from Discworld® novels by
Terry Pratchett
concerning Rincewind and the Wizards of Unseen University

Terry Pratchett

This page:

Interesting Times

The Last Hero

Category:

Fantasy

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Interesting Times

Copyright © 1994 by Terry and Lyn Pratchett

According to the philosopher Ly Tin Wheedle, chaos is found in greatest abundance wherever order is being sought. It always defeats order, because it is better organized.

This is the butterfly of the storms.

See the wings, slightly more ragged than those of the common fritillary. In reality, thanks to the fractal nature of the universe, this means that those ragged edges are infinite—in the same way that the edge of any rugged coastline, when measured to the ultimate microscopic level, is infinitely long—or, if not infinite, then at least so close to it that Infinity can be seen on a clear day.

And therefore, if their edges are infinitely long, the wings must logically be infinitely big.

They may look about the right size for a butterfly’s wings, but that’s only because human beings have always preferred common sense to logic.

The Quantum Weather Butterfly (Papilio tempestae) is an undistinguished yellow color, although the mandelbrot patterns on the wings are of considerable interest. Its outstanding feature is its ability to create weather.

Topics:

Butterflies

Infinity

“That’s not magic!” he snapped. “That’s just . . . engineering!”

He had always been aware that Someone Up There was doing something on him. He’d never considered it was smiling.
Wizards had always known that the act of observation changed the thing that was observed, and sometimes forgot that it also changed the observer, too.

Adventure! People talked about the idea as if it was something worthwhile, rather than a mess of bad food, no sleep, and strange people inexplicably trying to stick pointed objects in bits of you.

The root problem, Rincewind had come to believe, was that he suffered from pre-emptive karma. [...] It was as if he always got the indigestion before the meal and felt so dreadful that he never actually managed to eat anything.

Somewhere in the world, he reasoned, there was someone who was on the other end of the see-saw, a kind of mirror Rincewind whose life was a succession of wonderful events. He hoped to meet him one day, preferably while holding some sort of weapon.

He’d always felt he had a right to exist as a wizard in the same way that you couldn’t do proper maths without the number 0, which wasn’t a number at all but, if it went away, would leave a lot of larger numbers looking bloody stupid.

Topic:

Mathematics

“You pick some city where people are being troublesome and kill everyone and set fire to it and pull down the walls and plough up the ashes. That way you get rid of the trouble and all the other cities are suddenly really well behaved and polite and all your back taxes turn up in a big rush, which is handy for governments, I understand. Then if they ever give trouble you just have to say ‘Remember Nangnang?’ or whatever, and they say ‘Where’s Nangnang?’ and you say, ‘My point exactly.’ ”

Topic:

Government

“But I decided to give it up and make a living by the sword.”

“After being a teacher all your life?”

“It did mean a change of perspective, yes.”

“But . . . well . . . surely . . . the privation, the terrible hazards, the daily risk of death . . .”

Mr. Saveloy brightened up. “Oh, you’ve been a teacher, have you?”

Topic:

Teachers

Cohen had said, “There’s men here who can push a wheelbarrow for thirty miles on a bowl of millet with a bit of scum in it. What does that tell you? It tells me someone’s porking all the beef.”

Cohen’s father had taken him to a mountain top, when he was no more than a lad, and explained to him the hero’s creed and told him that there was no greater joy than to die in battle.

Cohen had seen the flaw in this straight away, and a lifetime’s experience had reinforced his belief that in fact a greater joy was to kill the other bugger in battle and end up sitting on a heap of gold higher than your horse.

Topic:

Heroes

“It’s important that you all learn how to behave in cities.”

“I know how to bloody well behave in cities,” said Truckle the Uncivil. “Pillage, ravish, loot, set fire to the damn place on your way out. Just like towns only it takes longer.”

“That’s all very well if you’re just passing through,” said Mr. Saveloy, “but what if you want to come back next day?”

“It ain’t bloody well there next day, mister.”

Topic:

Cities

They never worried about what other people thought. Mr. Saveloy, who’d spent his whole life worrying about what other people thought and had been passed over for promotion and generally treated as a piece of furniture as a result, found this strangely attractive. And they never agonized about anything, or wondered if they were doing the right thing. And they enjoyed themselves immensely. They had a kind of honor. He liked the Horde. They weren’t his kind of people.

“Ah. Eureka,” he said.

“That’s Ephebian, that is,” Cohen told the Horde. “It means ‘Give me a towel.’ ”

Topic:

Translation

But when that sort of person started talking about things being more important than people, you knew you were in big trouble.
Sticks and stones may break my bones, he thought. He was vaguely aware that there was a second half to the saying, but he’d never bothered because the first half always occupied all his attention.

“It looks as though they make their own copy and pass it on.”

“Yes, it’s called samizdat.

“What does that mean?”

“It means each one must be the same as the one before.”

Topic:

Puns

“There’s a dead guard here,” he said.

“It wasn’t me,” said Rincewind plaintively. “I mean, perhaps I wished they were dead, but—”

People edged away. You didn’t want to be too close to anyone who could wish like that.

“I know about people who talk about suffering for the common good. It’s never bloody them! When you hear a man shouting ‘Forward, brave comrades!’ you’ll see he’s the one behind the bloody big rock and wearing the only really arrow-proof helmet!”

Topic:

Propaganda

The Empire’s got something worse than whips all right. It’s got obedience. Whips in the soul. They obey anyone who tells them what to do. Freedom just means being told what to do by someone different.

Topic:

Totalitarianism

“You a religious man at all?“

“Well, I’ve robbed loads of temples and killed a few mad priests in my time. Don’t know if that counts.”

Topic:

Religion

“Down in Klatch they believe if you lead a good life you’re rewarded by being sent to a paradise with lots of young women.”

“That’s your reward, is it?”

“Dunno. Maybe it’s their punishment.”

Topic:

The Afterlife

The whole of his life, so far, had been complicated. There had been timetables and lists and a whole basket of things he must do and things he shouldn’t do, and the life of Mr. Saveloy had been this little wriggly thing trying to survive in the middle of it all. But now it had suddenly all become very simple. You held one end and you poked the other into people. A man could live his whole life by a maxim like that.
Authority always noticed a running man. The time to start running was around about the “e” in “Hey, you!”

Topic:

Authority

“Have you no honor?” screamed Lord Hong. “Are you just a ruffian?”

“I’m a barbarian,” shouted Cohen. “And the honor I got, see, is mine. I didn’t steal it off’f someone else.”

The military depends on people who will guard gates or bridges or passes come what may and there are often heroic poems written in their honor, invariably posthumously.

Topic:

Soldiering

“Yes, whenever you comes across a king where everyone says, ‘Oo, he was a good king all right,’ you can bet your sandals he was a great big bearded bastard who broke heads a lot and laughed about it. Hey? But some king who just passed decent little laws and read books and tried to look intelligent . . . ‘Oh,’ they say, ‘oh, he was all right, a bit wet, not what I’d call a proper king.’ That’s people for you.”

text checked (see note) Apr 2005; May 2007

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The Last Hero

A Discworld® Fable

Illustrated by Paul Kidby

Copyright © 2001 by Terry and Lyn Pratchett and Paul Kidby and Sandra Kidby

Note (Hal’s):
The “skull harp” graphic, above, is my clumsy attempt to imitate a feature of one of the Kidby illustrations.

— end note

People think that it is strange to have a turtle ten thousand miles long and an elephant more than two thousand miles tall, which just shows that the human brain is ill-adapted for thinking and was probably originally designed for cooling the blood. It believes mere size is amazing.

There’s nothing amazing about size. Turtles are amazing, and elephants are quite astonishing. But the fact that there’s a big turtle is far less amazing than the fact that there is a turtle anywhere.

Compare to:

Chesterton

Topic:

Science

Another response of the wizards, when faced with a new and unique situation, was to look through their libraries to see if it had ever happened before. This was, Lord Vetinari reflected, a good survival trait. It meant that in times of danger you spent the day sitting very quietly in a building with very thick walls.

Topic:

Libraries

‘I think I can say without fear of contradiction that our wizards can supply wind in practically unlimited amounts,’ said the Patrician.

Topic:

Insults

Many of the things built by the architect and freelance designer Bergholt Stuttley (‘Bloody Stupid’) Johnson were recorded in Ankh-Morpork, often on the line where it says, ‘Cause of Death’.

More of the ambassadors from other countries had arrived at the university, and more heads of the Guilds were pouring in, and every single one of them wanted to be involved in the decision-making process without necessarily going through the intelligence-using process first.

‘But she was a devil woman!’

‘We all get older, Harry. She runs a shop now. Pam’s Pantry. Makes marmalade,’ said Cohen.

‘What? She used to queen it on a throne on top of a pile of skulls!’

‘I didn’t say it was very good marmalade.’

Look at Om, now. One minute he was a bloodthirsty little deity in some mad hot country, and then suddenly he was one of the top gods. It had all been done by not answering prayers, but doing so in a sort of dynamic way that left open the possibility that one day he might and then there’d be fireworks.

Topic:

Prayer

‘And followers are forbidden to eat chocolate, ginger, mushrooms and garlic.’

Several of the gods winced.

‘When you prohibit you don’t meth about, do you?’ said Offler.

‘No sense in forbidding broccoli, is there?’

Topic:

Gods

‘Had this idea that they might have to get outside the machine to repair it so – so he designed a sort of device to let you fly around with a dragon on your back! Said it was for emergencies!’

‘What kind of emergency would be worse than having a dragon strapped to your back?’ said the Chair of Indefinite Studies.

He had a quick mind when it came to mechanical detail, and he’d already formed a mental picture. Now a mental eraser would be useful.

‘You understand?’ said Ponder.

‘No. I was just hoping that if I didn’t say anything you’d stop trying to explain things to me.’

‘Mission motto, sir,’ said Carrot cheerfully. ‘Morituri Nolumus Mori. Rincewind suggested it.’

‘Looking behind you is a bad move,’ said Rincewind firmly. ‘I’ve always said so. It slows you down.’

What goes around, comes around. If not examined too closely, it passes for justice.

Topic:

Justice

‘We-ll . . . you know that religion that thinks that whirling round in circles is a form of prayer?’

‘Oh, yes. The Hurtling Whirlers of Klatch.’

‘Mine is like that, only we go more in . . . straight lines. Yes. That’s it. Speed is a sacrament.’

‘You believe it gives you some sort of eternal life?’

‘Not eternal, as such. More . . . well, just more, really. More life. That is,’ Rincewind added, ‘more life than you would have if you did not go very fast in a straight line. Although curving lines are acceptable in broken country.’

Like many professionally religious people – and they were pretty professional, being gods – they tended towards unease in the presence of the unashamedly spiritual.

‘Coppers would be far too suspicious of anyone calling themselves a god of policemen to believe in one.’

‘But you are a gods-fearing man?’

‘What I’ve seen of them certainly frightens the life out of me, sir. And my commander always says, when we go about our business in the city, that when you look at the state of mankind you are forced to accept the reality of the gods.’

Although gods, on the whole, do not feel at home around mechanical things, every pantheon everywhere in the universe finds it necessary to have some minor deity – Vulcan, Wayland, Dennis, Hephaistos – who knows how bits fit together and that sort of thing.

Most large organisations, to their regret and expense, have to have someone like that.

It is in the nature of things that those who save the world from certain destruction often don’t get hugely rewarded because, since the certain destruction does not take place, people are uncertain how certain it may have been and are, therefore, somewhat tight when it comes to handing out anything more substantial than praise.

Topic:

Uncertainty

text checked (see note) Apr 2005

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Graphics copyright © 2003 by Hal Keen