Tuesday, May 11, 2010

On The Light Fantastic (Discworld Series, book 2)


Jewish date:  27 ’Iyyar 5770 (Parashath BeMidhbar).

Today’s holidays:  Day 42 of the ‘Omer (Judaism), Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Easter (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Salvador Dali (Church of the SubGenius).

Worthy causes of the day:  “CARE : Defending Dignity - Fighting Poverty :  International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act”, “Stop Terrorists from Buying Guns and Explosives - The Petition Site”, “Friends of the Earth U.S.:  Tell President Obama to Support a Financial Speculation Tax”, “Save BioGems: Take Action: Stop the Pebble Mine”, “Ban New Offshore Drilling - The Petition Site”, “Working Families » Take Action!:  Sign the petition to Albany”, “Take Action: TrueMajority.org:  Mr. President, THIS is why drilling is bad.”, “Empowering Women Can Save Children - The Petition Site”, and “Heart Disease and Stroke. You’re the Cure.:  Ask Your Legislator to Override the Veto!”

Topic 1:  The daily dose of anti-Semitism:  First up, the cartoons “The Goldstone Whitewash” and “Jerusalem (1982)”.  Both of these deal with hypocrisy and double standards in anti-Semitic politics and diplomacy.  Notable articles include “Complex crisis most analysts fail to explain”, “Biased Broadcasting Corporation?”, and “Glorifying murderers only scores points at home”.

The Light FantasticImage via Wikipedia
Topic 2:  The reason there has no blogging for a few days while I wrote the review:  The Light Fantastic (Discworld Series, book 2) by Terry Pratchett:


The Light Fantastic picks up where The Color of Magic left off, with the wizard Rincewind, the tourist Twoflower, and the Luggage going over the side of the Discworld.  (The demon in Twoflower’s camera presumably goes over the side of the Discworld, too, but only by implication.  He barely appears onscreen in this book, as Twoflower does not get in much photography.)  However, instead of ending up as a stain on the shell of the world-turtle Great A’Tuin, our heroes (if you can really call them that) suddenly find themselves back on the Discworld elsewhere.

What at first might seem like an attempt by the Lady to cheat Fate (or a gross continuity violation), is actually the result of the spell from the grimoire Octavo which Rincewind carries around in his head working to preserve itself.  

Meanwhile, Great A’Tuin is now getting closer and closer to a red star with eight moons.  The wizards of Unseen University, lead by the dangerously ambitious Trymon, determine that they need to read all eight spells of the Octavo in order to save the Discworld.  Thus they set out, both in person and by proxy, to find Rincewind and bring him back to Ankh-Morpork so that all eight spells can be recited.

The misadventures of Rincewind, Twoflower, and the Luggage on their way back to and in Ankh-Morpork contain frequent religious references.
  • Our heroes (if they can be called that) encounter Druids(!) trying to repair a Stonehenge-like stone computer.  (The humor falls a bit flat since the author’s understanding of computers falls short.)  As part of the process, the Druids try to sacrifice the virgin Bethan.  (Whether any of this bears any resemblance to real Druidism is beyond me.  I have not studied it yet.)  Luckily, Bethan is saved by Rincewind, Twoflower, and the 87-year-old hero Cohen the Barbarian.  (He is an obvious parody of Conan the Barbarian, even to someone who never read the relevant literature and only remembers two of the movies fuzzily.)  In this segment of the book, Rincewind notes that in his culture sacrifice is normal, while Twoflower claims that is totally absent back on the Counterweight Continent where he comes from.  I applaud Terry Pratchett for making the Discworld have multiple religions.  (Compare the Star Trek Universe, in which the usual case is for a planet to have a single religion and a single culture.)
  • Rincewind finds himself in Death’s Domain, where he finds Twoflower teaching the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to play a card game.  Death for some reason has an adopted daughter, Ysabell.
  • The approach of the star to the Discworld (or its relativistic equivalent, the approach of the Discworld to the star), sets off a religious panic.  Many people flee the cities for the mountains so they can have a better view of the coming destruction.  A new red star cult forms which tries to bring practically everything on the Discworld to a standstill by violence or threat thereof.  Notably, the Discworld gods, who were so prominent in the previous book, are silent here.
  • Trymon steals the Octavo for himself and absorbs the seven spells still within it, intending to gain power for himself besides saving the Discworld.  In the process he opens the Discworld up to the Dungeon Dimensions, inhabited by clones of creatures from the (dreadful) horror stories of H. P. Lovecraft.  Interestingly, Pratchett describes the Dungeon Dimensions creatures not as evil, but as “eldritch”.  And he explains the difference:  evil may seek power over your soul or the world, but it sees the value of your soul or the world.  “Eldritch”, on the other hand, sees no value in your soul or the world and will step on you if you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  This is actually a misinterpretation of what “eldritch” is supposed to mean (“weird and sinister or ghostly” according to the New Oxford American Dictionary via Apple’s Dictionary.app), but it is a faithful characterization of how the pseudo-gods of Lovecraft’s stories behave:  they simply do not care about humanity.  Trymon, who has acted callously and selfishly throughout the entire book, quite poetically transforms into one of the Lovecraftian creatures.  Of course, Rincewind defeats him (obviously, since this is not the end of the series), but how that happens will not be spoiled here.
  • Once Rincewind beats Trymon, he evicts the eighth spell from his head back into the Octavo and reads all eight spells.  The red star’s eight moons hatch into (relatively) small world-turtles, each with four (relatively) small world-elephants and a (relatively) small discworld on the elephants’ backs.  Great A’Tuin and the hatchlings paddle away from the star, thus averting the crisis.  Thus is a nice chunk of the mystery of the origin of the Discworld cleared up.  (Actually, the spells of the Octavo discuss the origins of the Discworld earlier in the story with Rincewind, but none of them agree on what happened.  And they do not mention anything like this.)  This setup suggests that the Octavo being left behind on the Discworld by the Creator was not an accident.  No word is given on whether each of the new discworlds has its own copy of the Octavo, though considering that the series has a few tens of books, there are plenty of opportunities to find out.
Overall classification:  Humorous fantasy, but not for children.  Beware of the Luggage.

Theological rating:  Q.  (Absurdist.)

Next up:  Equal Rites (Discworld Series, book 3).

Topic 3:  For today’s religious humor: “PINK??! BASEMINT CAT”:
funny pictures of cats with captions


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