The Science of Discworld IV: Chapter 4, Part I

In the first half of the fourth chapter of Judgment Day, the authors discuss the real-world origins of the world turtle. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Science of Discworld. 

World turtles!!! I love that I’m nearly done with the Discworld series, but it’s only now that I’m delving deeper into the real-world parallels to the world turtle that is at the center of this series. But before I jump into that, let me talk about this:

Thanks to the switching on of the Great Big Thing, Marjorie Daw has seeped into Discworld. Since she is a librarian, we suspect the seepage happened through L-space…

I feel like the text would have mentioned if Daw was some sort of historical figure, so it’s more probable that she’s a fictional librarian created for the Discworld story. So… why a librarian? That has to be intentional, too, right? So how is she going to fit into this?

Anyway! World turtles! It’s been really neat that the Science of Discworld books have tackled so much history, as I certainly didn’t expect that when I started reading them. I talked about this in the video for this split, but I live in a place that does not have much left in terms of physical history. It still blows my mind that there are human-made things currently standing on Earth that are thousands of years old. The oldest “things” I interacted with were either natural features—mountains and forests and hills and rivers—or the missions spread around California. (Which, as a brief side note, were often taught to me in very, very sanitized ways, and it wasn’t until I was late in high school that I began to learn what those missions were actually for.) The first time I traveled to London was a LOT, and on that trip, I also got to go to Paris and Amsterdam, and I still remain overwhelmed by the experience. There are “old” buildings everywhere? Y’all have structures still standing that are over a thousand years old??? History is everywhere??? 

Anyway, that’s not quite the point of what the authors bring up in “World Turtles.” Most of this chapter deals with the various creation myths around the world that center on turtles. I find it fascinating how many odd similarities there are between the myths of the Lenape, the Iroquois, Hindus, and the Mayans, even when it was pretty much impossible for some of these groups to even know the others existed. There are shared origins and cultural traditions between groups all over the world, but as far as I can tell from dates and geographical locations, most of these cultures developed their myths independent of one another. And yet: turtles were very, very important to a lot of them. 

I do think that we should all take the recounting of these myths with a grain of salt, as I’m not quite sure the authors got everything right. As I pointed out in the video, they kind of gloss over the hero twins’s actual story. I know that particular part of Mayan mythology well because of research I had to do for a story I wrote for a Thing That I Can’t Tell Anyone About. Admittedly, it’s kind of a disaster doing research on the Maya because there are not just so many contradictory texts out there, but for a long while, no one could even agree on the names of anything. A specific god could be called one thing with certainty in one text, only to have a wildly different name (spoken with the same certainty) in another text. Anyway, this book could easily serve as the jumping off point to research more on these subjects; I wouldn’t take it as a definitive study.

Onwards to more world turtles!

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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