into comics, videogames, card, and board games. He also col­lab­o­rat­ed in the pro­duc­tion of a role-play­ing game sup­ple­ment (GURPS Dis­c­world2), pic­ture books, maps, guides, cal­en­dars, and diaries. More than 85 mil­lion Pratch­ett books were sold in 37 lan­guages. His most famous cre­ation is the Dis­c­world series. Fans of his works have cre­at­ed online fora, sev­er­al news­groups, and web­pages exclu­sive­ly deal­ing with the Pratch­ett oeu­vre or a part of it, usu­al­ly the Dis­c­world (see, for exam­ple, The L Space Web).

Despite start­ing as a jour­nal­ist and only becom­ing a pro­fes­sion­al writer in 1987, Pratch­ett went on to receive sev­er­al awards after the unex­pect­ed suc­cess of his first Dis­c­world nov­els: he was appoint­ed Offi­cer of the Order of the British Empire in 1998, knight­ed for ser­vices to lit­er­a­ture (2009 New Year Hon­ours), got the World Fan­ta­sy Award for Life Achieve­ment in 2010, and the Kate Wil­helm Sol­stice Award from the Sci­ence Fic­tion and Fan­ta­sy Writ­ers of Amer­i­ca posthu­mous­ly, in 2016, to name but a few.

The first col­lec­tion of essays about his writ­ings was pub­lished only in 2000. This belat­ed­ness is per­haps due to the fact that it has long been frowned upon to take humour seri­ous­ly, let alone fan­ta­sy, two things impor­tant to Pratchett’s writ­ing (Pratch­ett, A Slip of the Key­board, Sohár, “Twofold Dis­crim­i­na­tion”). Aca­d­e­m­ic work on Pratch­ett is increas­ing­ly inter­dis­ci­pli­nary, analysing his works from the per­spec­tive of ped­a­gogy, phi­los­o­phy, polit­i­cal sci­ence, or psy­chol­o­gy (see, for exam­ple, Bould­ing; Held and South; Karlsen; Michaud; Oziewicz).

The Discworld Series (1983-2015)

In 1983, Col­in Smythe Lim­it­ed pub­lished the first Dis­c­world nov­el, The Colour of Mag­ic, a pure par­o­dy of the fan­ta­sy genre. It was high­ly suc­cess­ful, and Pratch­ett became the UK’s best-sell­ing author in the 1990s (Beck­ett 146). The Dis­c­world series con­sists of 41 nov­els, 8 short sto­ries, and has inspired an abun­dance of spin-off mate­r­i­al; prac­ti­cal­ly a small indus­try is based on it (see, for exam­ple, Dis­c­world Empo­ri­um). His nov­els have been trans­lat­ed into 37 lan­guages, mean­ing that 37 lan­guages boast at least one Dis­c­world nov­el. The series end­ed in 2015 with the posthu­mous­ly pub­lished The Shepherd’s Crown, the clos­ing vol­ume of a young adult com­ing-of-age sub-series. Pratch­ett died from an ear­ly-onset form of Alzheimer’s and his unfin­ished novels—the com­put­er hard disk con­tain­ing his notes, plans, and the sto­ries he was work­ing on—were pub­licly destroyed by a steam­roller, as he wished (“Ter­ry Pratchett’s Unpub­lished Works”).

The adven­ture­some and var­ie­gat­ed nar­ra­tives com­bine all sorts of humour and are inter­leaved with numer­ous allu­sions and ref­er­ences which require ency­clopaedic learn­ing and wide gen­er­al knowl­edge to appre­ci­ate ful­ly; how much a giv­en read­er will under­stand depends on the reader’s pre­lim­i­nary knowl­edge, cul­tur­al back­ground, and abstrac­tion skills. The same holds true for the trans­la­tors, be they intralin­gual (the Amer­i­can ver­sions), inter­lin­gual, or inter­semi­otic (book cov­ers, illus­tra­tions, film and video game adap­ta­tions, etc.).

At the begin­ning these nov­els were linked to one anoth­er just loose­ly. While the­mat­i­cal­ly they can be grouped into six dis­tinct sub­series, the pub­li­ca­tion dates do not match up to sub­series direct­ly (Pratch­ett inter­leaved them). If one reads the nov­els in their pub­lished order, it is easy to trace the process by which the orig­i­nal light-heart­ed pas­tich­es have grad­u­al­ly devel­oped into a con­sis­tent world­view, which protests against oppres­sion and wil­ful stu­pid­i­ty. The cov­er images, how­ev­er, do not always cap­ture the spir­it of this worldview.

The series heav­i­ly relies on inter­tex­tu­al­i­ty, chal­leng­ing both the trans­la­tor and the illus­tra­tor. This is reflect­ed by some front cov­ers of Dis­c­world nov­els, for exam­ple, Paul Kid­by para­phras­es The Scream by Edvard Munch3 for one ver­sion of The Last Hero, and his Night Watch book cov­er is of course based on Schut­ters van wijk II onder lei­d­ing van kapitein Frans Ban­ninck Cocq, com­mon­ly known as The Night Watch by Rem­brandt de Rijn.

Intersemiotic Translation

Is it trans­la­tion we are dis­cussing when we com­pare book cov­ers for dif­fer­ent edi­tions of the same text? Cur­rent­ly, there is a ten­den­cy in trans­la­tion stud­ies to avoid defin­ing trans­la­tion pre­cise­ly; where con­tra­dic­to­ry def­i­n­i­tions coex­ist, most of them ignore non-lin­guis­tic sys­tems, and there­fore are not suit­able for com­par­ing dif­fer­ent semi­otic codes (see, for exam­ple, Halver­son; Her­mans). I find it telling that Mona Bak­er and Gabriela Saldanha’s Rout­ledge Ency­clo­pe­dia of Trans­la­tion Stud­ies does not have an entry on trans­la­tion (Bak­er and Sal­dan­ha). In this essay, trans­la­tion will be under­stood as a “refor­mu­la­tion of a source utter­ance by means of a tar­get utter­ance” and thus as “a species of the genus inter­pre­ta­tion” (Even-Zohar 74–75; Eco 80). Roman Jakob­son in his famous essay on trans­la­tion dis­tin­guish­es three ways of inter­pret­ing a ver­bal sign: it may be trans­lat­ed into oth­er signs of the same lan­guage (intralin­gual trans­la­tion or reword­ing), into anoth­er lan­guage (inter­lin­gual trans­la­tion or trans­la­tion prop­er), or into anoth­er, non­ver­bal sys­tem of sym­bols (inter­semi­otic trans­la­tion or trans­mu­ta­tion) (145). In the case of the Dis­c­world series, all three Jakob­son­ian trans­la­tions are present (since there are also British-to-Amer­i­can trans­la­tions).4 This paper, how­ev­er, focus­es only on Jakobson’s third cat­e­go­ry: the trans­la­tion that occurs in the book-cov­er design.

The tran­si­tion from text to book cov­er, that is, from the pure­ly ver­bal to the ver­bal and pic­to­r­i­al, pro­duces a new and dif­fer­ent mate­r­i­al com­plex­i­ty. The elim­i­na­tion of nonessen­tial ele­ments of the text is a fun­da­men­tal aspect of this process; con­tent selec­tion makes such loss­es unavoid­able, as book cov­ers can­not express even a sum­ma­ry of the nar­ra­tive except at the most abstract lev­el (see Son­zog­ni). Thus, Bri­an Mossop asks two relat­ed ques­tions: can we see “the cov­ers of some books as ‘inter­semi­otic trans­la­tions’ of the texts they intro­duce,” and, if so, will the cov­ers of trans­lat­ed edi­tions offer the same “inter­semi­otic trans­la­tion” as the orig­i­nal or will they vary or even clash with it (Mossop 1)? This will be some­thing to keep in mind when ana­lyz­ing the dif­fer­ent cov­er designs of the Dis­c­world novels.

The Book Covers: “Don’t judge a book by its cover!”

The inter­ac­tion of pic­tures and texts is con­sti­tu­tive of rep­re­sen­ta­tion as such: all media are mixed media, and all rep­re­sen­ta­tions are het­ero­ge­neous; there are no “pure­ly” visu­al or ver­bal arts.

W. J. T. Mitchell, Pic­ture Theory

For a long time, lit­er­ary trans­la­tion stud­ies only exam­ined texts. The field’s scope has just late­ly begun to enlarge and cov­er addi­tion­al top­ics like the trans­la­tors them­selves or inter­faces with oth­er dis­ci­plines, such as film adap­ta­tions. Thanks to this progress, para­texts, includ­ing illus­tra­tions, are now thor­ough­ly researched, yet book cov­ers were ignored until only recent­ly and are still often regard­ed as deriv­a­tive or com­ple­men­tary trans­la­tions, rather than inter­semi­otic (see Mossop; Pereira; Torop).

In the only mono­graph on book cov­er design as inter­semi­otic trans­la­tion, Mar­co Son­zog­ni dis­cuss­es in detail how book cov­ers are viewed in book mar­ket­ing and how the research on them focus­es on the inter­ac­tions between cul­ture and com­merce. Sonzogni’s pri­ma­ry focus is the cover’s impact on sales, audi­ence, dis­tri­b­u­tion, and recep­tion, and the “film-nov­el alliance” (i.e., the eco­nom­ic impor­tance of adapt­ing a nov­el into a movie, Son­zog­ni 18-35). Here, he sums up the func­tion and nature of book cov­ers as follows:

Essen­tial­ly, a book cov­er works as an adver­tise­ment that uses pri­mar­i­ly visu­al means to attract atten­tion to the text and to con­vey the min­i­mum of essen­tial infor­ma­tion (title and author) and pos­si­bly oth­er infor­ma­tion (publisher’s name, adver­tis­ing copy, blurbs, etc.). If it is effec­tive, the poten­tial read­er will pick up the book and turn it over to read the infor­ma­tion pro­vid­ed on the back cov­er or start read­ing the first pages and ulti­mate­ly buy the book. … The func­tions of the cov­er then are to (1) pro­vide visu­al infor­ma­tion that will enable the poten­tial read­er to choose to read the book or dis­card it (typ­i­cal­ly, the time involved will be a few sec­onds); (2) inform the read­er of the text by (a) dis­play­ing the title and the author; (b) sum­maris­ing in images and words the text; (3) remind the read­er of what he already knows of the text. (15-16)

Anne Hiebert Alton attrib­ut­es two sim­i­lar func­tions to the book’s cov­er: on the one hand, it stim­u­lates the read­ers’ inter­est in the book; on the oth­er hand, “cov­er art can also func­tion as a kind of short­hand to enhance the sense of char­ac­ter, place, and over­all impres­sion of the world they are read­ing” (2014:31).

If we accept that the main func­tion of the front cov­er is to attract poten­tial read­ers, and to assert their pre-exis­tent knowl­edge, then it is log­i­cal that even such a famous, best-sell­ing series as the Dis­c­world will use local art on its front cov­ers, for local cov­er art is sure­ly more agree­able to the local audi­ence and it can take the local cus­toms and tra­di­tions into con­sid­er­a­tion, thus boost­ing local sales.5 Con­se­quent­ly, it will be impor­tant to look for localised ver­sions of book cov­ers to find out how dif­fer­ent­ly Dis­c­world is imag­ined, for exam­ple, which of its fea­tures get cen­tre stage on the cov­er images, what colours are used, how many of them, whether the fonts remain the same, or to what extent the lay­out and the type­set­ting dif­fer (if they differ).

As men­tioned above, one func­tion of the front cov­er is to arouse the prospec­tive reader’s inter­est in read­ing this par­tic­u­lar text by pro­vid­ing them with infor­ma­tion about the con­tent or plot and an indi­ca­tion of the genre. This is done by a com­bi­na­tion of ver­bal and visu­al ele­ments whose pro­por­tion may dif­fer marked­ly, but nev­er reach­es zero: a front cov­er must dis­play at least the title. How­ev­er, most artists do not read the nov­el whose front cov­er they are com­mis­sioned to cre­ate, but rather usu­al­ly the blurb or a brief of the pub­lish­er sup­ply them with ideas (see Alderon). Just think of the noto­ri­ous front cov­er of the first autho­rized Bal­lan­tine edi­tion of The Hob­bit by J.R.R. Tolkien, which the Tolkien Library describes in the fol­low­ing terms: “Paper­back with fan­ci­ful illus­tra­tion of Hob­biton in an oval frame with emus and a lion in the fore­ground. Cov­er art by Bar­bara Rem­ing­ton” (“Books by J.R.R. Tolkien”). Need­less to say, there are no lions or emus in that tale. It is not unusu­al in pop­u­lar gen­res such as fan­ta­sy that the cov­er illus­tra­tion fails to con­nect with the con­tent, as will be shown lat­er. Some pub­lish­ers employ already-pur­chased and (un)used paint­ings for the cov­er of anoth­er book. In such cas­es, how could the evoked men­tal image build a bridge between the ver­bal and visu­al representations?

Still, it rais­es the ques­tion: whose trans­la­tion is the book cov­er? Of course, it is the artist who cre­ates a pic­ture (or sev­er­al), designs the cov­er, but it must con­form to how the pub­lish­er envis­ages the book, or the genre, or the author’s poten­tial saleabil­i­ty on the mar­ket, and it must be approved by the client (see Alton 37-40). Also, for com­mer­cial rea­sons, edi­tions, some­times of very dif­fer­ent for­mats, are sup­posed to be dis­tin­guish­able, there­fore cov­er designs may vary the ver­bal ele­ments (e.g., the quo­ta­tions and adver­tise­ments) and the pic­to­r­i­al infor­ma­tion (the font size, style, back­ground, and/or images). If we con­sid­er the orig­i­nal book cov­ers as inter­semi­otic trans­la­tions, should these fur­ther vari­a­tions be regard­ed as anoth­er lev­el of trans­la­tion or even as “re-trans­la­tions”?6

These are the ques­tions I will now bring to bear on a dis­cus­sion of the Dis­c­world book cov­ers. Since Pratch­ett enjoyed paint­ing and draw­ing and was capa­ble of illus­trat­ing his own books (Smythe; Cabell 17), it is no won­der that he was keen on engag­ing artists who could cap­ture the essence of his imag­i­na­tion in their diverse ways: Josh Kir­by, Stephen Brig­gs, Paul Kid­by, Stephen Play­er, and oth­ers gave life to the Dis­c­world and all the char­ac­ters with their pic­tures dur­ing these thir­ty years. Acknowl­edg­ing the impor­tance of iconol­o­gy, he claimed that Kir­by made real his ideas: “I only invent­ed the Dis­c­world. Josh cre­at­ed it” (qtd. in Alton 36).

For this case study, I have select­ed a few sam­ples of the cov­ers of three nov­els, the first two, The Colour of Mag­ic (1983) and The Light Fan­tas­tic (1986), and the for­ti­eth, the last Dis­c­world nov­el for adults, Rais­ing Steam (2013). The Colour of Mag­ic and The Light Fan­tas­tic have a tele­vi­sion and film adap­ta­tion (enti­tled The Colour of Mag­ic), which cer­tain­ly influ­enced their recep­tion and how their cov­er art was made. In oth­er cas­es, the changes in book-cov­er design can be hard­er to explain because the rea­sons are more arbi­trary. Col­in Smythe, Pratchett’s first pub­lish­er, lat­er his lit­er­ary agent and friend, told me that they only start­ed to pay thor­ough atten­tion to the front cov­ers after the “Heyne Hor­rors” when the Ger­man pub­lish­er repeat­ed­ly issued Pratchett’s nov­els with the front cov­ers of oth­er books (Smythe; see also “Heyne Hor­rors”). As I will dis­cuss lat­er, some­thing sim­i­lar hap­pened with the first Hebrew and Hun­gar­i­an editions.

In what fol­lows I will use Michael O’Toole’s tri­par­tite mod­el to exam­ine the rep­re­sen­ta­tion­al, modal, and com­po­si­tion­al func­tions of a pic­ture. As O’Toole observes, an artist has at his or her dis­pos­al var­i­ous devices for engag­ing our atten­tion, draw­ing us into the world of the paint­ing, and colour­ing our view of that world. And he or she does it for all view­ers. In the gram­mar of painting—that is, all those aspects of struc­ture that we all share—these devices ful­fil a modal function—and how­ev­er much our ulti­mate inter­pre­ta­tions may dif­fer, I want to claim that the respons­es evoked in us by the sys­tems of this func­tion are vir­tu­al­ly uni­ver­sal (O’Toole 5-7). The rep­re­sen­ta­tion­al func­tion, for O’Toole, “con­veys to the view­er basic infor­ma­tion about the char­ac­ter, social sta­tus, actions and posi­tion of each indi­vid­ual. It would also include details of species, size, and mate­r­i­al qual­i­ties of inan­i­mate objects” (15). In con­trast, the com­po­si­tion­al func­tion per­tains to “cer­tain deci­sions about the arrange­ment of forms with­in the pic­to­r­i­al space, about line and rhythm and colour rela­tion­ships, have been made by the artist to con­vey more effec­tive­ly and more mem­o­rable the rep­re­sent­ed sub­ject and to make for a more dynam­ic modal rela­tion with the view­er.” (22). In addi­tion to these func­tions, I shall also be look­ing at three fac­tors: accu­ra­cy, sig­nif­i­cance, and con­tex­tu­al­i­sa­tion, that is, I shall try to estab­lish: (1) whether what­ev­er the book cov­er dis­plays coin­cides with the con­tent, trans­fer­ring (some of) the mean­ing; (2) whether it rep­re­sents an impor­tant, or emblem­at­ic ele­ment in the sto­ry­line, and (3) whether it makes sense before—and after—reading the nov­el, i.e., how much pri­or knowl­edge is required to ful­ly appre­ci­ate it. Any ref­er­ence to fan­ta­sy or Pratchett’s char­ac­ter­is­tic humour will be duly not­ed. Aes­thet­ic or mar­ket­ing aspects may be referred to in passing.

The Colour of Magic (COM): The First Discworld Novel

On a world sup­port­ed on the back of a giant tur­tle (sex unknown), a glee­ful, explo­sive, wicked­ly eccen­tric expe­di­tion sets out. There’s an avari­cious but inept wiz­ard, a naive tourist whose lug­gage moves on hun­dreds of dear lit­tle legs, drag­ons who only exist if you believe in them, and of course The Edge of the planet…

(Pro­mo­tion­al piece on the back cov­er of the Cor­gi paperback)

This sum­ma­ry rather sim­pli­fies things, and serves like a teas­er: the prospec­tive reader—and the artists whose job will be to com­mu­ni­cate their interpretation—does not learn that the first “nov­el” actu­al­ly con­sists of four loose­ly con­nect­ed short sto­ries, or that the Agatean Empire lat­er turns out to be a mix­ture of sev­er­al Asian cul­tures, most­ly Chi­nese and Japan­ese. The catch­words are all there—Dis­c­world, tur­tle, tourist, wiz­ard, lug­gage, and drag­ons—and not sur­pris­ing­ly, these ele­ments, and hard­ly any­thing else, will turn up on the book covers.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

The first cov­er was paint­ed by Alan Smith (1983), and depict­ed the Dis­c­world trav­el­ling in space on the backs of four ele­phants who stand on the shell of the world tur­tle. Both the British and the Amer­i­can edi­tions used the same colour­ful image. Ten years lat­er, Stephen Play­er re-imag­ined the world tur­tle from above, while the ele­phants are drawn in pro­file, and bear­ing a plat­form on their backs to sup­port the weight of the Dis­c­world, in a style rem­i­nis­cent of Leonar­do da Vin­ci. There is more ver­bal infor­ma­tion on the lat­er cov­er: by this time, the poten­tial read­er had to be remind­ed that COM was the first Dis­c­world nov­el, so the author’s name became more impor­tant as shown by the big­ger font and its place­ment, although the dif­fer­ent colour still empha­sis­es the title. Player’s image has a cen­tral axis and seems sta­ble, although the fish on the left is imper­fect­ly equalised by the very faint text on the right, while Smith’s is more dynam­ic and more unbal­anced due to the green spots and the foot thrust out­ward. The sec­ond front cov­er does not allude marked­ly to the genre, and Pratchett’s humour is only gleaned from the adver­tis­ing blurb (not the image itself). How­ev­er, both depict an essen­tial ele­ment accurately.

Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5

The Cor­gi paper­back edi­tion of COM (1985) with Kirby’s water­colour, its revised ver­sion (2012), and Marc Simonetti’s front cov­er (2011).

Kir­by was the Dis­c­world illus­tra­tor for a long time although his oil paint­ings caused dis­sent, and many poten­tial read­ers turned away from his hec­tic and flam­boy­ant front cov­ers (Alton 31). Pratch­ett him­self liked Kirby’s art even when he got some­thing wrong; for instance, the scant­i­ly clad female on this cov­er (Alton 36) or Rincewind’s age on the one below (the first edi­tion of The Light Fan­tas­tic). As Alton has already writ­ten about Kirby’s Dis­c­world paint­ings at length, I only want to point out how the inser­tion of ver­bal infor­ma­tion and the crop­ping change the viewer’s impres­sion of the whole tumul­tuous scene. It mat­ters if essen­tial com­po­nents are set in the back­ground or fore­ground, and here the vis­i­ble seg­ment is poor­ly cropped out of the whole pic­ture (on the right side, the Lug­gage is no longer in the focus and, as a result, has lost quite a few of its legs; mean­while, the trolls have moved clos­er to the mid­dle). The scene is a lit­tle exag­ger­at­ed and indi­cates a fast-paced, daz­zling nar­ra­tive, invit­ing spec­u­la­tion and involve­ment. The paint­ing employs a pref­er­ence for the bot­tom left cor­ner, which cre­ates a sense of unbal­ance. Marc Simonetti’s pic­ture, on the oth­er hand, is more direct, announc­ing the genre with the drag­on at the cen­tre of the illus­tra­tion. Simon­et­ti also con­veys some of Pratchett’s char­ac­ter­is­tic humour through his char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of the fig­ures. Of the con­tem­po­rary artists, his atti­tude seems clos­est to Kirby’s in catch­ing atten­tion and piquing curiosity.

Fig. 6
Fig. 7

The first (1992) and sec­ond (2001) Hun­gar­i­an edi­tions of COM got the front cov­er of The Light Fan­tas­tic by Kir­by, so, of course, the sec­ond vol­ume had to fall back upon employ­ing the front cov­er of the first book, and to make mat­ters even more con­fus­ing, the two titles are very sim­i­lar in Hun­gar­i­an: The Colour of Mag­ic and The Light of Mag­ic, as the pub­lish­er did not deem the offi­cial Hun­gar­i­an trans­la­tion of “light fan­tas­tic” in John Milton’s L’Allegro—trans­lat­ed by Árpád Tóth (1886-1928), a great poet and lit­er­ary translator—sufficiently appeal­ing, and thought that the six-year-long hia­tus in the pub­li­ca­tion of Dis­c­world books also jus­ti­fied such a change.7 Instead of men­tion­ing that this vol­ume is a sequel to COM, the Hun­gar­i­an ver­sion says: “Dis­c­world in dis­tress.” Apart from this case, the Hun­gar­i­an edi­tions always used the offi­cial Kir­by, and lat­er, Kid­by front cov­ers, although their colours seem a lit­tle washed-out com­pared to the British originals.

Fig. 8

Fig. 9

Fig. 10

Here are two Ital­ian edi­tions (1989 and 1998), note­wor­thy for the change in colours, from red­dish to blue, for the move from the real­is­tic towards the more sym­bol­ic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Dis­c­world, and for giv­ing a more promi­nent place to the author’s name. The 1989 Ital­ian front cov­er is rather hack­neyed, of the type Pratch­ett car­i­ca­tured in The Light Fan­tas­tic, when it depicts the arson in Ankh-Mor­pork caused by the intro­duc­tion of fire insur­ance, and unmis­tak­ably affirms the genre, which seems to be the most sig­nif­i­cant infor­ma­tion to impart.8 It is there­fore nei­ther accu­rate, nor sig­nif­i­cant, but excels at con­tex­tu­al­i­sa­tion. The 1998 one, return­ing to the image of a world tur­tle, which by that time was enough to put it into con­text, looks more abstract, and puts the stress on the writer’s name.

The Japan­ese trans­la­tion of 1991 also dis­plays the two pro­tag­o­nists, the first tourist, Twoflower, and the inept “wiz­zard,” Rincewind, who here looks like an orang­utan, along with the world tur­tle as a mag­ic mir­ror, the icono­graph with the imp, two ele­phants, an octo­pus, the Cori Celesti, pos­si­bly Krull, and a female (who could be any of the sup­port­ing char­ac­ters except a naked dryad). It is remark­able that all the ver­bal infor­ma­tion (apart from the pub­lish­er) is set askew from the head of the girl towards the upper right cor­ner. It is the only front cov­er besides the Kir­by paint­ings which appears to have many colours, most of them tend­ing toward the warm shades, and to be a lit­tle over­done, par­tic­u­lar­ly if its small­er size (15 x 10.6 x 1.6 cm) is also tak­en into con­sid­er­a­tion. It gives the impres­sion that the artist tried to squeeze all the bits he found impor­tant in one picture.

Note the looks and hair colour of the human fig­ures, espe­cial­ly that of Twoflower, and remem­ber that his coun­try par­o­dies the Far East (and Euro­pean stereo­types about it). Appar­ent­ly, the artist or, more prob­a­bly, the pub­lish­er con­sid­ered the white tourist stereo­type more appeal­ing to the audi­ence. Whether it ought to be regard­ed as an inter­semi­otic mis­trans­la­tion or a delib­er­ate cul­tur­al adap­ta­tion needs fur­ther investigation.

The Luggage Covers

Fig. 11

Fig. 12

The most pop­u­lar image for the first two books in the series is that of the Lug­gage, Twoflower’s blood­thirsty chest made of sapi­ent pear­wood which fol­lows its own­er every­where, even beyond the veil. Nev­er­the­less, peo­ple of today do not asso­ciate large wood­en trunks with trav­el, so in order to evoke the idea of tourism, the artists had to decide whether to paint what is writ­ten or avail them­selves of poet­ic licence and go for a valise or suitcase.

The 2005 Pol­ish edi­tion of COM uses a pic­ture by Kid­by which retrieves three sig­nif­i­cant ele­ments of the sto­ry: the Dis­c­world, octarine (the colour of mag­ic said to be green­ish pur­ple), and the Lug­gage, all rep­re­sent­ed very sim­ply, like a child’s draw­ing, and with only the most essen­tial ver­bal infor­ma­tion includ­ed: author, title, pub­lish­er. But all lat­er Pol­ish edi­tions dis­play the tra­di­tion­al Kir­by pic­ture. It is said that the Dis­c­world nov­els attract peo­ple of all ages; how­ev­er, if the front cov­er of a book clear­ly tar­gets chil­dren, adults will not buy and read it them­selves as the Har­ry Pot­ter series proved not so long ago (Gup­ta 9: Nørgaard).

The oth­er is the 2005 Amer­i­can edi­tion with the inscrip­tion, “Dis­cov­er where all the fun begins,” which will soon be trans­formed into, “Dis­cov­er where all the mad­ness begins,” while the blurb from the Wash­ing­ton Post will be sub­sti­tut­ed by a British writer’s plau­dit. But the sneak peek at the then-new­ly-released Thud! is the same, only placed on the left and with its back­ground colour different.

Fig. 13

Fig. 14

Fig. 15

The trans­for­ma­tion of the Lug­gage on the front cov­er of the Amer­i­can 25th-anniver­sary edi­tion pub­lished by Harper­torch is of par­tic­u­lar inter­est. It is still a portable rec­tan­gu­lar con­tain­er for car­ry­ing one’s stuff, but it appears to be an old-fash­ioned suit­case instead of a trunk or strong­box. Hav­ing so many stick­ers on it implies many jour­neys or a long one with many stops, but either way the visu­al focus is on tourism, not mag­ic. Note the Amer­i­can spelling and the added texts with catch­words: one of them empha­sis­es the “extra­or­di­nary” longevi­ty of the series, the oth­er calls atten­tion to the fact that many peo­ple already bought it, imply­ing we should also, while the third only address­es the adven­ture­some who do not mind explor­ing a “wild,” “won­der­ful,” and “mad” uni­verse. “Mad­ness” prob­a­bly means excite­ment and enthu­si­asm, not men­tal derange­ment. The com­po­si­tion, with its diag­o­nal label slant­i­ng upwards to the left or down­wards to right, draws the eye to the author’s name and then back to the title, a clever visu­al con­trivance to accen­tu­ate the most impor­tant ver­bal infor­ma­tion on the cov­er. Com­pare it with the image on the right side, anoth­er 25th-anniver­sary edi­tion, a British one, based on John­ny Ring’s pho­to, and designed by Nik Keevil. Obvi­ous­ly, the colour schemes as well as the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the Lug­gage con­trast strong­ly, both the font and the colour puts the empha­sis on the author’s name, but the glit­ter­ing gold coins can­not coun­ter­bal­ance those visu­al ele­ments, the details of the chest which direct the viewer’s gaze out of the pic­ture, instead of focus­ing it on the impor­tant ver­bal signs. Both cov­er designs were used for all adult Dis­c­world books: the Amer­i­can employed a range of colours, while the British applied black, white, and met­al colours through­out the series.

Fig. 16

Fig. 17

The first three vol­umes of the Dis­c­world were issued by a Chi­nese pub­lish­er of children’s lit­er­a­ture in 2007, but the series was dis­con­tin­ued. The front cov­er of COM dis­plays a vague­ly Asian-look­ing Twoflower and a ridicu­lous­ly long-nosed Rincewind, the dropout of Unseen University—the pic­ture reminds me of mas­ter-and-ser­vant rep­re­sen­ta­tions (for exam­ple, of Don Quixote and San­cho Pan­za, or Robin­son Cru­soe and Fri­day), though noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth. The Chi­nese cov­er of TLF shows the world tur­tle. The cov­er design is the same; the colours are com­ple­men­tary, clear­ly indi­cat­ing a series, and the ver­bal infor­ma­tion appears to be sec­ondary, com­pared to lat­er Pratch­ett edi­tions in Chi­nese (see Sun).

Fig. 18

Fig. 19

The 2008 Russ­ian edi­tion by Eksmo and the 2012 edi­tion with revised Kir­by front cov­ers fea­ture the Lug­gage as an ancient chest, but the empha­sis sig­nif­i­cant­ly dif­fers. The Russ­ian ver­sion has a very eye-catch­ing pro­trud­ing red tongue, abstract enough to avoid being too fright­en­ing, but still omi­nous, espe­cial­ly with the eyes, while Kirby’s pic­ture shows plen­ty of feet and the fig­ures’ reac­tion to the unusu­al trunk. Both front cov­ers are divid­ed. The Russ­ian front cov­er clear­ly sep­a­rates the ver­bal and the visu­al, giv­ing them more or less the same amount of space. Although the font of the title is rel­a­tive­ly small (but big­ger than that of the Eng­lish title), its place­ment indi­cates its impor­tance. Kirby’s pic­ture, on the oth­er hand, is tri­par­tite and gives pic­ture pride of place. Pratchett’s name also seems to be hon­oured, the title and the series being much smaller.

Fig. 20

Fig. 21

Fig. 22

  1. Omnibus with the TV front cov­er, a ‘syn­er­gy,’
  2. the Unseen Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lec­tion, Dis­c­world Hard­back Library. Gol­lancz 2014,
  3. the new Russ­ian edi­tion of 2017.

From the moment the Dis­c­world became a great suc­cess, it was pre­dictable that it would be adapt­ed for stage, radio, tele­vi­sion, and film. Luck­i­ly, the two-part tele­vi­sion adap­tion based on the first two nov­els did not intend to be a mere illus­tra­tion, slav­ish­ly fol­low­ing the plot of the books as so often hap­pens. Vadim Jean’s adap­ta­tion is imag­i­na­tive, and, as the sec­ond pic­ture shows, it has influ­enced how these pro­tag­o­nists and the Lug­gage are visu­alised. The colour scale of this decade tends towards blue and vio­let (as opposed to the yel­lows and reds in the 1980s), and the images become min­i­mal­is­tic. Kidby’s famous draw­ing of Rincewind is just out­lined in white on the newest Russ­ian book cov­er. Also—possibly in con­nec­tion with the increas­ing role of visu­al signs—the ver­bal infor­ma­tion has been downsized.

The Light Fantastic (TLF): A Sequel to The Colour of Magic

As it moves towards a seem­ing­ly inevitable col­li­sion with a malev­o­lent red star, the Dis­c­world has only one pos­si­ble sav­iour. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, this hap­pens to be the sin­gu­lar­ly inept and cow­ard­ly wiz­ard called Rincewind, who was last seen falling off the edge of the world…
The fun­ni­est and most unortho­dox fan­ta­sy in this or any oth­er galaxy.

(Pro­mo­tion­al piece on the back cov­er of the Cor­gi paperback)

This time the blurb has few­er catch­words and leaves out essen­tial infor­ma­tion, some of which will lat­er be expressed on the book cov­ers: the dead­ly rival­ry among the wiz­ards, the librar­i­an turned orang­utan, the druids, Cohen the Bar­bar­ian, a brief vis­it to Death’s home, the mag­ic shop, and the Octavo.

If you want a cou­ple of hours of unadul­ter­at­ed fun, this is the book for you…. The plot, how­ev­er, is imma­te­r­i­al to this wit­ty, fre­quent­ly hilar­i­ous romp that makes fun of every­thing in sight, includ­ing the genre of which it is part. The hard­cov­er edi­tion has a superb Josh Kir­by cov­er. Watch for this one and don’t wait for the paper­back. (Sci­ence Fic­tion Chron­i­cle quot­ed on Col­in Smythe’s home­page, my emphasis)

Since cov­er art and its cre­ator usu­al­ly have a sort of sec­ond-rate sta­tus (Alton 2014: 70), not unlike lit­er­ary trans­la­tors, it is indeed remark­able that such a brief blurb men­tions Kir­by and prais­es his work.

Fig. 23

Fig. 24

Fig. 25

Fig. 26

Fig. 27

The front cov­er for The Light Fan­tas­tic (1986) by Kir­by depicts a scene which does not take place (only Cohen and Lack­jaw trav­el on the Lug­gage) with an old Rincewind, mis­lead­ing the prospec­tive read­er since he could be tak­en for a mere appren­tice (Pratch­ett, The Colour of Mag­ic 22), Twoflower with four eyes, a rel­a­tive­ly young Cohen the Bar­bar­ian with­out beard and hang­ing from the Lug­gage, and the res­cued sac­ri­fi­cial vir­gin, Bethan, scant­i­ly clad in the man­ner so con­demned and par­o­died by Pratch­ett above, whose garter holds a dag­ger. This image has been used wide­ly in var­i­ous forms. Thus, Alton right­ly observes about Kirby’s approach that, “His cov­ers always show plen­ty of action and colour, and embody a kind of exu­ber­ant style which takes a cen­tral image and then sur­rounds it with any­thing (and every­thing) else from the sto­ry that takes his fan­cy” (32).

Note the teas­er on the Amer­i­can edi­tion: “‘Pratch­ett is the Dou­glas Adams of fan­ta­sy.’ – Knave.” Knave was a British porno­graph­ic mag­a­zine, which also pub­lished pop­u­lar lit­er­a­ture, includ­ing sci­ence fic­tion and fan­ta­sy, in the 1980s, but such a magazine’s rec­om­men­da­tion on Amer­i­can book cov­ers (the Roc pub­li­ca­tion also used it) seems a lit­tle bizarre. In all prob­a­bil­i­ty, most of the read­ers would not know what Knave was, but the tar­get audi­ence like­ly recog­nised Dou­glas Adams’s name and, as a result, the genre and the mode.

The Octavo Covers

There are of course many famous books of mag­ic. Some may talk of the Necrotelicom­ni­con, with its pages made of ancient lizard skin; some may point to the Book of Going Forth Around Elevenish, writ­ten by a mys­te­ri­ous and rather lazy Lla­ma­ic sect; some may recall that the Bumper Fun Gri­moire reput­ed­ly con­tains the one orig­i­nal joke left in the uni­verse. But they are all mere pam­phlets when com­pared with the Octa­vo, which the Cre­ator of the Uni­verse reput­ed­ly left behind – with char­ac­ter­is­tic absent-mind­ed­ness – short­ly after com­plet­ing his major work. (Pratch­ett, The Light Fan­tas­tic 9)

Fig. 28

Fig. 29

Fig. 30

These Amer­i­can edi­tions (left and mid­dle, by Harper­Collins Pub­lish­ers, trade paper­back 2005 and mass mar­ket paper­back 2013) focus on the above-men­tioned Octa­vo; how­ev­er, the visu­al rep­re­sen­ta­tions dif­fer sig­nif­i­cant­ly: hor­i­zon­tal ver­sus ver­ti­cal; a pho­to of a plain, mod­ern-look­ing (faux) leather-bound diary sug­gest­ing well-kept secrets ver­sus the paint­ing of an ancient tome dec­o­rat­ed with a shin­ing sun, cres­cent moon, and star, two clasps, and a torn jew­el-like chain, which may imply that the book is in the process of break­ing from its bonds; the same num­ber of colours, but two unlike (pink and turquoise ver­sus yel­low and black); the place­ment of the book part­ly out­side the front cov­er and in the mid­dle con­nect­ing the author’s name and the title; and one source of light ver­sus three. The ear­li­er edi­tion has more texts, includ­ing A.S. Byatt’s rather undiplo­mat­ic praise, a sneak peek at the then new­ly released Thud!, and a pecu­liar rec­om­men­da­tion, “From the Apoc­a­lypse to Conan the Barbarian—another uproar­i­ous adven­ture,” mis­spelling Cohen the Barbarian’s name (prob­a­bly due to con­fu­sion with the sim­i­lar­ly-named hero cre­at­ed by Robert E. Howard) and false­ly adver­tis­ing the end of the world, which does not take place. The mass mar­ket paper­back refers to Snuff (which was pub­lished on 11 Octo­ber 2011), the Dis­c­world series, and its best-sell­ing sta­tus. Like the ver­bal label, “A nov­el of Dis­c­world,” its black­ish stripe on the left with the stylised Dis­c­world stick­ers ensures visu­al­ly that the poten­tial buy­er will con­nect it with the pre­vi­ous vol­ume. The third pic­ture of the Octa­vo is Keevil’s asym­met­ric design, which uses even few­er colours and adds a blurb from The Times, clear­ly indi­cat­ing that by this decade Pratch­ett and the Dis­c­world have—divested of the con­spic­u­ous attrib­ut­es of the genre—become recog­nised, even by the pil­lars of soci­ety, the conservatives.

Cohen the Barbarian Covers

Fig. 31

Fig. 32

Fig. 33

Fig. 34

The already men­tioned hero, Cohen the Bar­bar­ian appears on the cov­er of more than one edi­tion: the Dutch (2002, by Kid­by), the British (2014, by Joe McLaren), Ger­man (2009, by Play­er), and French (2010, by Simon­et­ti). Only the British one depicts him as sta­tion­ary, in a hero­ic pose with the world tur­tle in the back­ground. The oth­er three show him in action, lift­ing his sword to strike (and pos­si­bly break­ing out of a mag­ic mir­ror, an event which did not take place in the nar­ra­tive), attack­ing the Lug­gage with his bare hands, and attack­ing the Lug­gage again with his sword. The length of his beard and hair seems also note­wor­thy since Cohen is described as a “very old man, the skin­ny vari­ety that gen­er­al­ly gets called ‘spry,’ with a total­ly bald head, a beard almost down to his knees, and a pair of match­stick legs on which vari­cose veins had traced the street map of quite a large city” (The Light Fan­tas­tic, 75). The mode of por­tray­al, styl­ized ver­sus real­is­tic, also con­trasts the British ver­sion with the oth­er three. Inter­est­ing­ly, the first three designs draw atten­tion to their mid­dle, though the oval forms are inte­gral parts of the image while the dou­ble rec­tan­gu­lar frame cuts out a still pic­ture, and ren­ders the names, the series, and pos­si­bly even the title less sig­nif­i­cant despite a part­ly vis­i­ble third frame, while the French version’s focus is on the fore­ground. The colours are remark­able, as well as Cohen’s eye-patch. His left eye is cov­ered on the Ger­man and the French, while his right on the Dutch and the British pic­tures. Appar­ent­ly, the 21st-cen­tu­ry cov­er artists tend to select just one cen­tral image and a few colours, and then aim at a dra­mat­ic visu­al effect and leave any rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Pratchett’s humour to the ver­bal code.

Raising Steam

Rais­ing Steam rep­re­sents anoth­er step in the indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tion on the Dis­c­world. It her­alds the arrival of the steam loco­mo­tive, which caus­es all sorts of trou­bles, espe­cial­ly for the pro­tag­o­nist Moist von Lip­wig, once a con man, and now the Patrician’s trou­ble-shoot­er. How­ev­er, the nar­ra­tive does not offer many sym­bol­ic images, so all front cov­ers I have found dis­play a steam engine or a car­riage. This nov­el, pub­lished in 2013, has only nine trans­la­tions, although in the Unit­ed King­dom five dif­fer­ent hard­cov­er and two paper­back edi­tions have been issued so far.

Fig. 35

Fig. 35

Fig. 35

Fig. 35

Here are four ver­sions of the same front cov­er with Kidby’s “Rais­ing Steam” paint­ing for the British paper­back edi­tion. The French cov­er fol­lows the stan­dard 20th-cen­tu­ry for­mat with the focus on the pic­ture. The Finnish one clev­er­ly moves the whole cen­tral image a lit­tle clos­er to the view­er and thus inserts the shov­el into the let­ter C (while the British and the Span­ish seem to thrust it between the let­ters C and H). On the Finnish cov­er, the shov­el now points to the pub­lish­er and red font empha­sis­es the author’s name. But both the French and Finnish cov­ers lose the “rocks” part of the paint­ing, which the Span­ish retains. The lat­ter, how­ev­er, los­es the dynamism of the orig­i­nal British cov­er with its small­er, less bold print­ing of Pratchett’s name. All these dif­fer­ences are aes­thet­ic and cul­tur­al­ly spe­cif­ic. The less empha­sised form of the author’s name on the French cov­er, for exam­ple, may sig­ni­fy a sort of acknowl­edge­ment of the author’s already estab­lished posi­tion with­in the lit­er­ary polysystem.

Fig. 39

Fig. 40

Fig. 41

Fig. 42

Justin Ger­ard (2014), Sebas­t­ian Wun­nicke (2014), Paul Kid­by (2013, 1st edi­tion), Russ­ian trans­la­tion, Ana­toli Dubovik (2017)

The above four front cov­ers depict a steam loco­mo­tive from the right, not frontal­ly; all empha­size the smoke, and yet they could not be more dif­fer­ent. The lack of back­ground is most strik­ing on the Russ­ian ver­sion, where the engine moves for­ward in a sort of smoke bub­ble, and the author’s name and both titles—in dimin­ish­ing sizes—almost jump out of the black back­ground. Kid­by express­es speed and urgency with a train tilt­ing sharply to the right. The front cov­ers of this book use few­er colours, and seem more restrict­ed, less hec­tic, com­pared to the book cov­ers in the 1980s, espe­cial­ly Kirby’s exu­ber­ant paintings.

Fig. 43

Final­ly, here is a very dif­fer­ent book cov­er for the Eston­ian trans­la­tion of 2014: the engine, with the oblig­a­tory smoke, is seen from the left in the back­ground, togeth­er with a city, pos­si­bly in Über­wald because of the steep roofs; the fore­ground is occu­pied by wheels (of progress?) and two men, pos­si­bly the polit­i­cal and the finan­cial pow­ers behind the ven­ture, while the engine dri­ver is like­ly the inven­tor. The whole image resem­bles illus­tra­tions for children’s lit­er­a­ture, or per­haps a car­i­ca­ture. Even with­out know­ing the gen­er­al trends in Eston­ian sci­ence fic­tion and fan­ta­sy book cov­ers, it can be con­clud­ed that this pub­lish­er (Rah­va Ramaat) wants to dis­tin­guish the Dis­c­world nov­els both from oth­er Pratch­ett books and oth­er authors.

Are These Book Covers Intersemiotic Translations Then?

I think that from the very begin­ning, the British front cov­ers deter­mined how the Dis­c­world would be visu­alised. Kir­by made fun of tra­di­tion­al fan­ta­sy book cov­ers; his paint­ings are as much par­o­dies of that “fan­ta­sy con­ven­tion hal­lowed by time” (qtd. in Alton 36), which depict­ed scant­i­ly clad heroes and hero­ines, as Pratchett’s first books were par­o­dies of fan­ta­sy clichés. This helps explain the flashy and over­whelm­ing­ly hec­tic scenes he paint­ed. Kidby’s cov­ers are far less fren­zied than Kirby’s, although he still packs in plen­ty of infor­ma­tion and detail. He tends to work “in a mut­ed earth colour palette and tr[ies] to cap­ture a his­tor­i­cal feel whilst Josh used a bright palette and filled his page with a myr­i­ad of fan­tas­ti­cal fig­ures in his own unique and dis­tinc­tive fan­ta­sy genre” (Lee qtd. in Alton 38). These days Simonetti’s designs most resem­ble Kirby’s hilar­i­ous and flam­boy­ant ones. How­ev­er, most of the visu­al rep­re­sen­ta­tions exam­ined here remain con­ven­tion­al, fit­ting the decades in which they were cre­at­ed, not real­ly nov­el or exper­i­men­tal, which is of par­tic­u­lar inter­est as the genre fan­ta­sy should spring from flights of imag­i­na­tion. This fact in itself proves that the com­mer­cial con­sid­er­a­tions out­weigh the artis­tic and poten­tial inter­semi­otic concerns.

Many front cov­ers of for­eign trans­la­tions (Finnish, Hun­gar­i­an, Pol­ish, and Span­ish) use the orig­i­nal British cov­ers with or with­out slight mod­i­fi­ca­tions; oth­er coun­tries have a mixed prac­tice (e.g., Rus­sia), and it seems that the 21st cen­tu­ry brought along a new wave of local­ly designed front cov­ers, for exam­ple in France, Ger­many, and Italy. At first sight, this appears to be depen­dent on the posi­tion of the local lit­er­a­ture in the lit­er­ary poly­sys­tem: the stronger and more cen­tral its posi­tion in the poly­sys­tem, the more like­ly that local front cov­ers will be pro­duced for translations.

Hav­ing looked at a few hun­dred pic­tures of Dis­c­world cov­ers, I con­clude that the themes dis­played on the front cov­ers seem rather lim­it­ed. In the case of the first two vol­umes these include the world tur­tle, the two pro­tag­o­nists, and the Lug­gage accom­pa­nied or solo, while the edi­tions of Rais­ing Steam usu­al­ly pic­ture a steam engine with or with­out a few char­ac­ters; that is, they use most­ly icon­ic, deno­ta­tive images which gain sym­bol­ic, sec­ondary mean­ing only after read­ing the text (Mori­ar­ty). It seems that the artists—or the publishers—usually attempt to con­dense the per­ceived gist of the con­tent in one emphat­ic and, at the same time, sim­ple like­ness, eas­i­ly com­pre­hen­si­ble and usu­al­ly evoca­tive; there­fore the front cov­ers are rather the inter­semi­otic trans­la­tion of the pub­lic­i­ty mate­r­i­al than of the whole text.

Works Cited

Alder­son, Rob. “Do You Have To Read a Book in Order To Design Its Cov­er?” It’s Nice That, 18 Feb­ru­ary 2015, https://​www​.itsnicethat​.com/​a​r​t​i​c​l​e​s​/​o​p​i​n​i​o​n​-​b​o​o​k​-​c​o​v​e​r​-​d​e​s​ign.

Alton, Anne Hiebert. “Col­or­ing in Octarine: Visu­al Semi­otics and Dis­c­world.” Dis­c­world and the Dis­ci­plines, edit­ed by Anne Hiebert Alton and William C. Spruiell. McFar­land and Com­pa­ny, 2014, pp. 26-80.

Bak­er, Mona, and Gabriela Sal­dan­ha, edi­tors. Rout­ledge Ency­clo­pe­dia of Trans­la­tion Stud­ies, Rout­ledge, 1998.

Beck­ett, San­dra L. Crossover Fic­tion: Glob­al and His­tor­i­cal Per­spec­tives. Rout­ledge, 2009.

Books by J.R.R. Tolkien – The Hob­bit – Edi­tions.” Tolkien Library, http://​www​.tolkien​li​brary​.com/​b​o​o​k​s​b​y​t​o​l​k​i​e​n​/​h​o​b​b​i​t​/​e​d​i​t​i​o​n​s​.​htm.

Bould­ing, Lucas. “‘I can’t be hav­ing with that’: The Eth­i­cal Impli­ca­tions of Pro­fes­sion­al Witch­craft in Pratchett’s Fic­tion.” Gen­der Forum, no. 52, 2015, http://​gen​der​fo​rum​.org/​w​p​-​c​o​n​t​e​n​t​/​u​p​l​o​a​d​s​/​2​0​1​7​/​0​1​/​T​e​r​r​y​-​P​r​a​t​c​h​e​t​t​-​S​p​e​c​i​a​l​-​I​s​s​u​e​.​pdf.

Cabell, Craig. Ter­ry Pratch­ett: The Spir­it of Fan­ta­sy. John Blake Pub­lish­ing, 2012.

Dis­c­world Empo­ri­um, https://​www​.dis​c​worldem​po​ri​um​.com.

Eco, Umber­to. Expe­ri­ences in Trans­la­tion. U of Toron­to P, 2001.

Even-Zohar, Ita­mar. “Trans­la­tion and Trans­fer.” Poet­ics Today, vol. 11, no. 1, 1990, pp. 73-78.

Gup­ta, Suman. Re-Read­ing Har­ry Pot­ter. Pal­grave Macmil­lan, 2003.

Halver­son, San­dra. “Trans­la­tion.” Hand­book of Trans­la­tion Stud­ies, edit­ed by Yves Gam­bier and Luc van Doorslaer, John Ben­jamins, 2010, https://​ben​jamins​.com/​o​n​l​i​n​e​/​h​t​s​/​a​r​t​i​c​l​e​s​/​t​ra2.

Held, Jacob M., and James B. South, edi­tors. Phi­los­o­phy and Ter­ry Pratch­ett. Pal­grave Macmil­lan, 2014.

Her­mans, Theo. “What Is (Not) Trans­la­tion?,” The Rout­ledge Hand­book of Trans­la­tion Stud­ies, edit­ed by Car­men Mil­lán and Francesca Bar­t­ri­na, Rout­ledge, 2013.

Heyne Hor­rors.” Col­in Smythe, https://​col​ins​mythe​.co​.uk/​t​e​r​r​y​-​p​r​a​t​c​h​e​t​t​/​d​i​s​c​w​o​r​l​d​/​h​e​y​n​e​-​h​o​r​r​o​rs/.

Jakob­son, Roman. “On Lin­guis­tic Aspects of Trans­la­tion.” On Trans­la­tion, edit­ed by Reuben Arthur Brow­er. Har­vard U, 1959, 232-39. Karlsen, Faltin. “Quests in Con­text: A Com­par­a­tive Analy­sis of Dis­c­world and World of War­craft.” Game Stud­ies, vol. 8, no. 1, 2008, http://​games​tud​ies​.org/​0​8​0​1​/​a​r​t​i​c​l​e​s​/​k​a​r​l​sen.

The L Space Web, https://​www​.lspace​.org.

Nico­las Michaud, edi­tor. Dis­c­world and Phi­los­o­phy. Open Court, 2016.

Mitchell, W.J.T. Pic­ture The­o­ry: Essays on Ver­bal and Visu­al Rep­re­sen­ta­tion. U of Chica­go P, 1994.

Mori­ar­ty, San­dra. “Visu­al Semi­otics The­o­ry.” Hand­book of Visu­al Com­mu­ni­ca­tion: The­o­ry, Meth­ods and Media, edit­ed by Ken­neth Smith et al., Lawrence Erl­baum Asso­ciates, 2005, pp. 227-42.

Mossop, Bri­an. “Judg­ing a Trans­la­tion By Its Cov­er.” The Trans­la­tor, vol. 24, no. 1, 2018, pp. 1-16. doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​8​0​/​1​3​5​5​6​5​0​9​.​2​0​1​7​.​1​2​8​7​545.

Nør­gaard, Nina. Mul­ti­modal Styl­is­tics of the Nov­el: More Than Words. Rout­ledge, 2018.

O’Toole, Michael. The Lan­guage of Dis­played Art. Far­leigh Dick­in­son UP, 1994.

Oziewicz, Marek. “‘We Coop­er­ate, or We Die’”: Sus­tain­able Coex­is­tence in Ter­ry Pratchett’s The Amaz­ing Mau­rice and His Edu­cat­ed Rodents.” Children’s Lit­er­a­ture in Edu­ca­tion, vol. 40, no. 2, 2009, pp. 85-94. DOI 10.1007/s10583-008-9079-3

Pereira, Nilce. “Book Illus­tra­tion as (Inter­semi­otic) Trans­la­tion: Pic­tures Trans­lat­ing Words.” Meta, vol. 53, no. 1, 2008, pp. 104-19. DOI doi​.org/​1​0​.​7​2​0​2​/​0​1​7​9​7​7ar.

Pratch­ett, Ter­ry. The Colour of Mag­ic. Col­in Smythe Ltd, 1983.

—. The Light Fan­tas­tic. Col­in Smythe Ltd, 1986.

—. Rais­ing Steam. Dou­ble­day, 2013.

—. A Slip of the Key­board. Col­lect­ed Non­fic­tion. Dou­ble­day, 2014.

Rear­don, Patrick T. “Dis­c­world Enchants the Globe, But Not the US.” Chica­go Tri­bune, 5 April 2000, https://​www​.chicagotri​bune​.com/​n​e​w​s​/​c​t​-​x​p​m​-​2​0​0​0​-​0​4​-​0​5​-​0​0​0​4​0​5​0​2​6​3​-​s​t​o​r​y​.​h​tml.

Schäler, Rein­hard. “Local­iza­tion.” Hand­book of Trans­la­tion Stud­ies, edit­ed by Yves Gam­bier and Luc van Doorslaer, John Ben­jamins, 2010, https://​ben​jamins​.com/​o​n​l​i​n​e​/​h​t​s​/​a​r​t​i​c​l​e​s​/​l​oc1.

Smyth, Col­in. Tele­phone con­ver­sa­tion with Anikó Sohár, 19 Novem­ber 2017.

Sohár, Anikó. “Twofold Dis­crim­i­na­tion: Trans­lat­ing Gen­res on the Periph­ery of the Lit­er­ary Sys­tem: Fan­ta­sy.” Pro­ceed­ings of the HUSSE10 Con­fer­ence, 27-29 Jan­u­ary 2011, Lit­er­a­ture and Cul­ture Vol­ume, edit­ed by Kinga Föld­váry et al., Hun­gar­i­an Soci­ety for the Study of Eng­lish, 2011, pp. 221-232, mek​.oszk​.hu/​1​0​1​0​0​/​1​0​1​7​1​/​1​0​1​7​1​.​pdf.

Son­zog­ni, Mar­co. Re-Cov­ered Rose: A Case Study in Book Cov­er Design as Inter­semi­otic Trans­la­tion. John Ben­jamins, 2011.

Sun, Chris­tine. “Ter­ry Pratch­ett in the Chi­nese World.” Voic­es under the Sun, 25 Sept. 2013, https://​christi​ne​sun​flower​.com/​2​0​1​3​/​0​9​/​2​5​/​t​e​r​r​y​-​p​r​a​t​c​h​e​t​t​-​i​n​-​t​h​e​-​c​h​i​n​e​s​e​-​w​o​r​ld/.

Ter­ry Pratchett’s Unpub­lished Works Crushed by Steam­roller.” BBC, 30 August 2017, https://​www​.bbc​.com/​n​e​w​s​/​u​k​-​e​n​g​l​a​n​d​-​d​o​r​s​e​t​-​4​1​0​9​3​066.

Trans­lat­ing Names into Oth­er Lan­guages.” Alt.Books.Pratchett, https://​alt​.books​.pratch​ett​.narkive​.com/​n​E​z​L​P​m​F​S​/​t​r​a​n​s​l​a​t​i​n​g​-​n​a​m​e​s​-​i​n​t​o​-​o​t​h​e​r​-​l​a​n​g​u​a​ges.

Torop, Peeter. “Cul­ture As Trans­la­tion: Inter­semio­sis And Inter­semi­otic Trans­la­tion.” EFSS, 2004,

UK vs US Edi­tions.” Ter­ry Pratch­ett: The Forums of Sir Ter­ry Pratch­ett, https://​www​.ter​rypratch​et​tfo​rums​.com/​t​h​r​e​a​d​s​/​u​k​-​v​s​-​u​s​-​e​d​i​t​i​o​n​s​.​1​3​70/,

Webpages with Cover Art

Books by Ter­ry Pratch­ett. https://​www​.books​-by​-isbn​.com/​a​u​t​h​o​r​s​/​t​e​r​r​y​/​p​r​a​t​c​h​e​t​t​/​?​t​o​s​e​c​u​r​e​=​7​-​5​3​6​4​-​6​2​5​6-5.

Books by Pratch­ett on the home­page of Douban, Pratchett’s Chi­nese pub­lish­er. https://​book​.douban​.com/​a​u​t​h​o​r​/​1​0​4​4​4​38/.

Col­in Smythe Lim­it­ed. http://​col​ins​mythe​.co​.uk/.

Josh Kir­by Cov­ers. http://​ansi​ble​.uk/​i​m​a​g​e​s​/​j​o​s​h​.​p​h​p​?​t​h​umb.

Josh Kirby’s home­page. Dis­c­world paint­ings and illus­tra­tions. https://​search​.aol​.co​.uk/​a​o​l​/​i​m​a​g​e​?​q​=​j​o​s​h​+​K​i​r​b​y​+​d​i​s​c​w​o​r​l​d​&​r​d​=​1​&​v​_​t​=​a​o​l​u​k​-​w​e​b​m​a​i​l​4​&​p​a​g​e​=​1​&​o​r​e​q​=​a​f​3​3​2​b​3​2​7​9​c​9​4​a​2​9​a​c​9​d​7​f​e​3​b​7​b​8​6​2​1​5​&​s​_​c​h​n​=wm.

Josh Kir­by in L-Space. https://​www​.lspace​.org/​a​r​t​/​j​o​s​h​k​i​r​b​y​.​h​tml.

Kolor magii. http://​encyk​lo​pe​di​afan​tasty​ki​.pl/​i​n​d​e​x​.​p​h​p​?​t​i​t​l​e​=​K​o​l​o​r​_​m​a​gii.

L-Space Web - A Ter­ry Pratch­ett / Dis­c­world Web® Site. https://​www​.lspace​.org/.

Marc Simonetti’s home­page. Dis­c­world paint­ings and illus­tra­tions. http://​art​.marc​si​mon​et​ti​.com/​s​i​r​-​t​e​r​r​y​-​p​r​a​t​c​h​e​t​t​-​s​-​d​i​s​c​w​o​rld.

Nik Keevil’s home­page. http://​keevilde​sign​.mac​mate​.me/.

Paul Kidby’s home­page. https://​www​.paulkid​by​.com/.

See Har­ry Pot­ter Book Cov­ers Through the Years by Made­line Board­man. http://​ew​.com/​g​a​l​l​e​r​y​/​h​a​r​r​y​-​p​o​t​t​e​r​-​b​o​o​k​-​c​o​v​e​r​s​/​t​h​e​-​e​v​o​l​u​t​i​o​n​-​o​f​-​h​a​r​r​y​-​p​o​t​ter.

Stephen Player’s home­page. http://​play​er​gallery​.com/​p​l​a​y​e​r​g​a​l​l​e​r​y​/​T​e​r​r​y​_​P​r​a​t​c​h​e​t​t​.​h​tml.

Ter­ry Pratch­ett and me. Art based on “The Colour of Mag­ic” @Terry Pratch­ett. https://​ter​rypratch​et​tandme​.word​press​.com/​2​0​1​4​/​0​8​/​2​9​/​t​h​e​-​c​o​l​o​u​r​-​o​f​-​m​a​g​i​c​-​v​a​r​i​o​u​s​-​a​r​t​w​o​r​k​/​#​j​p​-​c​a​r​o​u​s​e​l​-59.

The Hob­bit Book Cov­ers through the Ages by Ali­son Cog­gins, 9 Decem­ber 2013. https://​www​.pastemagazine​.com/​a​r​t​i​c​l​e​s​/​2​0​1​3​/​1​2​/​t​h​e​-​h​o​b​b​i​t​-​b​o​o​k​-​c​o​v​e​r​s​-​t​h​r​o​u​g​h​-​t​h​e​-​a​g​e​s​.​h​tml.

Var­rak (Pratchett’s Eston­ian pub­lish­er) http://​var​rak​.ee/​s​e​a​r​c​h​/​?​t​e​x​t​=​P​r​a​t​c​h​e​t​t​&​x​=​0​&​y=0.

Image Notes

The Colour of Magic


1 The first hard­cov­er, cov­er art by Alan Smith 1983




2 cov­er art by Stephen Play­er, 1993



3 cov­er art by Josh Kir­by, 1985





4 revised cov­er art by Josh Kir­by, 2012





5 French, cov­er art by Marc Simon­et­ti, 2011




6 first and sec­ond Hun­gar­i­an COM front cov­er, 1992 and 2001





7 TLF in Hun­gar­i­an, 1998, 2000



8 first Ital­ian book cov­er 1991


9 Ital­ian front cov­er from 1998



10 The Japan­ese edi­tion, 1991


11 Pol­ish trans­la­tion, 2005, cov­er art by Paul Kidby



12 Amer­i­can edi­tion 2005 HarperCollins


13 25th anniver­sary Amer­i­can ver­sion A



14 25th anniver­sary Amer­i­can ver­sion B


15 25th anniver­sary British, cov­er art by Nick Keevil




16 Chi­nese COM




17 Chi­nese TLF


18 Russ­ian edi­tion 2008


19 cov­er art by Josh Kir­by 2012





20 Omnibus TV front cover


21 front cov­er of the UU Col­lec­tion hard­back 2014


22 Russ­ian edi­tion 2017, cov­er art by Paul Kidby



The Light Fantastic


23 orig­i­nal British ,cov­er art by Josh Kir­by 1986



24 Amer­i­can edi­tion with Josh Kir­by front cov­er, Signet





25 Revised cov­er art by Josh Kirby




26 Span­ish edi­tion A with cov­er art by Josh Kirby




27 Span­ish edi­tion B with cov­er art by Josh Kirby

https://​ansi​ble​.uk/​i​m​a​g​e​s​/​j​o​s​h​.​p​h​p​?​t​h​umb https://​search​.aol​.co​.uk/​a​o​l​/​i​m​a​g​e​?​q​=​j​o​s​h​+​K​i​r​b​y​+​d​i​s​c​w​o​r​l​d​&​r​d​=​1​&​v​_​t​=​a​o​l​u​k​-​w​e​b​m​a​i​l​4​&​p​a​g​e​=​1​&​o​r​e​q​=​a​f​3​3​2​b​3​2​7​9​c​9​4​a​2​9​a​c​9​d​7​f​e​3​b​7​b​8​6​2​1​5​&​s​_​c​h​n​=​w​m​&​g​u​c​c​o​u​n​t​e​r=1


28 Amer­i­can edi­tion 2005


29 Amer­i­can edi­tion 2013



30 cov­er art by Nick Keevil


31 Dutch edi­tion, cov­er art by Paul Kidby



32 British UU Collection


33 Ger­man edi­tion, cov­er art by Stephen Player



34 French edi­tion, cov­er art by Marc Simonetti


Rais­ing Steam

35 French edi­tion, cov­er art by Paul Kidby



36 Finnish edi­tion, cov­er art by Paul Kidby



37 British orig­i­nal edi­tion, cov­er art by Paul Kidby




38 Span­ish edi­tion, cov­er art by Paul Kidby




39 Amer­i­can edi­tion, cov­er art by Justin Ger­rard 2014



40 Ger­man edi­tion, cov­er art by Sebas­t­ian Wun­nicke 2014



41 Pol­ish 2013 edi­tion, cov­er art by Paul Kidby




42 Russ­ian edi­tion, Ana­toli Dubovik, 2017


43 Eston­ian edition



  1. Cur­rent­ly, there is only one paper that deals with illus­trat­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tions of Dis­c­world (Alton).

  2. The Gener­ic Uni­ver­sal Role­Play­ing Sys­tem was cre­at­ed in 1985. “With GURPS you can be any­one you want…”

  3. Fol­low­ing this train of thought, more ques­tions come to mind: when a cov­er design is tak­en over, is it non-trans­la­tion, as it keeps the same picture(s), and only changes the ver­bal infor­ma­tion, or should we regard it as indi­rect trans­la­tion, the trans­la­tion of an inter­semi­otic trans­la­tion? If the design is the same, but the colour(s) or size or type of the font(s) dif­fer, should we talk about adap­ta­tion or local­i­sa­tion of an inter­semi­otic trans­la­tion? Is it pos­si­ble to talk about any sort of trans­la­tion when the book cov­ers are parts of the pack­age, that is, the author only gives per­mis­sion to trans­late his works into a for­eign lan­guage if it is pub­lished with the orig­i­nal British front cov­er as was the case for a cer­tain peri­od in case of the Dis­c­world? Fur­ther research is need­ed to answer these ques­tions.

  4. Some read­ers com­plain that these Amer­i­can trans­la­tions are incom­pre­hen­si­ble (see “Trans­lat­ing Names”; “UK vs US Edi­tions”; Rear­don; “British to Amer­i­can”).

  5. Local­iza­tion is the lin­guis­tic and cul­tur­al adap­ta­tion of dig­i­tal con­tent to the require­ments and the locale of a for­eign mar­ket; it includes the pro­vi­sion of ser­vices and tech­nolo­gies for the man­age­ment of mul­ti­lin­gual­ism across the dig­i­tal glob­al infor­ma­tion flow. Thus, local­iza­tion activ­i­ties include trans­la­tion (of dig­i­tal mate­r­i­al as diverse as user assis­tance, web­sites and videogames) and a wide range of addi­tion­al activ­i­ties.” (Schäler)

  6. Retrans­la­tion (as a prod­uct) denotes a sec­ond or lat­er trans­la­tion of a sin­gle source text into the same tar­get lan­guage. Retrans­la­tion (as a process) is thus pro­to­typ­i­cal­ly a phe­nom­e­non that occurs over a peri­od of time, but in prac­tice, simul­ta­ne­ous or near-simul­ta­ne­ous trans­la­tions also exist, mak­ing it some­times hard or impos­si­ble to clas­si­fy one as a first trans­la­tion and the oth­er as a sec­ond trans­la­tion.” (Kosk­i­nen).

  7. Fun­ni­ly enough, the Ital­ians did some­thing sim­i­lar, when the third book, Equal Rites became L’Arte del­la Magia resem­bling the first volume’s Ital­ian title, Il Col­ore del­la Magia.

  8. I asked the pub­lish­er whether the paint­ing was specif­i­cal­ly pur­chased for this nov­el, but no answer has arrived yet.