The Discworld rests on the backs of the four World Elephants; Tubul, Jerakeen, Berilia and Great T'Phon.

The Discworld series is a continuous history of a world not totally unlike our own, except that it is a flat disc carried on the backs of four elephants astride a giant turtle floating through space...

The Compleat Discworld Atlas

Do we know which part of the Disc each of the four World Elephants is under?

  • 9
    surely the disc turns,so the elephants dont remain under any one part of the disc?
    – James K
    Oct 2 at 22:00
  • 5
    @JamesK: The question made me wonder if the elephants walked around the shell to turn the disc. That would have been possible, but in the main novels and any artwork I've seen, we've never seen the elephants in mid-stride. Oct 3 at 6:04
  • 9
    @PeterCordes - The disc appears to turn atop the elephants, not be carried in a circle by them "People wonder how this works, since a terrestrial elephant would be unlikely to bear a revolving load for any length of time without some serious friction burns."
    – Valorum
    Oct 3 at 6:09
  • 2
    Discworld is based on the World Turtle from ancient Hindu mythology, which is usually represented as carryong four elephants carrying the world (though other versions have 1, 8 or 16 elephants). The best-known illustration, from 1877, has the elephants facing outwards and hence probably not moving. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Turtle Oct 3 at 7:29
  • 7
    @PeterCordes Whilst they don't walk, the Colour of Magic mentions how they occasionally have to lift a leg to let the sun go past.
    – Showsni
    Oct 3 at 13:05

2 Answers 2


We have solid evidence that the Discworld rotates around a common centre (the Hub) rather than resting in place on top of the World Elephants. This means that no part of the Disc is permanently over an elephant's back.

As the pace began to quicken and the complicated threads of the chant began to rise Rincewind found himself watching, fascinated. He had heard about the Old Magic at University, although it was forbidden to wizards. He knew that when the circle was spinning fast enough against the standing magical field of the Discworld itself in its slow turning, the resulting astral friction would build up a vast potential difference which would earth itself by a vast discharge of the Elemental Magical Force.


*There are, of course, two major directions on the disc: hubward and rimward. But since the disc itself revolves at the rate of once every eight hundred days (in order to distribute the weight fairly upon its supportive pachyderms, according to Reforgule of Krull) there are also two lesser directions, which are Turnwise and Widdershins.

Since the disc’s tiny orbiting sunlet maintains a fixed orbit while the majestic disc turns slowly beneath it, it will be readily deduced that a disc year consists of not four but eight seasons. The summers are those times when the sun rises or sets at the nearest point on the Rim, the winters those occasions when it rises or sets at a point around ninety degrees along the circumference.

The Colour of Magic


And then there’s momentum. Slow as the disc spins, various points of its radii are moving at different speeds relative to the Hub, and a wizard projecting himself any distance toward the Rim had better be prepared to land jogging.

Lords and Ladies


The Discworld turned against the glittering backdrop of space, spinning very gently on the backs of the four giant elephants that perched on the shell of Great A’Tuin the star turtle. Continents drifted slowly past, topped by weather systems that themselves turned gently against the flow, like waltzers spinning counter to the whirl of the dance. A billion tons of geography rolled slowly through the sky.

Feet of Clay

Quite how this all works isn't clear. It's probably best not to think too hard about it.

But this is the Discworld, which has not only the turtle but also the four giant elephants on which the wide, slowly turning wheel of the world revolves.*

*People wonder how this works, since a terrestrial elephant would be unlikely to bear a revolving load for any length of time without some serious friction burns. But you may as well ask why the axle of a planet doesn’t squeak, or where love goes, or what sound yellow makes.

Interesting Times

  • 2
    Note that even if there were some defined location for the elephants, you wouldn't be able to place them on a map. Pratchett famously disapproved of the very idea of trying to map anything in his books. As he quoted: "There are no maps. You can't map a sense of humor." (I disagree on this point, as I've seen some hilarious maps, but to each their own.) Oct 3 at 21:00
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    @DarrelHoffman - In his later years his lust for money seems to have swayed him to licence a range of products that accurately pinpoint the events of the various books; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Discworld_Mapp + terrypratchettbooks.com/books/the-compleat-discworld-atlas + wiki.lspace.org/Book:Mrs_Bradshaw%27s_Handbook, etc
    – Valorum
    Oct 3 at 21:04
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    @Valorum pinning this on “lust for money” seems a bit rough; he stuck to his guns and didn’t produce maps until he had defined enough of the city and world to derive maps from, and the first maps were published in the mid 1990s, well before his “later years”. Oct 3 at 22:21
  • @valorum "lust for money" is indeed harsh - considering that he would even ask for smaller advances from the publishers than they were offering
    – HorusKol
    Oct 5 at 12:57
  • @HorusKol - When you're a bestselling author, a smaller advance means less pressure to publish and more money at the back end.
    – Valorum
    Oct 5 at 17:15

Due to the uncertainty principle (lit. we're not sure), at any point in time, we can either measure exactly where the disc is due to rotation in relation to Great A'tuin, or measure exactly where one of the elephants is, but not both.

This means that each elephant is under just one part of the disc while also being under the entire disc at the same time.

This is obviously a little confusing for the elephants who are probably more concerned with where the next peanut is coming from.

  • 11
    Hi, welcome to SF&F. I'm not sure if this is intended to be humorous or not, but this doesn't seem to actually answer the question in any meaningful way. If you can provide some canonical quotes for this that would be one thing, but if it's just headcanon then it's not very useful. You might want to read How to Answer.
    – DavidW
    Oct 3 at 14:43

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