The Bledlows of the Unseen University perform their Keys party while Bursar, the Dean, and the rest of the wizards see the librarian, who is very ill. He lost control of his formal function and continued to change his form; Half of the witches suspected that he would die soon. Far away on the continent of XXXX (EcksEcksEcksEcks or FourEcks), Rincewind digs a hole. Thousands of miles away from him, an opal miner named Strewth has just made a dangerous discovery that turns out to be alive. Ponder is having a hard time because he’s been using Hex to help him make unseen scripts (for books that haven’t been written yet, or will be written elsewhere), and from that, Ridcully came up with the idea of ”managing” in Chief and was asking people what they were doing. (Ponder is also currently obsessed with how alike most animals and their skeletons are.) He wakes up in his office one evening to find that the library is now attacking anyone who enters without the librarian to keep books in check. Ridcully announces that they must use magic to cure the librarian, but Ponder points out a problem – in order to do so, they need to know the librarian’s name, and no one knows it. Except…maybe Rincewind, who was the deputy librarian at the time he became the librarian himself.
The wizards head to the Cruel and Unusual Geography Professor to see how they can find Rincewind, since they can’t take it over again with magic due to how that worked out last time. They can’t find him in his office, but they assume he’s taking a shower because they heard the splash of water behind the door. After reviewing books in the office and not finding anything particularly useful, Ridcully opens the door to what’s supposed to be a bathroom and finds a tropical beach. Rincewind was preoccupied with eating things he didn’t want to think too much about and locals hounded them and made thong sandals out of wood and creepy woven threads. He has a diary that he keeps, and when he sleeps, something explodes from a nearby watering hole and runs out. Death keeps the Rincewind hourglass in his office because it is in disarray, as if Rincewind supported his life in multiple directions and now his death is impossible to predict. He thinks that perhaps Rincewind is the eternal coward, meant to balance out the eternal hero. Noting where Rincewind ended up, he decided to head to XXXX, assuming it would soon be needed.
The magicians discuss how other magicians have used tiny black holes to jump from place to place like this, and Bonder is ashamed that he had never heard of this before. They wonder if XXXX might be on the other side of the door, and they discuss the merits of heading out and letting the librarian (currently a book) out in the sun. They decide to head out, despite Ridcully’s insistence that they’re not doing it for a good time… and brings his bow in case he needs to catch anything. Rincewind wakes up and there is a man there who insists he needs to feed the wizard properly. He also insists that he doesn’t speak the Rincewind language, only Rincewind hears him. Then he disappears, but leaves behind a chicken sandwich. The witches are on the beach and the librarian is back to his old form but feels uncomfortable about it. But before he can piece together what’s wrong with this place, he changes again. Rincewind is baffled as to why he suddenly finds food familiar to him in the desert, but takes off towards the mountains and encounters a kangaroo that can talk. He’s about to hand him a task so he starts running away, but he’s heading in the right direction. The witches realize they are on an island and Mrs. Whitlow appears carrying snacks – unfortunately, she has also closed the window through which they can leave.
A rowing feather fell into a watering hole and appeared in a cave. The kangaroo was there again, named Scrappy, showing him cave paintings that seem to show Rincewind. While the witches argue about what to do about getting caught on the island, plants begin to grow. Scrappy tells Rincewind that spacetime is strange here on the last continent because it has finally been put together and the arrival of Rincewind has changed things that have already happened. Witches notice strange things about the island, such as fruits and leaves that offer things like chocolate and cheese. Rincewind looks at the cave paintings and sees all the witches and also his belongings – Scrappy explains that they might be where he is, not just when he is. Kangaroo explains that Rincewind will save the place because technically he has already done so. He’ll know he’s completed his mission when it rains (which never happened in XXXX). Rincewind agrees to the mission, waits until the kangaroo appears to have disappeared and runs for it. But the faded kangaroo is smiling in spite of everything.
The thing is, the Rincewind books are just weird, you know?
It’s not bad, that’s not what I’m saying, but what I mean is that most of the other Pratchett novels on Discworld use framing devices familiar to readers across elsewhere. Books of hours are based largely on crime novels, witch books use fairy tales, theater and Shakespeare, and death books address larger metaphysical questions. Single periods are intended to address specific philosophical fields or rely heavily on the mechanics of space and time. We have clear criteria in each of them that make these books easy to follow, because we may have encountered the likes of it before.
The Rincewind books are kind of Pratchett taking all his favorite jokes and some notions he wants to play with, and then going “what if I commit to a weird assignment until he has things to bother her?” With bonus points for persistent wizard cheating. Like, just a general idea of Let’s put the thing in Australia, just fictional Australia, which is kind of an oxymoron because you know what’s out there in Australia? Yes, this is where we go in this. Hence the Chitek time travel paradox to keep things interesting.
This means that Rincewind books always take a while to prepare, as it were, so it’s hard to discuss them on the go. You should spend some time telling us where the poor guy is, why he might be needed, and also what the hell wizards are dealing with because there is always something out there.
(Here I have an aspect about the fact that Pratchett started with this whole thing about witches always killing each other to rise through the ranks, and then finally had to admit in this book that we are going through a quiet period in Unseen university history because he finally created an Archchancellor who he enjoyed well enough to keep Which I get because I never want to get rid of Ridcully, but it makes those primaries funny by virtue of the idea that guy proves himself and looks like everyone else…well, sure, we can relax a bit.)
I like the attention to detail of Aboriginal art in this section, such as noting the “X-ray painting” style and the outlines of the hand in ocher. I don’t like much mention of spiders because, having lived in the tropics where spiders are much larger, I am fully aware of how terrifying they can be, and please don’t describe them to me. Excuse me.
Small aspects and ideas:
- “Redcalli was running what King Herod was like for the Bethlehem Toy Society.” Well, cool –
- As a kid who once went to Groucho Marx for Halloween, the idea of teaching Hex “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” really sends me off this week…but then the joke about Ridcully’s “shiny” eyes brought me back at mention of tigers.
- I love that Rincewind is like “Well, I’ve seen the planet together and that place didn’t come to it” and Scrappy is like “Eh, there’s way more gods that you see.” It’s a nice way to not unify the narrative.
All tribal myths are true, for a certain value of “true”.
“This guy really makes me want to swear,” Al Bursar said.
Chief Chancellor Ridculley, who treacherously arranged the last sentence on his head, realized that he was subconsciously formulating an obituary.
It wasn’t the cold, dreary silence of endless space, but the burning organic silence that you get, across thousands of miles of sparkling red horizons, everything too tired to make a sound.
But, as the Watching Ear was scurrying across the desert, it picked up something like a hymn, a little cloak of reeds overcoming the blanket silence like a fly crashing into the window glass of the universe.
They say heat and flies here can drive a man crazy. But you don’t have to believe it, nor that bright violet elephant that ran past.
There were rooms with rooms that, if you go into it turns out to have the room you started with, which can be a problem if you’re in the conga line.
Next week we are about
“In your case, just by a cold shower, Senior Wrangler.”