Terry Pratchett Book Club

Terry Pratchett Book Club: Sourcery, Part II

We’re back to get yelled at by a very bossy hat. Let’s get halfway through Sourcery together.

Summary

Conina gives Rincewind a haircut on the deck of the ship they’re sailing on (toward the location given by the hat). She notices the boats of slave traders descending upon them. Rincewind, disbelieving, asks the hat, which tells him to put it on. He cannot disobey, and upon placing the hat on his head, he sees all the dead archchancellors of old. The slavers board the ship and defeat the crew handily (Conina doesn’t have her swords, unfortunately). The men suggest a new career for Rincewind as a eunuch, but Conina goes at them with her scissors and comb, gets her hands on a sword, and quickly sets about dispatching them with the Luggage’s help. Rincewind is clipped on the ear, sees blood, and promptly faints. In Sator Square just outside the Unseen University, as market is going on, the wizards leave their school and begin harassing all vendors, killing the man with the seafood stall for getting angry. Ardrothy Longstaff tries to sell one of them a pie, but the wizard in question produces a beautiful one on the spot. Ardrothy makes to leave the city, knowing his livelihood is ruined.

Rincewind wakes up to find the slavers driven off, the boat headed to the right place, and the hat gone. Conina tells him that the slavers are going to same city they are anyhow, and that they can go find the hat once they make port. Rincewind would rather not, but his conscience talks him into it. Spelter has made a fake Archchancellor hat in place of the missing one, and he and Carding go into the Great Hall where Coin and the other wizards are waiting. Coin has remade the city into a pristine and perfect thing, and plans to remake the world as well. He wants a ceremony to name him Archchancellor, and also plans to abandon the University because he has made the wizards a new place. Spelter wants to dissent to all of this, but Carding steps on his foot and knocks the impulse from him. Later on Spelter goes to the Library door to talk to the Librarian about what’s happening and how wrong it all is. The Librarian won’t come out to chat, and he’s got the converted person of the Patrician along with his dogs Wuffles, and Spelter leaves feeling better for at least saying that things aren’t quite right. As he’s heading back to his room, he hears sobbing, and goes to investigate.

Rincewind and Conina are in Al Khali, looking around for a bazaar because that’s where Conina reckons they’ll find the criminal element and thus the hat. Rincewind is trying to handle being in a city that isn’t his own, and being around a woman whom he sort of likes even though wizards aren’t supposed to. They are set upon by a lot of people in black clothes, and Conina makes a go of fighting them, but they’re eventually captured. Spelter wants to talk to Carding, but Coin is in the process of creating a new home for wizards, which he explodes into being on the banks of the river, a tall New Tower made from raw magic, solidified. Coin tells them that he intends to dissolve the Orders and close the University, and that the senior wizards will stay on as his advisors. Then he tells them to burn the University Library down. Spelter goes to warn the Librarian and ask for his help; the sobbing he heard was Coin and he saw the staff teaching him, talking to him, and he knows it’s wrong. The staff finds Spelter, follows him through the University, and they have it out in the kitchens. Spelter loses, and the Librarian knows he’s got to do something about all the books, so he gets their attention.

Rincewind and Conina are brought to the Wilderness of Creosote, the Seriph of Al Khali. He is the son of the famously wealthy Creosote, and he has far more wealth than his father had, and is attempting to devote his life to writing to give himself some meaning. He calls in his Grand Vizier, Abrim, to remind him of why he had Conina and Rincewind brought here. It’s because they have the hat, and they don’t understand what it is or why it keeps telling them what to do. Abrim knows the hat is magical; he is the one who employs slavers and he heard about Rincewind through them. He has Conina sent to a seraglio, and the Luggage is nowhere to be seen (he’s gone to get drunk because Conina told him off and he’s in love with her), which means it only takes a simple threat to get Rincewind to tell him what the hat is. The hat says they should negotiate terms, and Abrim tells his men to throw Rincewind into the snake pit (after having to forego several better options that are not currently available, like tigers and spiders and the pit of fire). Upon being thrown into the snake pit, Rincewind believes the single snake there is talking to him, but it turns out to be a rather emaciated barbarian hero.

The barbarian is a young man named Nijel the Destroyer, and he’s relatively new to (and not very good at) the whole barbarian schtick yet. He asks Rincewind to help him move a door in the pit that he thinks is a way out—he needs magic to get it unstuck. Rincewind insists he’s no good at magic, but when he points a finger at the door, it explodes. A great magical charge begins building, and Rincewind and Nijel witness wizards arriving and killing the guards who attempt to stop them. Nijel is aghast—he’s never seen murder like that before, he’s only been a barbarian for three days—and Rincewind is terrified. He realizes that they need the hat and to find Conina, so they set off searching, moving along endless corridors before a quick ask to a guard sends them to the harem. Said harem is covered by armed guards racing in their direction, so Rincewind turns it over to Nijel, who merely says “Erm, excuse me…”

Book Club Chat

So here’s a thing: There’s an oddness to this whole book. And the oddness comes from Pratchett attempting to satirize Eastern culture, but doing so through what seems to be a deliberately Western lens—for example, many swaths here are direct parodies of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Kubla Khan. Which means that Pratchett is essentially poking fun at the way Western people think of Eastern cultures, the manner in which they are exoticized and often derided or looked down upon for merely being different than the Western world. Even Creosote’s poetry, though based on Omar Khayyam’s Rubaïyat, is based on a translation by Edward Fitzgerald (who is an English poet). So then the real question ultimately becomes, does Pratchett succeed in his task here?

I think he manages it on paper, but it does demand that the reader have knowledge of what he’s parodying in order for the humor to fully come across when it needs to. If you don’t know the textual references, you might think that he’s genuinely dismissive of this part of the Disc, and then the whole thing kind of falls apart. For example, the footnote about the hashishim assassins is partially a reference to the “hashashin” that were reported on by the likes of Marco Polo, assassins who used hashish for stimulation before getting down to business. Yet again, it’s a play on what Westerners were told about the east from colonizing and imperialist sources. If you’re unaware of the history behind it, you might miss what Pratchett is playing off of in order to create this environment.

The one pointed and helpful indication the reader receives that Pratchett is definitely poking fun at the Western perspective is actually through Rincewind here—who, in his thoughts about how this city is not right because it’s not like his city, gives himself away utterly. This place has different trappings than he’s accustomed to, it’s not home and so he wants to critique it, but there is nothing functionally off about how the city is arranged or running. He’s just being a jerk about it.

Crush aside, it’s interesting to note Conina’s role as Rincewind’s partner in this section, specifically the ways in which she is and is not like Twoflower. Conina is certainly more capable than the tourist ever was, but she has a lot in common with him in regard to temperament, which makes sense. She’s the sort of person who takes things as they come to her and isn’t much bothered by how dire the world may look in any given moment. She’s not clueless the way Twoflower was, but she’s unflappable in the same way. Just from a functional storytelling standpoint, it’s interesting to see how Pratchett works that because Rincewind is the sort of character who needs catalysts around him, usually in human form.

Asides and little thoughts:

  • The bit about Sator Square, which is a play on that magic square of letters is such a fun bit of weirdness to throw in there, and so specific too.
  • The aside about how inspiration often hits the wrong mind is hilarious, and as a person who frequently feels like the particle missed me, it’s oddly comforting too.
  • Look, it’s just really funny that Pratchett has Rincewind use the word “Kazam” to bring down a stone door years before the movie Kazam was ever made, is all I’m saying.

Pratchettisms:

But there was an edge to the voice that no one had heard before. It had knuckles in it.

It was the ending of the first day of the sourcery, and the wizards had managed to change everything except themselves.

Their dull splashing was the only sound that broke the cholesterol of silence that had the heart of the city in its grip.

The vizier twirled his mustache, probably foreclosing another dozen mortgages.

This is thought of as somehow wonderful. It isn’t. It is tragic. Little particles of inspiration sleet through the universe all the time traveling through the densest matter in the same way that a neutrino passes through a candyfloss haystack, and most of them miss.

With fifty years ahead of him, he though, he could elevate tedium to the status of an art form. There would be no end to the thing he wouldn’t do.

Next week we’re stopping at “There was the subtle, unpleasant sound of the universe suddenly catching on.” Woo!

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