Source of book: Audiobook borrowed from my brother.
This book is the fourth in the Rincewind series. Previous installments:
See the end of this post for other Terry Pratchett books we have experienced.
So, here is the basic plot. As you may (or not) recall, the world’s most incompetent wizard, Rincewind, managed to get himself stuck in the Dungeon Dimensions at the end of Sourcery. His faithful servant and hatchet...well, chest… The Luggage, has followed him there. But how to get back?
[Side note here: in Diskworld cosmology, the Dungeon Dimensions are essentially the Underworld, more or less. Hell is part of the Dungeon Dimensions, but exists solely because some people believe they deserve to go there. So they do.]
As usual, Rincewind doesn’t make things happen; they just tend to happen to him.
Enter Eric Thursley, a 13 year old self-absorbed demonologist (imagine Trump’s ego married to Dr. Frankenstein’s hubris, and add some pimples…) who is trying to follow his grandfather’s footsteps and summon a demon from the underworld. Things go wrong, however, because Eric ends up summoning Rincewind instead.
Rincewind may not be good at magic, but he has a great self-preservation instinct. He sees through Eric’s disguise (as an old man) and tries to explain. The problem is, for some reason, Rincewind turns out to have provisional powers related to the laws of the universe that allowed him to be summoned.
Eric, being both a selfish and egotistical ass and having studied up a bit too much on the usual stuff to do when you summon a powerful supernatural being, demands that Rincewind grant him three wishes. (No points for guessing…) These are, naturally, (1) to be ruler of the world, (2) to meet the most beautiful woman in all history, and (3) to live forever. As everyone from Faust on down has discovered: be careful what you wish for - you might get it.
Rincewind protests, of course, that he cannot grant wishes by snapping his fingers - except that when he does, things happen. Eric gets his three wishes, and these form the three major episodes of the book.
First, he gets to be ruler of the world. Except, well, he experiences this through finding himself captured by a tribal society modeled more or less on the Aztecs. The problem is, their approach to the Ruler of the World(™) is kind of like the general approach to the gods in Discworld, where the gods are not so much worshipped, as blamed. So, when Eric is recognized as the Ruler, his fate is to be sacrificed to their god as punishment for basically fucking the world up badly. The god, Quezovercoatl, is a parody of Quetzalcoatl - look closely at the name for the bad pun… This goes awry, though, because the demon who is Quezovercoatl actually makes an appearance, and turns out to be all of six inches tall. (Which is why he has better success appearing to his followers in visions.) The Luggage accidentally squashes Quezovercoatl, which sets the Tezumen on the path to rejection of religion. I must say, this was a freaking hilarious sendup of religion - particularly the “The Gods Demand the Sacrifice of Someone Other Than Me” variety.
The second wish is, naturally, fulfilled when Eric gets to meet the Discworld equivalent of Helen of Troy. This is, of course, a central part of the Faust legend, and has been dealt with in interesting ways by other authors. Marlowe, for example, paraphrases Lucian with the immortal lines, "Was this the face that launched a thousand ships / And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?" This is, of course, ambiguous. Is Faust marveling at Helen’s beauty? Or disillusioned at how it has faded? Goethe makes the whole thing into a complex allegory of the meeting of classical idea and modernity. Perhaps one of the most intriguing - to me at least - is a fragment by C. S. Lewis, entitled After Ten Years. This was apparently a novel in progress that he died before finishing - and I wonder if it would have been an incredible remix of a classical legend along the lines of Till We Have Faces. (You can find this fragment in the collection The Dark Tower and Other Stories.) From what we have, it appears that Lewis envisioned Menelaus having to choose between the real-life Helen, her beauty faded after ten years - she is now middle aged - and a magical simulacrum created by the magicians. It is an interesting choice, to say the least.
Pratchett takes the same basic approach as Lewis, but, naturally, plays things for satire rather than philosophy. Eric gets to meet Helen - but she has decided to make the best of a bad situation, and has had several kids with Paris, is decidedly middle aged and chubby, and has the hint of a mustache. In addition to this idea, the best parts of this section include the utter failure of the Trojan Horse (except The Luggage saves history, so to speak…) and the scenes with the Discworld version of Odysseus, named “Lavaeolus,” that is, “rinser of winds” and thus a likely ancestor of Rincewind.
The third episode finds Rincewind and Eric at the dawn of time, where they meet The Creator (a parody of Pratchett himself), who is the subcontractor working on fabricating the Discworld. It dawns on Rincewind before it dawns on Eric: to “live forever” means to exist for all of the space-time continuum for Discworld. So Eric will need to wait for billions of years before life even comes into existence. It’s a lonely wait, particularly if you forgot to bring a book…
At this point, Rincewind convinces Eric to reverse the spell and send them both back to hell. Where a modern reformer has decided to put into practice the truth that even eternal torment is better than eternal boredom. The jokes in this section are funnier if you are familiar with Inferno, but are still pretty dang funny if you aren’t. (By the way, I could get a job in Pratchett’s hell easily - I’d be the guy showing the endless vacation photos…)
That’s your basic plot, and an overview of the fun. Except my version isn’t half as good as the original. You really should read it. Some have complained about this book as being boring. I found it to be the opposite - it really was funny. But then again, I rather enjoy Homer and Dante, so your mileage may vary.
The Terry Pratchett list:
Guards! Guards! (Stupid abridged edition, which is an abomination.)