Terry Pratchett Book Club

Terry Pratchett Book Club: The Light Fantastic, Part IV

This is the last time I can make a joke about dancing or John Milton, but I’ve elected to do neither. Still, we have plenty to be excited about because we’re here to finish The Light Fantastic!

Summary

Cohen and Lackjaw climb onto the Luggage because it’s found Twoflower—it runs off with them. Rincewind, Twoflower, and Bethan finally make it back to Ankh-Morpork inside the traveling shop, and the red star is closer than ever. The shopkeeper presses a gift into Twoflower’s hand and leaves (the gift is the little house with shells stuck to it that he’d been admiring earlier). Bethan asks Twoflower if he’s worried the world will end, but he’s not because Rincewind doesn’t seem concerned about it. The wizard plans to go to the Unseen University, but they’re caught up in a crowd of people marching along. At the University, Trymon opens the door to the room holding the Octavo and presses in with a cadre of wizards, and begins to read from a scroll. Once Rincewind’s party reaches the Unseen University, they find it under siege, so he sets off down a side street. He finds the old secret entrance/exit that students of the university use, places where the bricks have no mortar, and uses that to get them inside.

Inside the Unseen University, the wizards unlock the Octavo from its chains. Trymon takes it up and leaves the room, locking the wizards in behind him. Rincewind finds them all in the cellar, and when no one seems to believe he can be of use, he sets about focusing all his energies on opening the door. He finally manages it, and the wizards tell him that Trymon (who apparently used to be in class with Rincewind back in the day) stole the Octavo. The spells are being recited from the Tower of Art and while the wizards all proceed to give up, Twoflower heads right into the tower, so Rincewind follows him, and the rest of the wizards follow him. Rincewind tries to talk Twoflower out of going, but the tourist is undeterred. Suddenly the noise stops and the Octavo falls down the stairs—its pages are blank, the spells read. Rincewind tells his Spell to get back on the page and out of his head, but it won’t.

When they arrive at the top of the tower, they find Trymon, whose body is currently being used. Having said the seven remaining Octavo Spells, some creatures from the Dungeon Dimensions got into him. He demands the final Spell from Rincewind, who refuses to give it to him. Twoflower distracts the man, giving Rincewind the opportunity to strike in anger and he begins winning the fight. Trymon surfaces enough to beg for help, and time stops, and Rincewind finds them in an arena surrounded by monsters, where they continue the fight in earnest. He gets the upper hand and time restarts, and he signals Twoflower to use the sword on the creature, which goes tumbling down the stairs and takes the wizard with it. The Spells move back to the Octavo, and Twoflower hears Rincewind’s disembodied voice—he’s hanging off a stair and needs help. Twoflower grabs him, but can’t pull him up, and several minutes later, Rincewind decides that he can’t hold on any longer. Twoflower tell him to take the easy way out and die, then. Cohen and the Luggage show up then and help Rincewind back onto the stairs.

There are new moons high over the Disc and the Octavo is ready to be read. Rincewind evicts the final Spell out of his head and onto the pages. Then he reads all of the Spells from the book, and nothing happens. The star people are angry about it, and think to throw him off the tower, and the Luggage steps in front of Rincewind to protect him. Bethan shows up, knowing what’s wrong—he mispronounced a bit. They get that sorted, and then the Octavo glows, and the eight moons around the stars crack open, hatching to reveal eight new baby sky turtles. The Great A’Tuin turns away from the star and back toward the black of space, bringing the baby sky turtles along. The Octavo falls back to earth, and the Luggage eats it. Rincewind and Twoflower decide to go for drinks while people try to force the Luggage to cough up the most magical book on the Disc.

Twoflower wakes up the next morning and finds Rincewind organizing people and setting things to rights. The wizard tells him that he plans to re-enroll in the Unseen University to finish his education. Twoflower tells him that he’s going home. They eat breakfast, then Twoflower pulls a bag of gold from the Luggage and tells Rincewind to give it to Cohen and Bethan (who went to get married, as they planned). Then he pulls all of his belongings out of the Luggage and gives it to Rincewind, they say an awkward goodbye, and Twoflower gets on the boat and departs. Rincewind tries to give Luggage to itself, but it looks sort of lost, so he tells it to come along.

Book Club Chat

I dearly appreciate how Pratchett describes the smell of Ankh-Morpork through analogy for a very particular reason—I have a terrible sense of smell. So really, the analogy is more evocative for me on a number of levels. It was something that I had to bring up because scent is, of course, one of the most evocative of our five senses (tied to memory and all that), but often harder to describe than the others.

So, I have a lot of emotion-things about Twoflower putting his profound lack of common sense to good use, turning all of Rincewind’s complaints back on him and literally saying “I’m here because I don’t know any better, but what about you?” I also have a lot of emotion-things about the fact that Twoflower doesn’t crack the spines of books because I am one of those weirdos, too, even though I wish I wasn’t. Sorry, it’s very silly, I know that, but I don’t like doing it because then you can’t read the spines and it’s a thing I’m finicky about. Granted, I don’t really worry about the spines of hardcover books, which the Octavo undoubtedly is, but that’s a digression too far, I think, so I’ll quit while I’m ahead.

Thing is, after the diversion into Very Serious Territory of the last section, this part is really just a very nice climatic sequence about friendship and unlikely pairs, and it gets me every time. Rincewind and Twoflower have finally worked out how to work together, so of course it’s time for Twoflower to go. And Twoflower also gives his little speech that perfectly explains why no one can go on a permanent vacation, being:

“Oh yes. The important thing about having lots of things to remember is that you’ve go to go somewhere afterward where you can remember them, you see? You’ve got to stop. You haven’t really been anywhere until you’ve got back home. I think that’s what I mean.”

Well said, little fella.

It’s also pretty great to see Trymon get his comeuppance. I didn’t really get into it throughout the book, but you have to appreciate the way Pratchett walks a line with this character: He doesn’t say that the old ways are the best ways—he acknowledges that the old ways are often pretty ridiculous while simultaneously acknowledging the fact that new ways can sometimes be heinously abused by those who want to introduce them. The problem with Trymon isn’t that he has newfangled thoughts, it’s that he’s using that system purely for personal gain. The fact that he’s Rincewind’s contemporary is important in this because they’re both outcasts in the wizardly ways of doing things, but one of them is decidedly less power-hungry and world-endy.

So the Spells are used to prevent the end of the world, which is handy because it means that we never really know what it is that they do. And on the one hand, that’s good and makes sense because some things should just be unknowable, but on the other hand, fandom doesn’t pride itself on not knowing things, now does it? I’m always of two minds when stories do this to me. On the one hand, yes please, keep some things secret and unattainable to the human mind, but on the other hand, how dare you now tell me this instant.

I mean, unless we’re assuming that the Octavo Spells are just birthing incantations for sky turtles.

And that’s the second book down! The world’s a lot clearer on this go around, but there’s still a lot we haven’t seen, and so much more to discover. As a two-part opener, I quite like these books… but I do wonder if it would be more even affecting to read about a potential doomsday scenario after reading more about Discworld. Maybe I’ll flip back through these once we’re further along and see how I fare…

Asides and little thoughts:

  • I forgot that the golden syrup line comes back and I was so pleased I actually applauded this time.
  • Cohen’s concept of magic is the rabbit-in-a-hat magician sort, which Pratchett does love poking fun at whenever he has good occasion.
  • But where did Lackjaw go?
  • It makes me laugh that Pratchett goes out of his way to say “That is a nice dramatic ending, but life doesn’t work like that and there were other things that had to happen.” Mostly because it’s true that there is a subset of the fantasy genre than doesn’t set much by denouements, and I’m glad that he doesn’t agree with that particular affectation. Always do denouements. They are important.

Pratchettisms:

Ankh-Morpork!
Pearl of cities!
This is not a completely accurate description, of course—it was not round and shiny—but even its worst enemies would agree that if you had to liken Ankh-Morpork to anything, then it might as well be a piece of rubbish covered with the diseased secretions of a dying mollusc.

Take a tartan. Sprinkle it with confetti. Light it with strobe lights.
Now take a chameleon.
Put the chameleon on the tartan.
Watch it closely.
See?

“That doesn’t make any sense,” said Bethan, “or if it makes sense, I don’t like it.”

The Octavo filled the room with a dull, sullen light, which wasn’t strictly light at all but the opposite of light; darkness isn’t he opposite of light, it is simply its absence, and what was radiating from the book was the light that lies on the far side of darkness, the light fantastic.
It was a rather disappointing purple color.

In the strained silence of his own mind he glared at the Spell, which looked very sheepish.

Through a purple haze of pain he saw Twoflower standing behind Trymon, holding a sword in exactly the wrong way.

Silence spread out from Rincewind’s bent form like ripples in a puddle.

It wasn’t even an interesting nothing. Sometimes things can fail to happen in quite impressive ways, but as far as non-events went this one just couldn’t compete.

Next week we start Equal Rites! We will make it up to “Sit down now. And listen properly for once. On the day you were born…”

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