In the twelfth part of The Light Fantastic, Rincewind finds his courage. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Well, this is absolutely my favorite part of what I’ve read in this series. I’m in awe, simply put. Look, it’s not that Pratchett abandoned his style or the tone of The Light Fantastic here. The scene where Trymon locks the other seven wizards in the Octavo’s old cell is undeniably funny, and there’s certainly silliness throughout this section. But it is in his exploration of themes he’s hinted at over these first two novels – courage, imagination, and imagination – that this book just becomes a thing of beauty.
Still, that whimsical knack for parody is present and as sharp as ever. Rincewind’s interaction with the wizards trapped in the Octavo’s cell is a lovely send-up itself, since it’s so funny that the least qualified wizard is the only one on the outside of that prison. But the whole thing unearths the self-doubt and frustration Rincewind has lived with ever since he was kicked out of Unseen University, and Pratchett thankfully doesn’t make this a joke at all. It was actually sad to me at first that in this moment where he could prove to all these wizards – many of whom probably treated him poorly and without sympathy all those years ago – that he was capable, he wasn’t able to do anything. But this theme of uselessness, which was often a joke, actually becomes a motivational tool for Rincewind. At the exact point when a wizard begins to criticize Rincewind, he unlocks the door. And I find that super meaningful in terms of his characterization because it means he believed it was possible. Desperately so, sure, but he didn’t give up.
Which comes up again, though Twoflower and Bethan are the vessel for this. Rincewind reveals his fear of what Trymon is about to do, and it’s based in his own experience. He has lived for years with a single Octavo spell in his head, and he knows that holding seven of them at once will be a disastrous mistake. But it’s not just because of the risk to Trymon’s sanity. YEAH, HIS MIND WILL BECOME A DOOR TO THE DUNGEON DIMENSION. All that shit that Trymon felt clawing at him from the Octavo as he raced to the top of the Tower of Art? IT WASN’T HIS IMAGINATION AT ALL. So it was incredibly stressful to realize that he’d already done it. And look, y’all, this Lovecraft-ian* sense of horror was so shocking to me because… this is from the same man who wrote HORSE D’OEUVRES. He’s definitely been serious before, but this? There are horrors from another dimension swirling about the sky, lit by that hellish red star that we still don’t know anything about. WHY IS IT THERE? WHY ARE THE SPELLS IMPORTANT TO IT?
So I get why all the wizards, whose magic had drastically waned already, basically gave up. What could they do? Trymon had control of seven of the spells of the Octavo, a wormhole to another dimension of unimaginable creatures had just opened up, and they all were powerless to stop it. But were they? Bethan – bless her heart – is the first one to demand that the wizards do something. And when they condescendingly try to tell her that she doesn’t understand why they can’t do anything, Twoflower… well, he erupts in fury. I admit, I laughed at the image of him heading into the Tower of Art because he’s so lovely about his optimism, but I think it’s actually a huge moment for him. I don’t disagree with my assessment in the first video that this basically summarizes his philosophy. He believes the best in people and that a good conversation usually solves most problems. But what happens here is so much more than that! GOD, HOW FUCKING GREAT IS THIS LINE?
“This sort of thing is a job for the likes of Cohen, not you. No offense.”
“Would he do any good?”
Rincewind looked up at the actinic light that lanced down through the distant hole at the top of the staircase.
“No,” he admitted.
“Then I’d be as good as him, wouldn’t I?” said Twoflower, flourishing his looted sword.
I unequivocally adore this character for this. It is such a bold thing for Pratchett to write because in one sense, Twoflower finally changes, and it’s a dramatic one at that. He is more aware of the odds, the risks, and the dangers present than anyone else. And he uses that to compel Rincewind to act. He doesn’t do it immediately, and it takes some more pushing on Twoflower’s part for Rincewind to realize what he can do. (By the way, where did Bethan go? I didn’t notice her for the remainder of this section.)
Of course, it’s important to acknowledge that Rincewind’s development owes everything to Twoflowers hyperaware bravery. That’s not to say he didn’t have this courage within him, but if you take Twoflower out of the picture, do you think we’d get the same ending? Do you think Rincewind would have made it to the top of the Tower of Art? Sure, the Octavo would have inevitably kept him alive, and there’s probably an easy way to “blame” Twoflower for the endless parade of disasters that comprise Rincewind’s life for the past year. But Twoflower deserves a lot of credit here, and I’m ready to give it.
I’m also ready to admit that everything from the start of Rincewind’s confrontation of Trymon right through the end of this section is 100% unfunny and 40000000% terrifying. From the “empty holes” of Trymon’s eyes to the way in which he demands the spells from Rincewind… it’s pure terror. And it works. To have such a jarring tonal switch appear at the dramatic climax of your novel is a silly, dangerous thing, and that’s exactly why I love it. Who else could pull this off? Who else could write so many puns and parodies and running jokes and then smack us with the existential battle for the kind of magic that can end – or create – worlds?
Rincewind’s defiance is everything, then, because it’s the defiance of a man who wants his life back. Who wants his city back. Who wants this whole absurd adventure to end because he can still do magic, even if it’s just unlocking a door:
But most of all he was angry with Trymon, standing there full of the magic Rincewind had always wanted but had never achieved, and doing nothing worthwhile with it.
The fight that takes place ended up being so much more physically brutal than I expected, but it’s not like Rincewind had magic to rely on. He just had his own strength and his own fury, and then EVERYTHING BECOMES SO FUCKED UP. That amphitheater sequence is just… ugh, I’m still creeped out by it. Rincewind gets a glimpse of the hell that awaits his world through that momentary lapse in space-time, and it’s simply horrifying. Pratchett provides enough details about them for us to understand why this fight is scary. Oh god, the chittering was what did me in. I mean, yeah, tentacles trying to rip faces off? Arms “barbed with spikes”? Stingers and tails and scales, oh my? All of this is certainly creepy and gross, but THE SOUND. NO THANK YOU. NO.
I think that the way I’m choosing to read this series – as ignorant as possible about what comes next or how Discworld even progresses past this point – means that the cliffhanger here is genuinely… well, cliffhanger-y. It’s artificial, since this is where the lovely folks who split up this book chose to end it, but I actually don’t know if Rincewind ever shows up again. He could actually die here! So… I hope he didn’t??? But let’s all take a moment to acknowledge that Twoflower himself gave what looked like the killing blow to Trymon. TWOFLOWER. I never saw that coming.
* I will take every opportunity to remind folks that Lovecraft may have had a huge influence on multiple genres, but he was also a revolting and completely undeniable racist, so fuck H.P. Lovecraft. Please read Daniel José Older’s incredible piece on the long history of the man’s racism and how that relates to the world he created in fiction. It’ll help if you’ve never heard of this before.
The original text contains the words “mad” and “insane.”
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