This is not the face that launched a thousand ships because that’s hyperbole, kids. It’s time to finish up
Rincewind tries to get them out of the city, which only has the effect of letting the Ephebians in. They’re eventually caught and brought before a fellow named Lavaeolus, who is busy feeding the Luggage sandwiches. Rincewind tells him the truth about their being from the future. Gauging that the Luggage is intent on protecting Rincewind, Lavaeolus takes the wizard and Eric and the box and a few men down a secret passage and right to the center of Tsortean power, where he intends to nab Elenor and take her home. Eric explains that Lavaeolus is quite well known in history for winning this war and then taking ten years to get home. He suggests that they could tell him his future and save him the trouble. They get to the end of the passage and meet Elenor of Tsort, who is not what Eric was expecting, on account of her being a mother who’s older than he imagined. She doesn’t want to leave, but the Ephebians set fire to the city as history dictates and the Luggage gets everyone out. Lavaeolus asks Rincewind if he’ll get home okay since he knows the future, and Rincewind tells him that he’s famous for it, in fact. Eric tells Rincewind that Lavaeolus’s name means “rinser of winds,” and Rincewind wonders if that means they’re related.
Rincewind snaps his fingers again and they’re in darkness, or what seems to be darkness. In fact, they’ve arrived at beginning of existence and meet a creator in their universe. Rincewind asks him for a sandwich, which he gets, but the sandwich has no mayo. (Astfgl goes to find them at the end of the universe, runs into Death, and finds out that Rincewind is a human, not a demon. He’s pretty furious about that.) The creator creates the Disc, then leaves them there, noting that gods are bound to show up soon. Eric doesn’t understand why they’re there, so Rincewind explains: He asked to live forever, so the wish helpfully dropped them at the beginning of time, allowing him to live out forever. And now his three wishes are up, so they’re stranded. But they use Eric’s knowledge to do some magic and wind up in Hell. (Rincewind’s sandwich is left behind and goes on to introduce a lot of helpful bacteria to the new world.)
Their guide in Hell is Urglefloggah, and Rincewind tells him they’ve got an appointment to get away from him, only to arrive in Astfgl’s version of Hell, the one that had taken its cue from humans. The torture they see is full of mundanity and boredom, making both the denizens of Hell and the demons themselves miserable. Astfgl is furious that they can’t seem to locate Rincewind and Eric, and insists on having Urglefloggah destroyed for not catching them when they arrived. Rincewind and Eric run into Quirm and the parrot; Quirm found the Fountain of Youth and drank, but didn’t boil the water first. Then they run into Lavaeolus, who is understandably vexed that Rincewind wasn’t more forthcoming about how long it would take him to get home. He points them toward a way out nevertheless.
As Astfgl is occupied trying to get his hands on them, the truth is revealed: Duke Vassenego gave Rincewind his abilities in order to distract Astfgl so they could overtake him and get Hell back to normal. They tell Astfgl that he’s been promoted to Supreme Life President of Hell, and that all his plans will be implemented. This catches Astfgl in his own Hell of constant bureaucratic planning (which he, of course, doesn’t notice), leaving the demons to get on with things. The people of Tezuman pick up atheism once the Luggage doesn’t return, and they’re happier for it. The people of Tsort and Ephebe are happy with their big war over, and the demons of Hell are happy too, and the Luggage is currently happy fighting demons for a bit. Vassenego tells his people to let Rincewind and Eric go so they can spread stories about Hell.
This… this is just a weird lil book, isn’t it? I mean, it’s a bit fun if you’ve read any of the myths and classics attached to the story, but that only really takes you so far, and then you’re mostly left wondering why at the end. Because Eric is thoroughly boring as a co-protagonist. He doesn’t really do much, it’s all Rincewind, and by this point we know full well that Rincewind is a better protagonist when he’s got someone to bounce off of—Twoflower, other wizards, barbarians, literally anyone with a personality and a point of view that will get in the way of his sense of self-preservation. But throughout this book, he’s mostly stuck at the whims of the plot.
I mean, you know it’s all gone wonky when even the Luggage doesn’t get to have much fun.
At the start of the book we got this idea that we might get to see the issue of someone doing the things Faust did when he’s just an angst-y know-nothing teen, but that doesn’t bear out. Then we get the Dante’s Inferno parallel and the Odyssey stuff, and I’m sort of baffled by the fact that Pratchett didn’t go to the real obvious jab—the fact that these stories revolve around men who think very well of themselves for no particular reason at all. I mean, Inferno is basically Dante writing fanfic about how he’s so special that his writing fave Virgil is gonna be his personal guide through Hell. It’s ripe for absolutely gorgeous cutting satire, and instead we just get… Eric. Who doesn’t know anything and doesn’t do much. (Also Rincewind as a Virgil stand-in? That could’ve been SO GOOD ARGH.)
My theory here is that there was just too much leftover in Pratchett’s head after working on Good Omens, and he wanted to shove it somewhere, so this is where he put it. Right? I mean, this version of Hell is basically what the place would be like if demons actually listened to Crowley. That’s the whole arc we get with Astfgl being deposed by demons who really just want to go back to the good ol’ days of flames and blood. Which is fun to play with, but maybe not enough material for an entire book. And you know, this is less than half the length of most Discworld books, so you can kind of rest your case there.
The real thing we get out of this is Rincewind making his way out of the Dungeon Dimensions, but we don’t even really get to enjoy that because the book ends before we see them emerge. So that’s pretty disappointing too. ’Til next time, my grumpy wizard friend.
Asides and little thoughts:
- Look, the point is that the Disc has gods and it has demons and all sorts of religions, but Pratchett’s personal god is definitely Death, and you’ll never convince me otherwise. We just watched him outlast the end of the universe and into the eruption of a new one.
- The Luggage existing continuously on the “hostility event horizon” is just a Mood, honestly.
- In this case, the road to Hell is genuinely paved with good intentions, i.e. stone with good intentions carved into them. One of them is “We Are Equal Opportunity Employers” which… as pointed zings go, that’s an able one.
Fortunately, Rincewind was able to persuade the man that the future was another country.
Eric opened his mouth. Eric screeched and clutched at his shins.
His voice gave out and he made several wavy motions with his hand, indicative of the shape of a woman who would probably be unable to keep her balance.
After a while the oars were shipped, or unshipped, or whatever they called it when they were stuck through the holes in the sides, and the boat moved slowly out into the bay.
The whole point about the end of the universe was that you couldn’t go past it accidentally.
He hadn’t eaten for ages. He wondered what the penalty was for eating a venerated object. It was probably severe.
It was unique, a little white triangle full of anachronisms, lost and all alone in an unfriendly world.
And it would be a lazy use of language to say the the thing that answered the door was a nightmare.
Next week we’re on to Moving Pictures! We’ll read until “They needed a way in. They found it.”