Mark Reads ‘The Science of Discworld’: Chapter 5

In the fifth chapter of The Science of Discworld II, Rincewind and Ponder find the other wizards exactly where you’d find them in a place like this. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld. 

Okay, so I am SUPER INTO THIS. I think there are a decent number of clues to figure out what place and time we’re in for this part of the story, and I think I’m gonna try to do that right now. There’s a bit at the start of this where Hex insists that the best way for the Librarian to hide in plain sight is to dress him up like he’s Spanish. I’m less interested in the joke than this part:

“And people there look like him?”

“No. But people here would be quite prepared to believe so. This is a credulous age.” 

So, Pratchett establishes that the elves have done something to humanity that’s caused them to believe in things that simply do not exist. But I think there’s a clue here that has less to do with the elves and more with the historical period. We know that this is in England since Mortlake is a real place, which I believe is outside London? Like… to the west, if I remember correctly? If that’s the case, then there were specific moments in history in which the British and Spanish were, so to speak, not on great terms. 

Then, the wizards are located outside a tavern (of course they are), where Ridcully is literally fighting someone with his staff (because of course he is) and winning (did anyone doubt that). Two weeks have passed, and in that time, the wizards made a friend! 

“Dee here is a sort of local wizard,” said Ridcully, in the loud voice he thought was a confidential whisper. “Sharp as a tack, mind like a razor, but spends all his spare time trying to do magic!”

So, I thought the name sounded a little too on-the-nose, but I wasn’t sure if Pratchett was going to use real historical figures, but this has to be John Dee, right??? If the great thinkers of the time believed in magic and developed all sorts of theories on how the world worked, wouldn’t this be exactly who this is describing? Which would set this time period as…. later 1500s??? Look, it’s been a while since I learned about UK/European history (I took AP Euro in high school and spent lots of time focusing on it when I was still in the political studies department), but this part would be applicable too:

“Confusion is the natural state of mind here, believe us. Do you know they think numbers are magical? Doing sums can get a man into real trouble in these parts.” 

It’s so clever, too, that the wizards think that our world is a parody of their world. Viewed in this light, it’s not exactly that strange of an idea. The Discworld has rules and patterns to it, and Roundworld appears to subvert and confuse all of them. We used to believe so fiercely in things that did not exist. (We still currently do.) Civilizations died out. Information was wiped away. Humans progressed—some cultures much faster than others—and then we moved backwards at alarming rates, only to progress further again. So, Rincewind has an important point about the role the wizards are to play: Should they interfere? In many ways, their presence affected the evolution of the animals in Roundworld, but this is so different. Humans are a unique creature in the universe, and that’s probably why the elves have singled them out. There’s something the humans have that they want. (Imagination? A specific kind of consciousness?) So, can the wizards ethically intervene to stop the intervention of the elves? They might have to, if in a thousand years’ time, humans find a way to leave Earth. Will the elves change history or the future?


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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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