What’s that, Jim is still here in the podcast? Okay, then it’s time to talk about Discworld. There’s a lot going on in this disc-shaped world atop four elephants standing on the back of a giant turtle, the Great A’Tuin. A lot of it, like the dwarves, is really good. Some of it, like deus ex luggage, is not so good. Join us to discover which is which!
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Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.
Men at Arms (Discworld) by Terry Prachett
Monstrous Regiment (Discworld) by Terry Prachett
Going Postal (Discworld) by Terry Prachett
Thud! (Discworld) by Terry Prachett
Guards! Guards! (Discworld) by Terry Prachett
Color Magic (Discworld) by Terry Prachett
Small Gods (Discworld) by Terry Prachett
Generously transcribed by Perspiring Writer. Volunteer to transcribe a podcast.
Chris: You’re listening to the Mythcreants podcast, with your hosts: Oren Ashkenazi, Mike Hernandez, and Chris Winkle. [opening song]
Oren: Today’s episode is brought to you by our sponsor: Kathy Ferguson, a professor of Political Theory in Star Trek.
Oren: Welcome, everyone, to another episode of the Mythcreants podcast. I’m Oren, and with me today is…
Oren: And- hang on. How did you get back in here? Also joining us is recurring guest host Jim.
Johnathan: Hey, guys! It’s me.
Oren: How did you- you were just here last time. What is- okay. Sure, whatever.
Johnathan: That’s part of my recurring guest host powers; I get to recur, just again, and- no breaks.
Oren: Alright, that’s good.
Chris: We’re not really sure how it happens; it’s just like, we set our time for when we are going to record a podcast, and somehow he’s there. We think maybe he just hangs out on our podcast channel just all the time.
Oren: Well, Discord does let you spy on your friends, so like, that does track. Okay, good; I’m glad we figured that out. So, today we, again, did not have Jim on to talk about the law. Except for one law, which is that everyone must love Discworld, because Discworld is what we are here to talk about today. About why it’s awesome, except for when it’s not. Because sometimes- maybe sometimes it’s not.
Johnathan: Not actually true.
Chris: And like normal, I’m a rulebreaker, right?
Oren: Yeah, Chris is all about breaking the rules- [Chris laughs] -being a cheater-pants.
Johnathan: Why do we even have rules? [laughs]
Oren: Okay, so, Discworld, just for anyone who doesn’t know, is written by the late Terry Pratchett, who was an amazing writer and is unfortunately no longer with us. I know that a number of us, including myself, are still upset about that. They take place on a flat world called the Disc, which is atop four giant elephants atop the back of a giant turtle that floats through space.
Johnathan: Who’s name is “The Great A’Tuin.”
Oren: Yes, his name is ‘The Great A’Tuin.’ I’m sorry, Jim; I forgot that.
Johnathan: Come on, man.
Chris: Also, A’Tuin appears to be a sea turtle, at least in all of the actual illustrations I’ve seen. Which makes sense, cause he swims through space, but it doesn’t- nobody ever seems to mention that he’s a sea turtle specifically.
Oren: Well, that’s a fair point. I have never heard anyone mention that. But in the books, they talk about his flippers and stuff, so it’s not like he- he’s not expected to walk around. I don’t know why they missed this, they had a whole book about the gender of the turtle, so why not the subspecies of the turtle? That’s definitely worth a story, right?
Johnathan: You can write that in your fanfic archive.
Oren: Ooh, I will. Jot that down. Okay, so, I have a lot of reasons for liking Discworld. Probably, the one that immediately jumps to mind, independent of anything else that happens, is just that Pratchett has, I would say, one of the most distinctive authorial voices that I’ve ever read.
And he has this very strong wit that makes things funny, and so, when Pratchett goes on a seemingly unrelated bit of exposition about the world, it doesn’t really bother me the way it would with most other authors, because it’s like- it’s not boring, it’s kind of funny and amusing,
And then, because he’s really good at tying everything together, that thing that he went on and talked about for a few minutes at the beginning will usually somehow be relevant to the end. And I’ve seen a lot of authors try to do this, and I’ve seen a lot of authors fail at it and just ended up going off on tangents. But Pratchett manages to bring it home most of the time.
Chris: Yeah, if you find him funny.
Oren: Oh. Sad. [Chris laughs]
Johnathan: That’s a big one to drop.
Chris: I don’t love funny words, right? I’m sorry, his- the reason why I’m not a huge fan of Pratchett- like, I do admire his work in many ways; is that I just don’t find his stuff that funny. Like, it feels silly to me; I think maybe it’s just the English humor is just not my style of humor. I’m not sure, but like…
Johnathan: He is British; that’s fair.
Chris: He is really good at plotting, though. Like, he keeps his plots really tight. But the tangents- if you are not as entertained by his wit, if you don’t find it as funny, sometimes that stuff does get a little bit slow, or otherwise just doesn’t- it doesn’t have the same pizazz that it does if you find him real funny.
Oren: I mean, I can’t really argue that. I can’t say ‘no, you DO find it funny.’ [Chris laughs] So-
Johnathan: I mean, a colorblind person would not be amused by a kaleidoscope, right?
Oren: I wouldn’t compare this to Chris lacking some kind of sense. [Johnathan and Chris laugh] But beyond that, I also think that Pratchett- one of his big strengths is his characters. He has a number of characters that really grow and evolve throughout the series, and he has way too many for me to list, so I’m just going to focus on one, who is a dwarf.
He first shows up- you don’t even know she’s a ‘she’ at that point. She’s kind of a- she’s just sort of a bit of comic relief in the first Guards book, I think. Is that when he introduced her? Jim, do you know?
Johnathan: I do not remember. All of the Watchmen books have bled together for me.
Oren: Yeah, me too. And over the course of the series, she ends up becoming kind of a symbol of throwing off societal expectations, because- like, that’s a big theme throughout the mid-to-later Discworld books, is how repressive dwarven society is. And I was really impressed, because in every other fantasy story, there’s this really tired joke about how ‘do dwarven women have beards? Ho-ho-ho.’ And it’s like, a stupid joke, and it doesn’t have a good answer.
But I always thought Pratchett actually- didn’t take, not the joke exactly, but the idea, and did something with it; and his idea is that like, ‘yes, dwarven women do have beards. They are beautiful beards.’ And that doesn’t- that’s not funny. That’s just a cool thing that they have. And at the same time, there’s a huge amount of repression in dwarven culture about how you can express yourself based on the way your beard looks.
And Littlebottom ends up being a big part of the pushback against that, and that’s one of the reasons I like Discworld so much, is cause it actually has its own weird fantasy civil rights thing going on.
Chris: And I feel like it has a lot of serious messages that it doesn’t get as much credit for as it should because it’s funny. It’s almost like people are trained to not treat a work as meaningful if it’s also light.
Chris: And I feel like that unfortunately, the Discworld books have, in some ways, let the important messages they have, have been ignored to a certain extent because of that.
Oren: I did see an article right after Pratchett died by some guy in the Guardian who was talking about how like, he doesn’t understand why everyone is so worked up about a fantasy author passing away, and just freely admitted he knew nothing about the Discworld books. And it was like, ‘I don’t get why anyone cares, we should be talking about important things.’ And I was like, ‘what is… what is happening here?’ I don’t know if that’s a symptom of what you’re talking about, Chris, but…
There’s also… just like, bigger societal conflicts that happen throughout the course of the Discworld books, like the conflict between the trolls and the dwarfs has a lot of parallels with conflicts in real life between different groups, and shows like, how they can spiral out of control from a single incident and become this awful thing that is impossible to put back in the box.
And like, the way that he resolves that in the book Thud!, and the way that he ends up sort of bringing them back together was a really powerful message, and Thud!’s probably my favorite Discworld book for that reason. And he also talks a lot about conflict between human groups; I know- Jim, I know Jingo is probably your favorite.
Johnathan: Yeah, Jingo is amazing. And also, it has been a long time since I’ve read it. I know I’ve read it at least five or six times, but that was well over seven years ago at least. But I think, with Jingo, and also his stories overall, not only does he have good general parallels to societal problems, or just things that happen in the world, he has good direct parallels and just one-to-one relations of things that happened historically, or like, evolutions of technology or societal structures.
And one of them- just going back to the dwarfs, I forget what book this is, but at one point, the main city where most things happen, Ankh-Morpork, it has so many dwarfs that have immigrated to it that it becomes the largest dwarf city on all of the Discworld, and that’s a huge socio-shift for where the dwarfs originally came from, and for those cities, to recognize that Ankh-Morpork has more dwarfs than any of they do.
And so, what those dwarfs think, even though they have very different societal and cultural values now, or at least slightly different, and continuing to shift, that they need to evolve with that or find a meeting-ground between the two cultures.
Oren: Right, and it even- in that same storyline, there’s the whole issue of immigration and how new immigrants are both essential to a place and are also often marginalized and discriminated against. Until, at least in most cases, once they’ve been there long enough and everyone kind of forgets that they were ever new and immigrants, and then like, the next wave shows up, and the process repeats itself.
Because at first, it happens with the dwarfs, right? And in some of the early books with Ankh-Morpork, you have the people talking about how ‘man, these dwarfs keep coming into the city and messing up our Ankh-Morpork lives, and taking our Ankh-Morpork jobs,’ or whatever. And then, after the dwarfs have been there for a while, then you start to get trolls immigrating, and it’s like, ‘ah, those stupid trolls coming in and messing up our dwarf neighborhoods.’
And it’s- I think it’s something that, considering the current problem that Europe is having, and the United States too, with helping refugees. I really feel like more people could do to read those Discworld stories and see how that all plays out over and over again.
Johnathan: I think Pratchett does a great job of exposing sort of the ignorance of racism, in that, most of the characters you encounter that are racist, and even violently so, like, they’re more racist out of reflex.
And he spends time exploring how like, ‘they’re racist, but they really like this food, and they don’t think of the people that like, they get food-’ they go have dwarven cuisine, and they really like it, and they don’t consider those dwarfs that they get that food from to be actually dwarfs, cause they’re alright with them, and just sort of like, this racism that doesn’t always…
That people don’t recognize they don’t practice all the time, and how people with these misconceptions are almost internally struggling with their own interpersonal relationships of the members of the people they’re racist against, and their sort of knee-jerk reflexive thoughts on it.
Oren: Right. I thought that like, what he did was, he captured both the absurdity and the terribleness of racial discrimination. Because, on the one hand, as you pointed out, it’s- like, this is a thing that happens in real life, right, where people will rail against someone from a certain group, and like, go out and get food that that race or ethnicity makes, and that won’t occur to them.
It’s like, that’s absurd and almost funny, on one way, but it also has these terrible repercussions that he does not shy away from.
Johnathan: Not even just eating the food, but like, where they get the food from; they kind of consider that family or the people that own the restaurant to be not- to not be racist against them specifically, and to create- like, he has a lot of his characters that have this ignorant racism inside of them to like, form connections with members of like, dwarfs or trolls that they’re racist against, sort of unwittingly, and then like, sometimes meet that head on.
Like, when Detritus the troll joins the Ankh-Morpork Night Watch, a lot of the police officers have these innate assumptions about trolls, and they talk about trolls in these shitty ways, and then like, they realize that they’ve been hanging out with Detritus and they’re like, ‘but not you, I guess,’ and Detritus takes it on the shoulder cause he’s a stand-up guy, and sort of leads them towards not thinking and talking about these things anymore.
Oren: Right, he really nails the ‘you’re one of the good ones’ fallacy that a lot of people who discriminate have, where they’re like, ‘I don’t hate this group, I just don’t like the bad ones. You’re okay.’ And he really hits that.
He also has a number of books that tackle various forms of gender discrimination. Probably my favorite is Monstrous Regiment, because it’s like- Monstrous Regiment captures the difficulty of entrenched sexism. Like, something- it’s not just one jerk being sexist, right? It’s a whole culture that is set up around these sexist assumptions; and how difficult that is to change, and like, the price that it asks from people who are willing to stand up to it.
And like, the characters- a lot of the women in the story have a serious discussion at one point about like, ‘we could probably go home now and be okay, or we could keep pushing. And like, we don’t know what’s going to happen.’ And that moment struck me as incredibly poignant, and I really liked it.
Johnathan: I too, appreciate that book. [Oren laughs]
Oren: It’s also a good book, but I don’t really have to divide your part of the podcast away from me. [laughter]
Chris: Let’s talk about his characters a bit. I noticed that one thing he does really well that I’ve seen lacking in a lot of other books is simply making his character distinctive. Like, they have memorable traits and memorable personality characteristics, and they stand out. And so many books these days, I read them, and- the main character especially; the characters in general just feel so generic. Like, this could be any person in this role.
So, having an author that’s not afraid to make characters stand out, and not afraid to make the main character be sort of a unique person that’s not like, Hollywood glossed-over in every way.
Chris: Sometimes, I do feel like his characters- and I think this is- I think a lot of his characters develop over multiple books, so, I think probably one thing I’ve missed in not reading lots of Discworld novels and reading a few, is that to me, it feels like the characters have more novelty than they have emotional depth when I read them. But that might be a matter of how many books that character has been in, and what they’re- they have kind of a long emotional journey.
Oren: It also matters about which character we’re talking about. Like, some of his characters, especially the ones that he created earlier, do tend to be a little bit more on the shallow side. And then others will be developed more as the books go on.
Johnathan: I think, like, he has some characters pegged for emotional depth and then works on that, and that’s a thing they bring to the story, but that’s not something all of them have. Which I’m sort of okay with, because his works are like- they go off on tangents, and they’re sort of busy sometimes, and there’s a lot of really good, funny side notes and situations and historical parallels, and like, I don’t have time for emotional depth in all of my characters.
I’m still attached to them for other- maybe I’m using emotional depth wrong. But like, a lot of them don’t have… I guess, this internal struggle that shows a bunch of layers; they’re just Nobby Nobbs. Being Nobby. [Chris laughs]
Oren: Right. Well- and like, Nobby’s not the main character of any of the books, but like- Rincewind, for example, I appreciate that Rincewind is a coward. That’s a very unusual trait in a main character. But at the same time, Rincewind is basically the same in every book that he’s in, and he follows- at least, every book he’s the main character in. There are a few books where he’s a side character, and he actually gets to do something more interesting.
But in every book where he’s the main character, Rincewind will see something that’s dangerous and run away from it, and inadvertently end up running into the plot that he’s been trying to avoid this whole time, and then at the end will like, temporarily overcome his cowardice and deal with the problem. Or at least do something that will lead to the problem being dealt with; it’s not always straightforward.
And so, as a result, it’s like, that’s kind of cool the first time, and then you read it like, three more times, and you’re like, ‘okay, Rincewind, how-?’ Eventually, you’re going to get inured to this kind of thing. Right? [Oren and Chris laugh] Eventually, it’s not gonna scare you anymore.
Johnathan: He’s just scared forever.
Chris: Certainly, a sign of a novelty character, right? Like, he has kind of his ongoing gag that gets repeated over and over.
Johnathan: As to the characters all feeling distinct, I feel like Terry Pratchett definitely doesn’t suffer from what I like to call ‘Kevin Smith syndrome,’ where, if you watch a Kevin Smith movie, almost all the characters sound like Kevin Smith, saying what he thinks they might say right then. They have the very same cadence and the same sentence structures and like, quick, witty rebuttals, and it just feels like Kevin Smith talking to himself.
Whereas, Terry Pratchett, all of his characters are certainly unique, and have their own ways of approaching problems, thinking about things, and their quirks and mannerisms remain consistent, and like, unblended or unmuddied with whoever they’re talking with or interacting with in some way.
Chris: I have to say, when Terry Pratchett does romance, and he does seem to like to throw in romance plotlines- subplots in a lot of the books, it does sort of feel like, to me, that he’s just like, ‘here, let’s take two quirky characters and just put them together, and then somehow, they’ll end up together.’ I’m not sure that I ever get a sense of strong chemistry.
He does, unfortunately, have one, like- I guess, persistent suitor romance- which is too bad; in Going Postal.
Chris: We’ve got the main character, Moist, and he’s gonna- goes after a female character that does not seem very interested a little bit too much, and that’s unfortunate when that happens.
Oren: Yeah, he certainly wasn’t immune to stumbling. It’s actually worse in the movie version, unfortunately. But- and I like Going Postal. It’s a better- it’s a good book, but other than that, it does have that serious problem. Their relationship I found actually better when they were already together in the next book that they’re in, which is Making Money, because at that point, they just kinda play off of each other and have their weird quirks, and there’s no ‘he wants her, she doesn’t want him’ thing that makes it all very unfortunate.
He has a couple of- that I think are more interesting romances, but romance is certainly not one of his strengths, I would say. I don’t think that he is particularly good at it.
Chris: He’s good at quirky characters, but I think doing good romance does take some of that more emotional side that he doesn’t tend to focus on. And again, his works are light, so, generally- and this doesn’t have to be true, I feel like, not necessarily. But most lighter works are also just lighter on emotional intensity in general. Which is unfortunate, cause if you don’t find him super funny, then his stuff can come off a little flat. [laughs]
Oren: I would say that there are at least- at least in the better ones; maybe it’s possible that I’m only remembering the really good ones, and I’m sort of retroactively applying this to the others. But at least in his really good books, I do feel a deep emotional connection to the characters, especially in- like, in Thud!, there’s this moment where a character who, until then, had been kind of an annoying, minor inconvenience, cause he’d been called to audit the Watch’s expenditures.
And there’s a moment where the characters all kind of have to decide if they’re going to like, go out onto the street and try to stop this giant fight from starting that could kill hundreds of people. And he ends up stepping up, and it’s a very- it’s a big change for his character, where you see another side to him. I felt very emotionally attached in that moment. And there are a few others. But certainly, in some of his less serious books, you don’t get that as much.
Chris: Readers are definitely varied in their levels of emotional reaction and sensitivity to things that happen in the story. And I think a lot of people who like lighter stuff, like Pratchett likes, are probably of the- a little bit more sensitive, and one of the reasons they don’t like darker things is it’s too much for them. And that’s just a thing that varies from person to person.
Oren: Like, one of the things that- one of his romance arcs that I think actually works is the marriage between Commander Vimes and… Sybil. Lady Sybil is her name. And what made that interesting was that their relationship, their marriage, is kind of a marriage of convenience when it first happens, and they kind of build a romance after they’re married.
Chris: They start seeing each other in Guards! Guards!, right?
Chris: So, I have read Guards! Guards!. Maybe their marriage gets more interesting, but I have to say, in Guards! Guards!, it did feel a little bit like, ‘okay, I guess they care for each other.’ But that was one of the romances that didn’t feel like it had that much depth to it, I guess. But perhaps, from somebody else’s viewpoint, that that seemed different.
Johnathan: That’s one of my favorite romances, cause it doesn’t take up very much screen time, and they just kind of shrug and get on with it. [Chris laughs] Like, I get really bored with romances in books, cause like, ‘this guy thinks she’s cute, and she thinks the same thing, maybe. And then they mash faces,’ or whatever. And it’s like, that’s taking away from plot and story and like, neat things in the world, and funny stuff.
So, like, Commander Vimes is like, ‘hey, Lady Sybil, we live in high society.’ And she’s like, ‘yeah, we do. Maybe we’re married in the future.’ And then they are. And then they hang out, and they- [Chris laughs] -and they support each other, and they’re great together, and like, she takes care of refuge dragons, and runs the house, and he does police stuff, and every once in a while, they bump into each other, and they’re happy.
Oren: I mean, I agree with you, Chris, I didn’t find their romance in Guards! Guards! particularly enthralling. And that’s why I said I think- I felt like their romance was built like, after they got married.
Oren: It’s like, I felt like they got married because, like Jim said, they were in similar society and liked each other enough that they didn’t mind hanging out together, and then, after being together for a while, they develop a much deeper emotional connection. Especially when they have kids.
Oren: Like, when they have kids, there are some particularly heart-gripping moments, especially when like, Vimes is trying to get back to read to his son. That part made me cry.
Chris: Yeah. I mean, it sounds like maybe Pratchett is better at the like, ‘we’re already a couple, and how we play off of each other,’ dynamic, than he is at the ‘how we first met each other’ sort of scenes.
Oren: Which, to be fair, I generally prefer romances that start with them already together. [laughs] Cause I find- like, the getting together, it’s too easy for writers to be like, ‘oh well. I’ll create some conflict in here by making one of them act like a huge jerk,’ or whatever, right?
Chris: There are certainly a lot of pitfalls that writers fall into with romances that are just getting started from scratch, so, that’s understandable.
Oren: Right. Speaking of pitfalls, I have a bit of a spleen to vent about one part of the Discworld books, that, if they could just cut it out, I would be happy. If we could retroactively remove it.
Chris: [surprised] What?! You don’t like part of Discworld?!
Johnathan: Yo, that’s rude.
Oren: It’s- I hate the Luggage. I hate everything about the Luggage. [Johnathan groans]
Chris: Oh, that’s the one that appears- okay, it’s the one that the tourist has, right?
Johnathan: And he gives it to Rincewind.
Chris: Does this appear in Color of Magic? What is this…?
Oren: It appears in lots of different books.
Chris: I read one of the picture books- cause there’s some Discworld picture books out, where it’s like, the full Discworld novel. I started one, it introduced the tourist and the Luggage. I think it had Rincewind in it. I actually stopped reading it halfway through, cause I got bored. [laughs]
Oren: Well… okay, so, The Color of Magic is the first Discworld book; it is not good.
Chris: Yeah, and I’m wondering if it might have been The Color of Magic.
Oren: Right. And like, Pratchett was kind of still learning how to write books, and like, what he was even going to do with Discworld when he wrote The Color of Magic. And that’s where the Luggage was first introduced. And the Luggage is a sapient bit of luggage; it’s a big suitcase. And not only can it follow around whoever it belongs to, but it’s also basically unkillable, and just a giant murder-machine, and can like, fly, I think? Maybe it can’t fly, maybe it can.
Johnathan: I don’t think it flies.
Oren: Unlike the other aspects that were introduced in Color of Magic that were bad, the Luggage doesn’t stay in Color of Magic. Rincewind becomes more interesting after Color of Magic, and the wizards become way cooler, and the plots get better, but the Luggage sticks around and keeps doing its thing of like- the Luggage is how Pratchett gets out of a plot twist he doesn’t know how to solve.
Chris: Ohhhh! It’s like Gandalf. It’s Gandalf, but in luggage form. [laughs]
Oren: Right. It’s a lot like that, and it’s just- it feels just really unfortunate when a situation that was like, super tense, and then the Luggage shows up, and it’s like, ‘okay, well, I guess we’re done here.’ And then, he’ll describe the Luggage murdering a bunch of evil people, or whatever, and it’s like, ‘yeah, okay. Can we move on, please?’ [Chris laughs]
Johnathan: I was always amused by the Luggage. When I read those books, I wasn’t super interested in like… I guess, plots?
Oren: Uh-huh. Uh-huh.
Johnathan: Discworld was a fun thing- I was like, a teenager or whatever. Discworld was a fun setting to explore, and it had nifty ideas and turned some stuff on its head. And like, Rincewind would go places, and there would be- it would be like he’s running through sets, right? And there’d be like, a conflict and a problem.
And because I didn’t critically analyze stories in this way, the fact that Rincewind didn’t solve the problem and just left, and the Luggage did a thing, that was- I was amused by it, because I didn’t- like, I wasn’t invested in like, ‘oh no! How is the protagonist going to escape from this thing?’ And, you know, now, in the future, when sometimes I wonder about that, I never suspect he isn’t going to fix the thing.
So, a lot of times, what is like, an interesting, resourceful solution to the problem is just as interesting as the Luggage busting in and fixing it, because everything gets fixed in the end anyways. Tension is less important to me than how amusing and interesting the setting is, and like, the ideas authors bring up and present, and how they interact with each other, reflect the real world. Which might just be how I read books.
So, like, I agree with you that it’s a bad storytelling technique if you’re measuring just the story, but like, my enjoyment of Discworld comes less from the story itself and more from the settings and its parallels and its exploration of that.
Chris: You’re not alone, Jim. [laughs] Like, there’s a lot of really popular stories that don’t really have a good plot but are just like- have a lot of these things, and are almost like, experiential. So, I think a story’s objectively better if it does that and it also has a solid plot, but yeah, some people don’t pay attention or care that that happens.
Johnathan: It’s definitely like, of the Discworld novels, they are the worst. And the earliest, but… the fact that the Luggage is a Deus ex Machina is almost missing the point of those books, to me, which is just like, a fun romp through Discworld, and these are things that happen, and places exist, and then Rincewind leaves. And the reason he can do that is because the Luggage is chasing him.
Chris: But I wanted to debate this like, ‘that’s not the point,’ okay? Because- the thing is, that, if you have a story that has a lot of novelty, and it’s what you might call a silly story and it’s supposed to be silly and fun, like, stories can be silly and fun and also more. And that’s kind of the whole- the idea behind Discworld; that’s what Pratchett has shown everybody, is that like, he can have all of this novelty and still have a concise plot.
So, saying it’s not the point is, I feel like, just saying, in this case, that we have a story that could have been better, and we’re just excusing why it’s not.
Oren: So- in some of his earlier books- he does this even without the Luggage; the Luggage is in the book Interesting Times, but it isn’t as central. So, like, Interesting Times is a story where Rincewind goes to the Counterweight Continent, which is sort of the- if Ankh-Morpork is a parallel for London, the Counterweight Continent is a parallel of like- an amalgamation of various Chinese and Japanese societies.
And it’s got an interesting story about like, this group of rebels who are trying to overthrow the evil empire, but like, the rebels are also not great, and they haven’t thought a lot of things through, which is something that Pratchett does very well, is that he has this idea of like, ‘idealism is great, but what are you going to do when you win?’ And he does that with a number of stories.
But in this version, instead of the Luggage, we have… what’s his version of Conan the Barbarian?
Johnathan: Cohen. Cohen the Barbarian.
Oren: Cohen. He is Cohen the Barbarian, and like, his group of basically unkillable old men. Which was funny when they first showed up, but then they have the big final battle sequence, and I wasn’t- I was bored, because I knew that Cohen and his invincible old men were invincible, and that- nothing happened to make me think that maybe they weren’t.
Johnathan: Didn’t one of them die?
Oren: If so, I forgot. Maybe.
Johnathan: It’s been a long time since I read that one.
Oren: Right. And then like, the actual interesting part of that that happened was Rincewind discovering the weird mechanism hidden below the city that allowed him to activate the machine left behind by the original emperor. And so, that part was actually cool and interesting, but they spent a lot of time on that battle, even though it was obvious that the invincible old men were invincible, and nothing was going to happen to them.
Chris: Can I ask you something about the Luggage? Cause from what I remember, when the Luggage was introduced, it was introduced with this tourist character that seems like he doesn’t know anything about what he’s doing, and he has this luggage that’s full of gold. And so, I think the humor in this situation is, all of these people look at this clueless tourist, this gold, and assume that they can steal the gold. But it turns out the luggage holding this gold is like, this murder-machine, right? And there’s supposed to be humor in that.
Is that ever- like, when the Luggage shows up again, is that the same gag continued, or does it have another purpose?
Johnathan: Uh… It’s basically just to change sets and chase Rincewind around. It doesn’t show up with the tourist later, and I don’t think people are trying to steal its gold, though they may think it’s a cool box and want to see what’s in it. Almost like a Mimic.
But it’s not the same gag of ‘here’s an unsuspecting guy, we can steal his stuff,’ it’s just, ‘here’s a very-’ it’s almost treated like a Cthulhu monster entity sort of thing, where like, this very confusing- cause it’s a box with hundreds of tiny feet on the bottom and a giant mouth, and it just eats people, and you can’t stop it. And it’s confusing and terrifying, and that’s the humor it evolves into, is like, you know what it is as the reader, and you know it’s chasing Rincewind, because it technically belongs to him, but he wants nothing to do with it.
And so, it’s amusing when the other characters who are like, bad guys or just unfamiliar or wailing ‘Rincewind, for some reason I hear a bunch of tiny feet!’ And they don’t know what’s going on, but you know, in a minute, the Luggage is going to show up and wreck house. And that’s like- and Rincewind is exasperated, and it’s… it’s a running joke. Heh! Cause it runs.
Oren: So, that’s actually another weird problem with the Luggage, is that Rincewind keeps trying to escape from the Luggage, even though all the Luggage does is save his ass, like, every time. And him running away from it is what gets him into trouble every time, and like, eventually I forgot Rincewind was even running from the Luggage. I was like, ‘why… just let the luggage catch up with you, bro. All it does is protect you. Why are you upset about it?’
Cause like, he always- fleeing the Luggage ends up in worse trouble than anything the Luggage might have brought with it. So, it’s- that’s another reason why I don’t like the Luggage.
Johnathan: I forget why he runs from the Luggage.
Oren: ‘Just leave me alone!’ [Johnathan laughs]
Chris: I guess it sounds kind of scary, and he’s supposed to be a coward, right? But even so…
Johnathan: It is scary.
Chris: Yeah, it sounds like it’s tied in with the sort of running gag that Rincewind has, that really gets old after a while cause it doesn’t change.
Johnathan: I think, eventually though, he’s familiar enough with the Luggage that he just doesn’t- like, he’s just exasperated by it. He’s not scared of it after a certain point. And I forget exactly when this is, cause it follows him through a couple books. But he’s always running from something, and so, he leaves the Luggage behind, and then it has to like, scurry through everything to catch up, and then he’s like, ‘oh no, the Luggage is here. This is frustrating for me cause it always does this.’
Oren: To get out of the path of like, things never changing: one of the things that I do love about Discworld is that the setting changes significantly, especially over like- if you go from the middle books to the end, the setting is a completely different place by the end than it was at the beginning.
Like, the technology has advanced significantly, there have been huge cultural changes, there have been- institutions have been opened up to people who weren’t otherwise allowed in them. The last book has a young boy who wants to be a witch, which I felt was really important, because until then, even though there was a story at the beginning about a girl who wanted to be a wizard, it was- the magic was still pretty gender-essentialist.
It was like, girls become witches and boys become wizards, wizards are lame, witches are awesome was kind of Pratchett’s thing. And then, towards the end, he’s like, ‘you know, maybe that wasn’t the greatest idea, so, here.’ And at the end, there’s a young boy who wants to be a witch, because he likes the idea of what witches do, and the work that they do helping the community and stuff.
So, that was- if I had to pick one thing that was maybe my favorite, beyond the characters that we’ve already talked about, it would be that Pratchett was not afraid to change his world as he went. And like, changes that he couldn’t go back on. He couldn’t roll that back and be like, ‘oh, and now the dwarfs and the trolls are fighting again,’ because that would have felt really anticlimactic. So, he was like, ‘I need to find new conflict.’ So, that’s my ending pick for Discworld. [laughs]
Jim, do you want to- do you have any last words you want to say on Discworld before we call it quits today?
Johnathan: Just that my favorite Discworld book is Small Gods, by far; I’ve read it at least eleven times, and it’s great every time. I recommend Small Gods for Discworld. Read it.
Oren: Small Gods is an excellent story. I will second that recommendation. Okay. Well, thank you for listening to us. Thanks to Jim for joining us again. Thanks to Chris for being patient and letting us nerd out about Discworld. Very much appreciate it. [Chris laughs] If anything that we said interested you, or you had a question for us, please feel free to leave a comment on the website at Mythcreants.com. Otherwise, we will see you next week. [closing song]
Chris: This has been the Mythcreants podcast. Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton.
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