The Last Continent by Terry Pratchett
“It was somehow balanced by the eternal coward. The hero with a thousand retreating backs, perhaps. Many cultures had a legend of an undying hero who would one day rise again, so perhaps the balance of nature called for one who wouldn’t.”
Welcome back to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, a strange and wondrous world, making its way through time and space upon the backs of four elephants, whose weight rests upon the back of the great A’Tuin, the giant turtle. A world where magic is a daily occurrence and anything can, and most likely will, happen. Today we rather explore the mysterious land of EcksEcksEcksEcks, a barren and hot land that so far has remained unknown, located on the map as a vaguely shaped outline marked XXXX. Our guide today is the infamous wizard, Rincewind, who was last seen rapidly leaving the land of the Agatean Empire, where he recently helped topple a corrupt government and replace it with Cohen the Barbarian. In time we will see how that works out!
Part of the agreement made when Rincewind was sent to the Aurient by the wizards of the Unseen University was that it would be a round trip. The wizards of UU are a little sketchy at the best of times and the return trip doesn’t quite go as planned. Instead of returning to Ankh-Morpork, Rincewind finds himself laying on a beach in a red, barren land. He wanders aimlessly for a couple of days, barely surviving on grubs and occasionally falling into water holes, until he encounters Skippy, a talking kangaroo who is lets him know, in no uncertain terms, that Rincewind has a mission, a mission to bring back “The Wet.” And Rincewind knows just what to do when the call comes, he runs.
Meanwhile, in Ankh-Morpork, the wizards are hard at work trying to figure out where exactly Rincewind has landed. No, I tell a lie. What they really are trying to do is cure the Librarian of his illness. Every time the poor orangutan sneezes, his body changes shape and without his to keep things in line, the library books have gone on the offensive. The wizards plan to cast a spell to finally stabilize his shape but they need one important piece, a piece that the Librarian has been unable to provide, his name. There’s only one other person who might remember, the Librarian’s assistant, Rincewind. And so now they need to figure out exactly where they left him and who best to call upon than the Egregious Professor of Cruel and Unusual Geography? Except that it appears the professor has been out of the office for several years, having his own tropical beach just outside his window. And wizards, being who they are, immediately climb through, only to find they are not just on a long lost beach but also back in time thousands of years. Well, I’m sure that they will be careful.
While on the island they encounter the god of evolution, a strange and mixed up deity who can’t quite figure out sex. Wizards are probably the wrong ones to be asking, and the housekeeper, Mrs. Whitlow rises to the challenge. The wizards can’t stand around all day, and eventually they take off to find a way home. Unfortunately, their journey takes them to a prehistoric XXXX where they meet yet another god, create the platypus (by committee) and get stuck in the rock to wait out the passage of time.
Meanwhile, Rincewind, in what’s loosely considered the
present, finds himself arrested for stealing a sheep and is awaiting an early
morning hanging in the coastal city of Bugarup.The citizens of Bugarup are very enthusiastic about their new outlaw though, and even the jailers and hangman are excited to hang such an illustrious criminal. Kind of makes you feel bad that Rincewind didn't even steal the sheep! I won't give you the details of how Rincewind get's out, but while he's hunting for a ship to take him to Ankh-Morpork, he learns that the entire island is surrounded by a strange current that keeps ships from being able to leave and keeps rain from ever falling. Some how Rincewind has to find a way to break the current and bring the rain. With the help of some local beer brewers, a few cross-dressers and the stoned wizards of UU, Rincewind of course saves the day.
I love this book. Maybe not the most philosophical of the Discworld stories, it is one of the most fun. I really like the way Mr. Pratchett shapes the Australian landscape to the Disc. The cast of characters he introduces have a personality that reflects the unique nature of the land he is creating. The god of evolution, who can't seem to figure out how to get genes to pass on from one generation to the next. I especially like the god of creation, who just does continents and who traps the wizards for eons. He hearkens back to the days when gods represented the natural occurrences that couldn't be explained, when religion and nature were very much intertwined.
I also really like the Discworld version of the Waltzing Matilda story, with Rincewind taking the outlaw role. The Australian outback makes a great setting for the story, a land where the only thing more dangerous than the snakes are the spiders and just about anything can and will kill if the chance arises. The waterless regatta and the beer shortage set up some great jokes. The UU wizards are a fantasy version of the Keystone Kops and watching them bumble around the god of evolution's workshop as well as trying to design a duck are a lot of fun.
When you have a few hours to kill and need a good laugh, pick this one up. While it's good to have read the other Rincewind stories to see how he got there, it's easy to get into the story. Hope you enjoy.