“But here, away from the great centres of population, where the Circle Sea meets the desert, there is a line of cold blue fire. Flames as chilly as the slopes of Hell roar towards the sky. Ghostly light flickers across the desert.
The pyramids in the ancient valley of the Djel are flaring their power into the night.
The energy streaming up from their paracosmic peaks may, in chapters to come, illuminate many mysteries: why tortoises hate philosophy, why too much religion is bad for goats, and what it is that handmaidens actually do.”
As the Discworld unfolds, the stories become more poignant. Yes, gags, plays on words, and downright bizarreness are plentiful. Except, this isn’t why Pratchett remains one of my alltime favourite authors. Real world people and events (even historical) are. Pyramids is sort of about Egyptian history, all boy boarding schools (particularly final examinations), family, coming…
As you can see from the above map, the Discworld consists of many countries and continents. Each country has its own culture and religion. From my reading there are three books in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series that are specifically about religion and culture. These three stories are about the countries of Djelibeybi (Pyramids) – try saying it, Omnia (Small Gods) and Zlobenia vs. Borogravia (Monstrous Regiment).
Pyramids consists of four books: The Book of Going forth, The Book of the Dead, The Book of the New Sun and The Book of 101 Things a Boy Can Do.
As a young boy Pteppic was sent to Ankh-Morpork by his father, King Teppicymon XXVII. The Assassin’s Guild had accepted him as their student. The reason they had chosen the assassins’ school was because it offered the best all-round education in the world.
At home all Teppic had was a kingdom two miles wide and onedred and fifty miles long. Its stronger neighbors only tolerated their existence because anything else would lead to war between the two countries.
Djelibeybi’s days of glory were over. Now all they had to attract visitors was pyramids – enough pyramids to bankrupt the country.
Teppic’s stay was Ankh-Morpork is a success. He survived his finals (assassin’s school finals can be quite deadly) through knowledge and a great deal of luck. The test was to arrive alive and well at a site and then kill someone. He passed by accident.
Then Teppic’s father dies and Teppic becomes King Teppicymon XXVIII and has to go back to Djelybeybi. When he gets there he discovers that the High Priest Dios pretty much runs the country. Any change that Teppic wants to bring in to Djelibeybi, like plumping, is fought. All Teppic is supposed to do is get a consort and bring an heir into the world. Most importantly, a new pyramid has to be raised and his father’s pyramid has to be capped.
Pratchett plays with time and space in Pyramids. The pyramid of Teppic’s father has become so large that upon capping, Djelibeybi comes out of alignment with the rest of the disc. Chaos ensues in Djelibeybi as the dead come alive and the kingdom’s various gods want a part in ruling the kingdom. The power of belief is strong on the Discworld. There gods gain power through their believers. If the people believe the pharaoh is a god, then the pharaoh has godlike powers. Egyptian mythology along with Christianity get their fair share of Pratchett’s attention.
1989: Winner of BSFA
SMALL GODS (1992)
On the Discworld there are gods for everything. On Wikipedia you’ll find a list over the gods and their function. They come in all shapes and sizes. Lack of belief decreases power while belief increases the power of the gods. If they have no believers, the gods are small gods crying out for belief.
History has to be observed. Otherwise it’s not history. It’s just … well, things happening one after another.
This is why history has its own caretakers making sure things happen as they should. These caretakers live in a hidden valley in the Ramtops. The 493rd Abbot sends his most experienced monk, Lu-Tze, to Omnia to make certain that nothing messes up the course of history.
In Omnia the time of the 8th prophet was imminent. The Church of the Great God Om has “very punctual prophets. You could set your calendar by them, if you had one big enough.” Brutha, the novice monk hears a voice. This voice is trying to get his attention. Due to a lack of belief Om finds itself stripped of power and has therefore become one of the Small Gods. When Brutha discovers that the voice he has been hearing in his head belongs to a small tortoise, Brutha is astounded. No less astounded does he become when the tortoise wants to see the High Priest. A mere novice will never be allowed into such august company.
Vorbis, the Deacon, is the head of the Quisition. Their job is to do all those things that need to be done that other people would rather not do. Their methods of garnering information were like the Spanish Inquisition’s, rather unpleasant. Along with General Iam Fri’it of the Divine Legion and Bishop Drunah of the Congress of Iams Vorbis is planning on forcing the word of Om on the Ephebians. Once Ephebe has been converted, the way onward to Djel and Tsort lies open.
Religion and its inquisitions, philosophy, and the battle between reason and belief end up on the playground of Pratchett’s satiric hand. Terry gives us a look at how some people seek power to the extent that they will do anything to gain it.
Some gods are crazier than others. In Borogravia Nuggan passes decrees that are increasingly bizarre. Borogravians are ruled by the Abominations – a list of taboos: no garlic, no cats, ginger hair is out and so are six-buttoned shirts, chocolate and the color blue. You can see that being a Borogravian can be a challenge for the most devout. Due to these Abominations Borogravia is constantly at war with their neighbors.
Even though women aren’t allowed pants, Polly dons them, cuts her hair short and sets off after her brother Paul, who has gone missing in the Borogravian army. She needs him back at the family pub so the pub won’t be passed on to their terrible cousin if their dad dies. All she has to do is join the Borogravian army.
The recruiting sergeant and his corporal assistant Strappi give Polly (or Oliver Perks as she calls herself) a shilling to kiss and a picture of the queen. Along with Polly, several other recruits join up: a vampire, one troll, an Igor and humans. Strangely enough all the of the recruits have very light voices. The tiny regiment makes their way toward the keep where the enemy is based. Guess who we get to meet there.
Commander Samuel Vimes has been sent to Zlobenia to figure out how to deal with Borogravia. To Vimes Borogravia is just another criminal that has to be dealt with as such, and he is going to treat Zlobenia and Borogravia as he would two scrappers back in Ankh-Morpork.
As you can probably imagine the main themes of Monstrous Regiment are the battle between the sexes and repressive religions. Deprivations caused by a war-happy country are only all too apparent in this story. Along with young males, food and clothing are scarce. We don’t have to look too far back into our own histories to see how all of these themes are sadly relevant for us.
The characters in Monstrous Regiment are delightful. The lengths these women go to in order to hide their gender is funny (socks in pants etc.). Their reactions to discovering the true identities of their compatriots and the difficulties that come with hiding their gender create weird scenes (especially in relation to Lieutenant Blouse – an incredibly inept soldier).
2004: Monstrous Regiment adapted for stage by Stephen Briggs
2011: Monstrous Regiment trailer fanfilm by Michelle