It’s time to trip the… well, you know.
Terry Pratchett Book Club is trucking right along, and we’ve reached the second book! Which is named for a line in the John Milton poem L’Allegro, but you’ve probably heard the phrase all over the place because it’s still fairly common, even if it’s a bit more old-fashioned these days.
Let’s dance, friends.
Twoflower is in a ship and Rincewind is falling, and at the Unseen University, the Octavo is glowing with magic light. There’s an explosion that shoots through the University, turning things into many other things, while Galder (an eighth-level wizard) and his initiates run to catch up with the problem. Galder and his second in command, Trymon, witness a Change spell being cast over the whole world… but nothing seems to have changed. It has, in fact—the world has changed to save Rincewind, who is suddenly in a forest. He promptly gets into a conversation with a tree, which he just as promptly leaves.
Twoflower and the Luggage are also saved by this powerful spell, with Twoflower appearing on the hull of the Potent Voyager (which sinks into a lake), and the Luggage materializing in front of a shaman before scampering on its way. The two of them find Rincewind, and they sit together under a tree while it rains and Rincewind proceeds to give the wrong names for the vegetation around them. Meanwhile, the eight highest ranking wizards on the Disc meet to discuss their lack of understanding about what happened. Galder suggests the Rite of AshkEnte, they all agree, and roughly forty minutes later, the group have summoned Death (he’s holding a skewer with pineapple and cheese—they summoned him from a party).
Death explains that the Octavo readjusted reality to avoid losing Rincewind because he has its eighth spell lodged in his brain. The reason why is because all eight spells of the Octavo must be said next Hogswatchnight, or the Discworld will be destroyed according to a prophecy. Trymon immediately heads to the library to get a book on the prophecy Death mentioned (he had been listening to the whole ritual). Meanwhile, Rincewind and Twoflower are arguing about whether or not the very small person they’ve run across is or isn’t a gnome. The gnome (named Swires) offers to show them to shelter and food, and they agree, having no better options. He leads them to a gingerbread cottage abandoned by a witch. Galder has read that if Rincewind is dead, the spell lodged in his brain will simply hop to the next ready mind (this is not true), so he elects to send an arrow to him while the other wizard orders send out agents to fetch him.
The wizards break into the gingerbread cottage, but Twoflower finds a magic broomstick, allowing him and Rincewind to escape as the Luggage is hit by Galder’s arrow. Rincewind and Twoflower end up taking the broomstick far too high, and find out what is soon to befall the Disc—the Great A’Tuin is taking the world directly toward a red star. Elsewhere, the Luggage materializes directly on top of Galder, killing the man. Rincewind and Twoflower hit a rock in the sky, hidden by a cloud, and come across a druid computer hardware consultant named Belafon, who is delivering a replacement part for a large computer—the replacement part being the rock. The Luggage breaks out of the Unseen University after swallowing the Dean of Liberal Studies. Among the druids, Rincewind remembers the star they saw, then slips into a dream where voices of the Octavo Spells tell him that he must safeguard the Spell in his head so that they can all be said at the right moment.
Rincewind runs away.
Book Club Chat
A note before we begin: I do know about L-Space, and its veritable library of excellent annotations! But I will not be bringing up every single reference that’s packed into these books because we would be here for a literal age, and also because we have a comments section full of you lovely folx. If I miss out talking about one of your favorite references, please, by all means, get in there and talk it up!
It’s fascinating to see how much the tone has solidified into something with a specific pace and rhythm, and how much more he packs into this book than the previous one. I’d forgotten what a clear shift it was, and how much shrewder the prose comes off as a result. I was startling myself by laughing aloud, which is my favorite kind of reading.
Meet Galder Weatherwax, who will not be the greatest character in the Discworld series to bear that surname, but it’s a fun prod about things to come. (Especially if you remember all the things Granny had to say about the guy. Such a lengthy diatribe…)
Because being contrary is sometimes a very worthy exercise, I always find myself particularly excited over moments where Pratchett just casually tears apart a cliché. Obviously, not all clichés are bad (and they can sometimes be amazing when employed well), but I have a lot of abiding love for the way that he begins a section toward the start of this book by saying that “Ankh-Morpork, largest city in the lands around the Circle Sea, slept” and then immediately proceeds to tear that thought to shreds by letting you know the myriad of ways in which it is not sleeping, all to eventually point out that “descriptive writing is very rarely entirely accurate.” And then launches into an aside about a Patrician of Ankh who wasn’t very into metaphors and similes and so forth. Which comes back at other points in the narrative, of course.
There are moments when I relate very heavily to Rincewind, and nowhere is that more evident than when his city-ness comes to the fore. Even the little bits when he’s thinking about how he would prefer a cobbled path to the dirt one he finds, or when he can’t really fathom what one would eat if they were stuck in the woods, or when he feebly tries to name the trees and bushes he cannot identify, and my brain immediately goes oh no it me. I am not a country person; I’ve spent my entire life either living in cities, or being close enough to get into the city in 15-20 minutes by car. Usually from very large suburbs that functioned more like small cities themselves. There are plenty of people who hate cities, which is a completely fine way of being, but I adore them. And I completely understand what it’s like to have been away from one too long, and start missing all the little conveniences that come from metropolis living, paved roads being among them.
Gonna talk about Death again, but before I do, a thing—Death technically isn’t gendered in these books until Reaper Man, where we are finally given a masculine gender. This has been the subject of some debate in translation as well because of the way certain languages gender their nouns, leading to translations where Death started out female and in later books had to be switched to male. My personal feeling on this as a non-binary person is probably somewhat obvious: Death could just be non-binary. In a lot of ways, that would make more sense, and is the opinion I’ve carried about most deities since I was a teen (look, I was a weird kid, I know). If you’re part of a pantheon, sure, have a bunch of different gods who have tons of genders. But if you’re a singular figure (like Death) or a monotheistic deity… why would gender apply at all? It’s frankly rather trivial on a universal scale.
Death’s character has cemented more fully by this point, his delivery and matter-of-fact wisdom on full display. I wonder about how others readers find Death sometimes because my take has always been very specific—to my mind, Death speaking in “all caps” imbues him with a deadpan overarching tone that I cannot unhear. While Pratchett gives him the ability to use proper nouns (capitals within the all-caps format) and emphasis, the use of all-caps makes all of his dialogue read with equal emphasis to me. Which means that I end up rather puzzled with they inevitably pick Shakespearean-style actors full of rumbling gravitas (see: Christopher Lee, Ian Richardson, Stephen Thorne) to voice Death in audio dramas and television miniseries because, to me, Death should always be played by a comedian capable of scathing monotone.
For this sequence, of course, there’s the fact that Death being pulled from a party is a reference to The Masque of the Red Death, which is always my personal preference if you’re gonna go for any Poe references at all. I somehow doubt that pineapple and cheese were being served at the party Edgar described, though.
Look all I’m saying is, the Luggage somehow does laundry and I really wish I knew how and also wish that I had a trunk that did laundry. Or that my dog did laundry. We all deserve that in our lives. On a completely different note, I do wish that someone would talk to the trees, they’re being ever so patient.
Pratchett does a thing where he’s able to switch tenses in his narrative—in this case, from past to present, as he moves to the section about Greyhald Spold trying to ward off Death—so effortlessly. And then the next section starts and he’s back to past tense. When you learn things about fiction writing in any sort of classroom environment, you are always going to be taught that there are rules that one shouldn’t break. But any good teacher worth their salt knows that all rules absolutely can and should be broken… you just have to do it with purpose. This is one of those examples.
Lots of fairy tale asides in this section, which is gonna happen if you have your protagonists hole up in a gingerbread house, though we get more references to Goldilocks and the Three Bears than we do to Hansel and Gretel ultimately. Rincewind and Twoflower escape by witch’s broom, and while Rincewind may be exasperated by his tourist pal, if Twoflower weren’t around, he’d have a much harder time staying alive in all of this.
But of course, we’ve still got a ways to go.
Asides and little thoughts:
- The Book of Going Forth Around Elevenish is a book I wish to own, please, as the title is an excellent life philosophy, no matter what mythical “morning people” say. (The fact that the actual title of the Egyptian Book of the Dead was, in fact, The Book of Going Forth By Day just makes it better, honestly.)
- I like the fact that the Unseen University has a vegetable chef.
- First mention of the Dungeon Dimensions, I believe, which is important for various and sundry reasons as we go along.
- Twoflower mentions that the Tooth Fairy was in The Little Folks’ Book of Flower Fairies.
- Rincewind thinks “Look, the life of gnomes and goblins is nasty, brutish, and short. So are they.” This is, of course, a reference to Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan, where he talks of the state of nature for mankind. I never much liked it applied to humans, but maybe it serves better as the state of nature for gnomes.
- There a bit where Pratchett is talking about a sound and says that it is “‘spang!’ plus three days hard work in any decently equipped radiophonic workshop” and I love it, in large part because the Doctor Who theme is the result of the BBC’s radiophonic workshop, dontcha know.
And! I finally got around to making the Pratchettisms section (which is basically just “favorite quotes”, but that sounds horribly dull to my mind). Granted, this is a completely subjective culling on my end—feel free to add your own.
The sun rose slowly, as if it wasn’t sure it was worth all the effort.
Picture it as a diving suit designed by men who have never seen the sea.
The silence of the room crowded in like a fist, slowly being clenched.
It is well known that things from undesirable universes are always seeking an entrance into this one, which is the psychic equivalent of handy for the buses and closer to the shops.
Some people, Galder thought grimly, would have had the decency to put an exclamation mark on the end of a statement like that.
On the high shelf above him various bottled impossibilities wallowed in their pickle jars and watched him with interest.
Swires and Rincewind’s kneecap exchanged glances.
There was a long silence. Then a slightly shorter silence.
Next week we’re reading up to: “If we meet Old Grandad I’ll try to explain…” See you then!