Watch out for the drop bears. And the birds. And the sheep. And the canyons.
Rincewind travels, encountering birds and drop bears and a herd of wild horses. Snowy almost takes him down a canyon, but they get back out and a group of fellows led by a man named Remorse offer to buy Snowy off Rincewind for some food. He agrees and sets off toward Bugarup again. Ponder comes across the cave where the god of evolution is creating new animals and plants. He thinks that he would rather be this god’s assistant since being a wizard hasn’t turned out quite the way he imagined. The other wizards show up and they learn that the god doesn’t know how creatures reproduce, which leads to them trying to explain sex—but they can’t manage it because they’re all too embarrassed to bring up the subject, even more so when Mrs. Whitlow turns up. The god starts to get frustrated, which leads to impromptu lightning bolts, so Mrs. Whitlow asks what the trouble is, and then takes the god aside to explain sex to him. The wizards decide there’s been enough of all that and make to leave in the ship the god created for them, but Ponder has decided to stay. He thinks he’s found the right place for him to be, and the wizards agree to his request.
The wizards proceed to have a long discussion on sex after the fact, in which they debate the usefulness of the activity overall, and whether it should be altered or edited in some way. (One of them suggests that procreating should occur by croquet game, which results in Ridcully and the Dean deciding that the man should have his croquet equipment confiscated.) Rincewind looks at his food stuffs and decides that he ought to boil things to make a yeasty vegetable soup with beer and all his salt because that’s how late-night cooking works, of course. He wakes in the middle of the night to find sheep in his camp, and digs a deep hole to find water. A man wanders into his camp and Rincewind suggests that he not steal these sheep, so he runs off. When Rincewind climbs from the hole, there are watchmen waiting to take him into custody. Meanwhile, Ponder and the god of evolution are working on various animals, but Ponder ask if he can help with the really big project, and the god leads him to it. Ponder is excited to work on what he assumes is the progenitor of man—it turns out to be a cockroach.
The wizards are beginning to set sail and arguing over who can next tend to Mrs. Whitlow. Ridcully notices that Ponder has jumped into the ocean and swum out to the ship, asking for permission to come aboard. Rincewind has been arrested for sheep stealing, which no one is inclined to believe he didn’t steal. He asks the warder if there are bound to be any useful manners of escape available, but the current prison doesn’t really have any. The warder tells him that several balladeers are there for his hanging tomorrow, and that everyone around here like a good escape as much a good sheep-stealer hanging. The only person who ever escaped was a fellow named Ned, but he still wound up hanged. They bring him his last dinner, and then Death shows up and Rincewind realizes that this is really it; he’s going to die tomorrow. But Death goes to depart and it turns out that he only dropped by so Rincewind could see a friendly face. Rincewind looks at the ceiling and finds a note from Ned saying “look at the hinjis” so Rincewind checks the door and finds that you can lift the thing right off its hinges and escape. Ponder notices a large storm approaching their boat, and the storm produces the last continent, which has a large magical field of the sort that might ignite a war. They batten the hatches as they hit the storm.
Rincewind runs into Dibbler, this one known as Fair Go Dibbler, and they have a discussion about indigenous peoples and local food until the watchmen discover Rincewind and he runs away. They keep following, however, so he runs into the local opera house and is mistaken for a chef who must create a pudding for a local singer; he gets right to it. The wizards are beginning to fight with each other in the presence of raw magic, but the ship begins to destruct and they need to devise a plan quickly to get to shore. The boat goes down and they’re all treading water with the sharks as Mrs. Whitlow swims for shore. Thankfully, the Librarian has turned into a dolphin and helps their strange flotilla toward shore, where they catch up with Mrs. Whitlow and find that the beach is now below them rather than ahead of them.
I appreciate the sheer volume of weird crap Rincewind is inventing on this adventure, up to and including shotgunning beers from a can and also Marmite? It helps to distract from The Man from Snowy River references all over the place, which is a movie that honestly no one needs to see. There are better ways to watch Kirk Douglas. (No idea about the poem, though?) Also, the comment that “beer was only a kind of runny bread” is basically true, and more true the further back in history that you go, really.
We’ve again got a section where very little actually happens aside from parodies and Ponder’s very quick stint as a god’s assistant. Ultimately this is all a complex setup to give Rincewind what he needs to enact his prophecy, and it is bemusing all the way through, particularly Ponder’s existential horror over the god’s obsession with beetles and the common cockroach (but he really should have seen that one coming).
Before that, we get Ponder’s preoccupation with wanting to change the human brain so that it doesn’t associate beards with wisdom but instead with people “who were young and skinny and required glasses for close work” and the thing is… well, that happened. And now I’m thinking about when Pratchett is making this joke and trying to decide if that’s the point, or if he hadn’t been prepared for that changeover. I mean, Bill Gates was a big deal, but Apple hadn’t taken over the world entirely by 1998. Startup culture wasn’t a thing yet, and Silicon Valley was alive and well, but nothing like what we see today. So it reads far less as a joke so much as predicting the future, which is sharp for a book about time travel paradoxes.
Mrs. Whitlow’s general unflappability in the sex talk is also Grade A Prime character time. The way she gets the wizards to do things for her by commenting on the state of the environment reminds me very much of a fight I once had with a friend of a family friend, an older gentleman who needed me to understand that feminism was bad because women could always get exactly what they wanted from men by “wrapping them around their finger”—essentially, by speaking softly but being keenly manipulative. The guy seemed to think this was a good and “ladylike” way of being, and what he was talking about is pretty much exactly how Mrs. Whitlow comports herself. Not something I aspire to, but fascinating to clock.
Also, I do love the idea of Dibbler being a universal entity who crops up everywhere in different guises with different foods and similar terribleness. It speaks to be immutable nature of humankind, or something.
Asides and little thoughts:
- Of course Ponder is the kid who kept toys in their boxes.
- The whole aside about how midnight cookery always makes sense at the time puts me in mind of a lecture from a very intense fireman that I and a room full of students got when studying abroad in England. He needed us to know that we were always going to be hungry when we got drunk and that it was deathly important that we not put out the frying pan to heat up beans or bacon or chips because that was how fires happened. The very first week there was a dorm fire: Someone put beans in the skillet and fell asleep at their kitchen table.
- “Have you gone totally Bursar?” I just like the idea of the wizards using “bursar” for nuts, it’s good.
- I appreciate that Pratchett comes down firmly against pineapple on pizza in his trash food footnote. Obviously, everyone should eat exactly what tastes good to them, but I am very against putting sweet things in my savory foods (putting savory in sweet is, on the other hand, a beautiful thing) and the concept of pineapple on pizza thoroughly breaks my brain.
Even danger has its pride.
No head, when screwed on to a body, ought to make sound like a cork being pushed into a bottle, but the beetle’s did in the hands of the god.
And in that moment he knew that, despite the apparent beetle fixation, here was where he’d always wanted to be, at the cutting edge of the envelope in the fast lane of the state of the art.
It is very easy to get ridiculously confused about the tenses of time travel, but most things can be solved by a sufficiently large ego.
A few brain cells registered their doubt, but the rest of them grabbed them by the collar and said hoarsely, people cooked chicken in wine, didn’t they?
The trouble is that it’s easy to abstain from sweets when you’re not standing knee deep in treacle and it’s raining sugar.
“Are you saying that before you apply for the job of housekeeper of a university you should seriously consider being eaten by sharks on the shore of some mysterious continent thousands of years before you were born?”
Next week we’ll finish the book!