The Terry Pratchett Book Club is putting on some tunes, grabbing the fuzzy slippers, and slapping on a face mask for that ultra relaxation vibe… which is probably just as well because no one in this book will ever be relaxed. It’s part two of The Light Fantastic…
Trymon has just taken up his place as head of the order at the Unseen University only to find that the Great A’Tuin is going to run into a star. He know they must find Rincewind to have access to the final spell of the Octavo, so he decides that they will use Rincewind’s horoscope to discover his location. (Trymon wants to be the one to utter all the spells because the prophecy of the Pyramid of Tsort states that the person who does this when the Disc is in danger will “obtain all that he truly desires.”) Rincewind has decided he wants to go home, but Twoflower suggests they stay the night at least, and be present for a very important ceremony. Said ceremony happens to contain a sacrifice, which Twoflower doesn’t take well at all.
As Trymon’s people close in and Twoflower attempts to stop the sacrifice, Rincewind is held at knifepoint by Cohen the Barbarian. Cohen attacks the druids to steal their treasure and make off with the sacrificee, Bethan, but in the ensuing ruckus, Twoflower gets hit with a poison projectile. The group rush away, and Rincewind realizes who they escaped with only to learn that Twoflower is gone. Cohen brings him to a necromancer, who gives him some medicine to help him cross over to find the tourist. Trymon has a meeting with the wizard council where they discuss his creation of “agendas” and what they’re all doing to find Rincewind—Trymon has employed a warrior to find him, since magic isn’t working out. Her name is Herrena the Henna-Haired Harridan.
Rincewind is in Death’s Domain, where he finds the Luggage and Death’s home, on an outcropping over a giant vortex. Once inside, he meets Death’s adopted daughter Ysabell, who is very excited for living guests. They head to a study where Twoflower is teaching a card game to Death, War, Famine, and Pestilence. Rincewind extracts Twoflower, who doesn’t seem to realize that he’s dead and also wants to take pictures of Death’s house. Ysabell doesn’t want them to leave, and makes to sever their lifelines to the mortal realm, so Rincewind hits Twoflower and tosses him over his shoulder to make a run for it. The Luggage leads the way over the edge of the outcropping, and Rincewind decides to follow. Death, War, Famine, and Pestilence decide they’ll continue their game of cards.
Rincewind and Twoflower (and eventually the Luggage) are back in the Octavo, which tells the wizard that it has to keep his spell away from the wizards because it can’t be said before the proper time—that’s the reason they lodged the spell in his head in the first place, because the Octavo knew it could trust Rincewind to keep the spell safe. Rincewind tells the book off for that choice, then complains about wanting to go home, which conveniently pulls them back into their bodies. They wake up in the necromancer’s yurt with Cohen and Bethan, and the Luggage finds them. Rincewind looks at the last picture taken by Twoflower’s picture box and doesn’t much like what he sees. The next day, the necromancer’s people give them all horses so they ride the hundred miles to the Circle Sea.
The group end up in an area that’s got trolls all about. Rincewind goes to find onions for soup and ends up talking to a rock, while Twoflower explains dentures to Cohen, who is awed by the concept. The rock turns out to be a troll, and then a few more show up and tell Rincewind that they have a legend about him. They’re supposed to help him and not bite him, so he asks for their aid in making some soup. They agree, but when they get back to the camp site, they find that Rincewind’s whole band is gone and there’s been a fight. There’s a trail leading up into the hills where the troll’s Old Grandad lives, who’s gone a bit “rock” to take their meaning… The trolls grab up Rincewind, and set off to help him get his friends back.
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We’re told when one of Trymon’s people checks it out that Rincewind doesn’t have a wizard’s horoscope, which simultaneously tells you everything you need to know about the various wizard orders and also everything you need to know about Rincewind. But I’m also fascinated by the concept of Disc horoscopes in general, and in the fact that Pratchett loves bringing up horoscopes and poking fun at them—which is fair because they occupy a sort of liminal space in the realm of “believing the unbelievable.” Using myself as an example: Do I believe that horoscopes have any bearing whatsoever in my day to day life, and plan around them? Certainly not. Do I have a lot of opinions about my sun, moon, and rising signs, and still read up on them occasionally for some reason? Yes. (Hush, I know.) I suspect that Pratchett knows many people engage with them that way, and that tendency is part of what he’s highlighting.
Cohen is obviously a play on the concept of Conan the Barbarian… but if he lived to be a very old man. Which I appreciate, not only because it’s a fact of life that doesn’t occur to many people, but also because he’s really digging into the concept of aging when one’s purpose is tied to associations with youth, even from a comedic vantage point. For instance, Beowulf does actually get older in the course of his story, but he’s still permitted a “hero’s end”, as it were—we suspect big buff heroic figures to die in battle, generally because we assume that’s what they’d want, to die in glory and honor and what-have-you. But if one survives because they are the best, age is rarely so glamorous to anyone. So Cohen has no teeth (and it’s true, dental problems are one of the biggest issues of age, tweaks about dentures aside), and everything causes him pain, and he’s still just getting on with life despite all of that. And while everything that Pratchett writes comes with a sense of humor, I do think the reader is meant to truly engage with that idea. Is this what Conan would really become, eventually? What does it mean, to reckon with that?
We also finally learn that wizards don’t permit women into the Unseen University out of fear that women will be too good at magic, which is as scathing a commentary as you’ll ever hear about the nature of sexism and exclusionary practices. But then this section is where we really start to see more of what will become one of Pratchett’s hallmarks as an author—not just that he treats women as people, but that he does so in a way that readily acknowledges how sexism typically frames women, and then makes a point of not doing those things vocally within the prose. So the introduction of Herrena lets us know that, sure, if you scrubbed her clean and put her in lingerie, she’d probably look great, but she’s a working woman, so she’s dressed for her job, thanks.
There are times when Pratchett’s narrative has direct conversation with its audience, and it works particularly well in Herrena’s presentation, with its side-eye toward fantasy cover artists, and its insistence that for Herrena’s band of swarthy dudes, okay, “Look, they can wear leather if you like.” Pratchett gets to say in no uncertain terms, I know what you’re doing, and I’m not gonna stop you, but please know that I’m giving you A Look the whole time because you don’t have to engage tropes this way.
The whole description of Death’s Domain is particularly arresting, and I always forget it until I read it again. Also, we get to meet Ysabell, who will obviously come up again later, along with Mort. It’s strange to find Death playing cards with the Horseman, though—it’s an explicitly Christian reference that doesn’t quite play with the taxonomy of the Disc, as it were. Which makes me wonder if Pratchett just couldn’t resist the opportunity to use them for the sake of the gag, then found the better opportunity for it with Good Omens, where the need for Christian markers was explicit.
Rincewind and Twoflower have an argument about pictures on their way out of the house, which I love because I’ve had this exact same argument myself in real life. While I understand that some people are going to spend too much time behind a camera and forget to experience something in realtime, I firmly side with Twoflower on this one. Rincewind says it’s more “real” to remember something with your mind—but minds are fallible, memories imperfect, and bodies prone to decay. You can never remember something perfectly forever, but if you have a photograph, you can keep that image and look back on it. (Of course, the picture they wind up with isn’t of what they saw, which is a whole different issue.)
In any case, none of these things can prepare us for meeting so many very lovely trolls, who offer advice on where to obtain onions because the trees are currently napping. Good thing they’re about because given everything that’s happened to Rincewind of late, he could use some helpful transport a la Merry and Pippin with the ents.
Asides and little thoughts:
- “[…] and what about all those studded collars and oiled muscles down at the Young Men’s Pagan Association?” is the best possible way of referencing the Village People and YMCA that one could slip into a fantasy novel.
- Very few images make me as emotionally vulnerable as “It had a rather pathetic look, like a dog that’s just come home after a pleasant roll in the cowpats to find that the family has moved to the next continent.” It’s only a hypothetical, and the Luggage gets Twoflower back, and I still can’t freaking handle it.
- Death’s garden in black, white, and purple flowers sounds freaking lovely. (There’s this one particularly sort of black flower at the botanical gardens near where I live, and it mesmerizes me every time I see it.)
- Ysabell says that when heroes come to rescue their girlfriends, it’s “important not to look back”, which is of course a reference to the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. (That’s the one where the hero is told he can have his love back provided, while they’re on the path leaving the underworld, he never looks back at her. He does, because it’s a tragedy and so forth.)
Twoflower didn’t just look at the world through rose-tinted spectacles, Rincewind knew—he looked at it through a rose-tinted brain, too, and heard it through rose-tinted ears.
Rincewind couldn’t see his captor, but by the feel of it he had a body made of coat hangers.
In a distant forest a wolf howled, felt embarrassed when no one joined in, and stopped.
“And what does a gender do?” (THANK YOU, SIR TERRY, EXACTLY.)
While it was true that, as has already been indicated, Rincewind was to magic what a bicycle is to a bumblebee […]
The thought had crossed his mind, only very fast and looking nervously from side to side in case it got knocked over.
Next week we read up to:
“Very large mice?”
“That’s probably it.”
See you then!