The Last Continent
September 27, 2023 10:18 PM - Subscribe

The Librarian of Unseen University is sick, and in order to cure him, the Wizards need to know his real name which, uh... none of them do. And he's not telling, because the information could be used to change him back from his preferred form as an orangutan. But an idea! Rincewind might know it! But he accidentally got teleported to the continent of XXXX, and nobody knows where that is. So the Wizards go looking for XXXX, while Rincewind just tries to survive on terra incognita where everything is trying to kill him, well, about the same amount as is usual for Rincewind, really. (Wizards #6, Discworld #22.) By Terry Pratchett.

G'Day, and welcome back to the Discworld Book Club, where we're now going through in order to fill in the missing spots left by previous Discworld threads. Previously:

The Color of Magic
The Light Fantastic
Equal Rites
Wyrd Sisters
Guards! Guards!
Moving Pictures
Reaper Man
Witches Abroad
Small Gods
Lords and Ladies
Men At Arms
Soul Music
Interesting Times
Feet of Clay
The Fifth Elephant
The Truth
Night Watch
Monstrous Regiment
Going Postal
Making Money
The Shepherd's Crown

By following our order of filling in the blanks, our next book will be Carpe Jugulum.


The Librarian is sick, which is a problem for the other wizards because nobody else at Unseen University can handle the books, which are magical and start attacking people if not tended to properly, and Wizards are the people most likely to be in close proximity to them.

The trouble is, in order to cure magic with magic, you really should know the name of the person you're targeting with the spell and, well... Wizards being wizards, nobody can remember it. And the Librarian isn't telling, because he suspects that if the other Wizards knew it, they'd use it to change him back from being an orangutan, and he likes being an orangutan (though with his magical illness, he's also changing into armchairs and other assorted items.) Also, as the archivist, he has erased his name from University records in case of just such an eventuality, so no luck there.

There is that one fellow who used to work as the Librarian's assistant, what was his name? Oh right, Rincewind! Trouble is, after that business with the Agatean Empire, the Wizards may have missed the mark a little bit in trying to bring him back home, and landed him in XXXX (a.k.a. Fourecks), a continent so unknown and unexplored that nobody even knows where it is.

So it's off to see the Egregious Professor of Cruel and Unusual Geography, but he seems to be out. Maybe out that mysterious window he's got to a lovely-looking island, which of course all the WIzards step through, followed shortly thereafter by Mrs. Whitlow, who brings them a snack and closes the window behind her, trapping them all on an unknown island thousands of years in the past.

Meanwhile, or in the Century of the Fruitbat anyway, Rincewind is trying to feed himself in a land where it never rains (he should really figure out a solution for that, by the way), dodging drop-bears, traveling with female impersonators, getting arrested as a sheep-thief by folks who just really need a good new sheep-thief folk hero, drinking beer from tins, and making friends with a talking Kangaroo.

That's right, this is Discworld Down Under. Strap in, mate.
posted by Navelgazer (11 comments total)
Well it's another Rincewind book, and as is the case with most of those, even though I just got through it a few hours ago, I had to look up the plot to know what the hell just happened. Australia feels like a better target for satire than the Chinese/Pan-Asian adventures in Interesting Times, and I enjoyed the stuff in Bugurup (where the townspeople all want RIncewind to escape, but also won't let him escape) and the Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert homage. But the real fun in this one is probably on the Island of Mono, with the God of Evolution.

Many of the Wizards are really just names to me (and not even names so much as titles. If the Senior Wrangler and the Lecturer in Recent Runes have any distinct personality traits, I have yet to uncover them) but Ridcully and Ponder are both very fun characters, and this book does right by them. Bashfully attempting to explain sex to the God of Evolution, and Mrs. Whitlow's intervention into that conversation, was a highlight.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:23 PM on September 27, 2023

The UU faculty sideplot is absolutely the star of the show and almost makes the book worth reading alone. But the extended Australia mockery... I'd say it hasn't aged well, but I read this book when it came out and it wasn't funny then. And on a recent re-read it was cringeworthy.

It's not a parody of Australia, it's a naive parody of English stereotypes about Australia, with none of the self-awareness that Terry Pratchett usually shows when he's in on the joke. XXXX isn't a real place - just a series of shallow skits that Rincewind is ushered between with no sense of continuity or progression.

It feels born of that very backwards English mindset of "everything foreign is strange and worthy of mockery" that a lot of us grew up without questioning. Fortunately this book is mostly the extinction burst of unexamined xenophobia in the Discworld series.
posted by Lorc at 2:11 AM on September 28, 2023 [5 favorites]

With Soul Music and Moving Pictures I had just enough context to make it work, but with this one I was struggling. Both from me not getting the jokes and from the plot feeling so out of balance. Rincewind in XXXX felt like he was visiting not so much a place but a theme park about that place.

The UU subplot helped a lot, yes. But for all it faults I think Interesting Times is the better book of the two.
posted by Ashenmote at 3:06 AM on September 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

It reminds me of the various Simpsons episodes that start in season 6 where the Simpsons go someplace and experience generally unfunny jokes about that place. His weakest work pre-Embuggerance, I'm afraid, and that includes the early finding-his-feet novels.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:35 AM on September 28, 2023 [2 favorites]

The Rincewind books are always the weakest ones - they tend to be shallow, and often mildly racist, satires of easy targets.
The annoying thing about this one is that the UU subplot would have made a perfectly good non-Rincewind diskworld novel - throw Susan onto the island with the wizards and lean hard into the idea that evolution requires death (and so also Death) and you could have had something interesting.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 10:16 AM on September 28, 2023 [3 favorites]

It feels born of that very backwards English mindset of "everything foreign is strange and worthy of mockery" that a lot of us grew up without questioning. Fortunately this book is mostly the extinction burst of unexamined xenophobia in the Discworld series.

It was while reading this book that I realized that the Discworld is kind of like that famous New Yorker cover of the world as seen from Manhattan, but in this case it's the world as seen from Britain.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:29 AM on September 28, 2023 [4 favorites]

There's also a bit of that in Monty Python, but at least something like the Philosophers' Song is only a few minutes to get through.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:34 AM on September 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

As a New Zealander I always enjoy mockery of Australians, and this is delightful for Mrs Whitlow alone. Rincewind books don’t have a big arc for character development- he remains Rincewind, so they feel unmoored to me.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 4:09 PM on September 28, 2023 [4 favorites]

Rincewind is a one-note joke that TP just kept going with for several books even though nobody else seems to really be into "bad wizzard who runs a lot" as a joke.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:38 PM on September 30, 2023 [2 favorites]

When the first couple of books came out in the UK they were very much sold as "The fantasy Hitch-Hiker's Guide!" and in that light Rincewind makes sense - he's Arthur Dent. Pratchett moved on to other, better characters and stories that made his world richer and deeper with every book. I think the later appearances of R were just something he threw to the old fans every so often.
(Adams got trapped writing about a ramshackle universe that, like his characters, existed entirely to deliver jokes and collapsed when asked to support anything slightly serious. A shame, since the Dirk Gently novels showed he could write real books)
posted by thatwhichfalls at 8:15 PM on September 30, 2023 [2 favorites]

The UU faculty bits make this bearable. Mrs. Whitlow is also done right by, and the various horny faculty trying to get her attention captures something of the essence of the social dynamics a group of not-particularly-mature males, perhaps especially teen males, which is kind of where UU wizards are (socially) stranded by their positions, exhibits.

I agree the "Australian" vignettes are potentially amusing the first time through, though do not maintain that if re-reading.
posted by maxwelton at 4:36 PM on October 2, 2023 [1 favorite]

« Older All Elite Wrestling: Dynamite:...   |  Star Trek: Lower Decks: Empath... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments