In the sixth part of Eric, Rincewind and Eric travel to a really interesting place. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
I was at a bookstore this past weekend, and I drifted through the fantasy section, coming to stop at the long line of Discworld novels on the shelves. (I have a thing about how books look on the shelf, stacked up and in order.) I pulled out a copy of Eric because I often don’t get to see what the covers look like, and I noticed that it was tentatively titled Faust, but that was crossed out and I SUDDENLY GET WHAT THIS NOVEL IS. Oh my god, it’s a parody of Faust. THE WISHES GRANTED BY A DEMON. JESUS. I understand so much about this book, y’all.
And it’s interesting to me that in satirizing Faust, Pratchett still has a lot going on here. I mean, MAGICAL TIME TRAVEL. Not just time travel – which is enough to grab my attention any day of the week – but Astfgl and Rincewind/Eric travel to opposite ends of the universe, allowing Pratchett to speak poetically about both the start and end of all things. (Which is kind of beautifully ironic to me. This is the first thing I’ve read of his since his passing, and it seems pretty apt.) So, let’s start with the beginning!
I’m not all that familiar with what Pratchett believed about god or faith or religion, though I suspect you could guess how he feel about these things just from Pyramids. Still, there’s not a whole lot of cynicism in his work, even when he decides to tackle the creation of the universe. What I liked so much about this section is that Pratchett characterizes a creator (not The Creator or even the Creator… just a creator) as nothing more than a dedicated and kind of adorable worker, part of a vast fabric of creators who all contribute to different aspects of the universe. As Rincewind listens to this creator talk about the beginning of the universe, he does so respectfully, even if he doesn’t understand everything that the little man is saying.
And so, Eric and Rincewind watch the Big Bang (which reminds me of the very first pun that destroyed me in this series), the world created before them while one of the creators sits there and complains about management. About shitty creation jobs. About parallel worlds. I got the sense that this was a sobering moment for both Eric and Rincewind, maybe Rincewind more than the other. There’s a humbling simplicity to all of this, and Rincewind understands both the immensity and silliness of the truth of creation. It takes a moment for Eric get to that level of comprehension, though, and I’m not even certain he’s done learning. (Astfgl still has something planned!) But Rincewind has to point out that Eric got exactly what he wanted. (Faust! It’s all Faust!)
“You wanted to live forever.”
“I didn’t say anything about traveling in time,” said Eric. “I was very clear about it so there’d be no tricks.”
“There isn’t a trick. The wish is trying to be helpful. I mean, it’s pretty obvious when you think about it. ‘Forever’ means the entire span of space and time. Forever. For Ever. See?”
“You mean you have to sort of start at Square One?”
Unfortunately, Eric doesn’t quite get just how screwed he is. He wasted all three wishes on terrible things, and now he’s destined to live through all space and time. Will he age at all? Will he be thirteen that whole time? Can nothing kill him? Who knows??? His wishes were granted precisely and literally! It’s possible, I suppose. Of course, Astfgl is headed straight for the two of them, so I’m guessing that’s how they’ll get back to the present time. Well… let’s talk about Astfgl.
Unsurprisingly, there is just one being at the end of time: Death. I mean, we knew that, right??? We knew Death would outlast the universe, so as Astfgl stands next to him, the universe contracting into nothingness, it’s kind of bittersweet. Death made it. He made it through the millennia, and now… his job is done? That thought seemed so strange because how could Death ever stop? The concept is absurd.
So while Astfgl angrily races back through time to confront Rincewind about his apparent humanity (WHOOPS!), Death contemplates the end:
Great roils of absolutely nothing stretched into what would have been called the distance, if there had been a space-time reference frame to give words like “distance” any sensible meaning anymore.
There didn’t seem to be much to do.
PERHAPS IT’S TIME TO CALL IT A DAY, he thought.
I’m a big fan of the idea of a cyclical universe, that there’s no real definitive end or beginning, just a repetition spread over billions of years. It works for the Discworld, particularly sense it also allows Pratchett to make that stellar joke about EGG-WHISKS JAMMING INNOCENT KITCHEN DRAWERS. If the universe is going to pop into existence again after it ends, then I fully support the Big Bang being the clink of a paperclip.
I suppose it’s also comforting to think of Death waiting on the edge of the universe for everything to start again. I hope Pratchett found that comforting, too.
The original text contains use of the word “mad.”
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