Terry Pratchett Book Club

Terry Pratchett Book Club: Moving Pictures, Part V

We’re going to save everything in the nick of time—because that’s how it works in the movies. It’s time to finish up Moving Pictures.

Summary

The wizards have snuck into the Odium and taken seats, and the Patrician is seated in the VIP section with Victor, and Ginger, and Dibbler, fascinated by the whole affair and the fact that no one knows who he is. The picture starts up and Victor feels a wet nose on his leg—Gaspode has arrived and snapped him out of it because the whole theater is in a trance, the fog having made it all the way from Holy Wood. Victor goes after the film itself and manages to stop the reel, but a monster version of Ginger steps out of the screen, and then a monster version of him. He tries to get everyone in the theater to clear out, but a few folks stay behind as he figures out what to do: set all the films on fire, since fire isn’t magic at all. Gaspode volunteers himself and Laddie to do the job because they can run out fast. They don’t seem to make it from the explosion, but the Ginger Monster survives and heads toward the University. The wizards beg Victor to do something because they can’t use magic against it, as the monster will just soak it up. Everyone believes that Victor is the hero they’ve seen him be in the clicks.

Victor and Ginger panic about how they’re going to stop the monster when they’re only actors, but it occurs to Victor that the magical conditions of this might be just right. Perhaps they only need to be what people believe for a moment. He tells Gaffer to roll the picture box and suddenly everything starts working like in the films. Gaffer and Ginger follow behind Victor to keep the magic working. The Librarian is waiting for the monster to show up and ends up swinging between buildings to get closer—he’s picked up by the Ginger monster. The wizards create an illusion of fire, which saves the monster; because it’s bound by Holy Wood rules, it believes what it sees. It climbs the Tower of Art, and Victor charges after it, believing himself into heroics the whole way. He attacks the monster, knowing that he only needs to take its focus so it can’t concentrate on keeping its form. His efforts along with Ridcully and the Bursar attacking from a flying broomstick do the trick: The monster falls, landing atop poor Ponder Stibbons. The Librarian shows Victor the Holy Wood book and helps him realize his mistake: He’d been reading the book backwards. He goes to Ginger and explains that she hadn’t been letting the monsters into their world, she’d been the guard trying to keep them out.

The entire group films their way back to Holy Wood so that they can keep running on Holy Wood logic. The Librarian explains things to Victor and suggests that Ginger is probably a descendant of one of the place’s old High Priestesses, hence that old dream she keeps having. They arrive back at the town where they made the clicks, but they can hear themselves speak, presumably because clicks don’t have sound. They head to the Holy Wood hill and find Detritus holding everything up. They move deeper into the temple and find the theater again, with all the Holy Wood denizens trapped there, staring at the screen. Victor tries to get Ginger to remember what she did before, but she had been asleep, so she can’t remember. There’s a gong, which Detritus has the ability to ring, and it wakes the golden figure on the slab. The audience begins to awaken and Victor tells the Librarian and Detritus to get everyone out; he knows he and Ginger have to be the last ones to leave. They end up having to swim their way out and when they come up out of the water, they see Holy Wood Town shake apart.

Everything goes back to normal: Detritus and Ruby get together; the animals stop talking and get back to chasing each other; the dwarves stop singing while they work. Ginger and Victor sit in the Mended Drum thinking of Gaspode and Laddie. The wizards and the Patrician have declared that no more clicks can be made. The herders arrive at the City Watch headquarters to find out where they can find Dibbler to deliver a thousand elephants to him. Silverfish goes back to alchemy (and probably discovers uranium). Gaspode encounters Death, but it turns out that his time isn’t quite up yet. He and Laddie are discovered by the trolls, but no one notices him. His ability to talk vanishes and the world goes back to monochrome. He heads out to get leftovers from Harga’s.

Commentary

Okay, so I’m gonna start with a particular aside on thoughts I have on comedy and how it plays on page versus screen. This is due, in large part, to the fact that I noticed The Mask was on Hulu last night—given that my partner had been scared of it as a child (due to a traumatic sleepover experience) and I had adored it, I decided to subject him to the trauma again. …He was fine, I swear, it was a good night.

The reason this comes up is because there are (weirdly) a lot of similarities between that film and the end of this book—in that both are chock full of one-liner references to classic films. The difference lies in the execution of those jokes; in a book, you’re reading the lines in your head. Provided that you can clock the references, it conjures up the film moment being referenced, and then you have to decide how it’s being played within the book itself. In some cases, it can make the references funnier, in some cases not. Conversely, when you’re watching something like The Mask, the comedy is entirely down to Jim Carrey’s take on each of those movie moments. You’re enjoying the act of watching a great comedian do flawless impressions.

I’m hesitant to say that one of these choices is better than the other, but I do think that packing anything full of references to other stuff—unless there’s some good context within the story for said references—is often a fruitless exercise. Plenty of people don’t get the references, for one. But moreover, in the world we now occupy where the majority of wide-reaching entertainment is relying on those references to drive their material (i.e. the current state of Star Wars and the MCU), it stops being fun.

I think that Pratchett can largely get away with it here because this is a book about movies. But the one-off lines don’t do much for me overall. (“A fine mess you got me into,” “Tomorrow is another day,” “Play it again, Sham,” and the like.) The parodies of Attack of the 50 Foot Woman and the reversed King Kong scenario provided by monster Ginger and the Librarian in the climax, however, are glorious. They further the plot, provide excellent pastiche, and they are extremely fun to imagine.

There’s a lot to be said for the idea of using the Discworld as a distant sort of frame to highlight what makes movie magic different from magical magic. This also falls into the realm of what makes stories magic in general, while highlighting certain things about film that are particular to the art form itself—convenience, nick-of-time heroics, the shiny-ness of it all. And, of course, the idea of belief (or in this case, the suspension of disbelief), which is something that Pratchett comes back to in his work over and over.

And that’s a beautiful thought to end this book on, in fact: If our beliefs create reality, then, in their own particular way, movies must be a little bit real. No matter how unreal they are from a purely scientific standpoint.

It’s strange, because in the decision to have Gaspode go back to his old life once the Holy Wood magic wears off puts me in mind of a particular Hollywood choice that always infuriated me: If you’ve ever watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s, you know that there’s a very important cat which serves as a sort of metaphor: Holly Golightly insists that she doesn’t belong to the cat and he doesn’t belong to her, signaling her determination to refuse roots and stability in her life. The film ends with her having a breakdown over the idea of letting the cat go; she is forced to admit to her lover that she does want a committed relationship, the same way she wants to keep the cat.

Thing is, if you’ve ever read the Truman Capote novella that the film is based on, you know that’s not how the story goes. In the book, Holly sticks to her belief that she and the cat don’t belong to each other… and unsurprisingly, she and narrator do not end up happily ever after together. The point being that Pratchett has, quite pointedly, provided a perfect breaking point in the Holy Wood magic in Gaspode’s reversion. Gaspode goes back to a life where he belongs to himself, and is largely content with that fact. The parallels are striking here, at least to my brain.

As an end note, I have realized that we are basically a quarter of the way through the Discworld books. I’m very interested to see how the overall arc feels over time, and how these stories have cohered slowly into a recognizable universe. We haven’t even gotten to most of the better-known tomes, but most of the major characters are on the world-board now, so to speak. Also I really can’t even get into how much material this man cracked out in under a decade, and how that would continue to be true of him throughout this writing career. It’s just a staggering amount of ideas.

Asides and little thoughts:

  • There’s a comment in here that the more glorious a movie theater looks on the public side, the more ghastly its back rooms will be, and this is entirely accurate—but even more so for actual stage theatres. Walk into a spot with distracting and gorgeous architecture and then find a way to head backstage sometime. It’s like usually cement closets and uncleanable corners all the way through, and that’s where the actors essentially live.
  • The joke that Windle Poons makes of “Twopence more and up goes the donkey!” is some Victorian slang that Pratchett added in, and it seems a good time to make mention of it because there’s more in the upcoming book too. This seems to be a pastime of certain British authors (Gaiman’s another one), just finding any and all excuses to drop those phrases into books. I can hardly blame them.
  • So the group goes crashing through a barn on their way back to Holy Wood, and chickens come out the other side when the farmer doesn’t have chickens because that’s just how it goes in movies. But really, his barn is full of cabbage. And now all I can think about is how this would seem to be the natural predecessor to the Avatar: The Last Airbender “My cabbages!” joke.

Pratchettisms:

Reality was what went on inside people’s heads.

Both dogs bounded away after it, propelled by instinct. On his way past, Gaspode had just enough self-control to say, “You bastard!”

“Can’t stand vegetables. Thins the blood.”

Detritus’ face was a fresco of misery.

They climbed over broken dreams.

She picked up a chair and hit him scientifically over the head with it. A smile spread across his face, and he slumped forward.

Next week we start: Reaper Man! We’ll read up to “It must be all the compost, Modo thought.”

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