APF Chapter 3: Discworld Annotations [Prev Page] [Index] [Next Page]

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Annotations | Information | Quotes

- [p. 8] "'My son,' he said. 'I shall call him Coin.'"

A pun on the English boy's name 'Colin', with a nod to the expression "to coin a phrase".

- [p. 12] "[...] this was a bit more original than the usual symbolic chess game [...]"

This subject comes up every now and again on alt.fan.pratchett, so it is time for an annotation to settle this matter for once and for all: playing (chess) games with Death is a very old concept. It goes back much further than either Ingmar Bergman's famous 1957 movie The Seventh Seal, or Chris deBurgh's less famous 1975 song 'Spanish Train' (which describes a poker game between God and the Devil).

- [p. 22] "It was quite possible that it was a secret doorway to fabulous worlds [...]"

A reference to C. S. Lewis's classic fantasy story The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, in which the heroes are magically transported to the Land of Narnia through the back of an old wardrobe, which was made from a tree that grew from the seeds of a magical apple taken from that Land long before.

- [p. 28] "'I saw this picture of a sourcerer in a book. He was standing on a mountain top waving his arms and the waves were coming right up [...]'"

Probably a reference to a famous scene from the 'Sorcerer's Apprentice' segment in Disney's 1940 film Fantasia. The "sourcerer" being in fact the Apprentice, Mickey, dreaming of commanding the wind to blow, the waves to wave, the stars to fall, and so on.

Some people were also reminded of Prospero in Shakespeare's The Tempest.

- [p. 44] "'Psst,' it said. 'Not very,' said Rincewind [...], 'but I'm working on it.'"

Play on the word 'pissed', common British/Australian (but apparently not American) slang for 'drunk'.

- [p. 51] "Of all the disreputable taverns in all the city you could have walked into, you walked into his, complained the hat."

Paraphrases Humphrey Bogart's famous line from Casablanca: "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine."

- [p. 55] "By the way, the thing on the pole isn't a sign. When they decided to call the place the Troll's Head, they didn't mess about."

The reference is to traditional British pub names such as King's Head, Queen's Head or Nag's Head, all occurring quite frequently, where the appropriate head (a nag being a horse) is displayed on a sign outside, often on a pole before the building.

+ [p. 66] "The study of genetics on the Disc had failed at an early stage, when wizards tried the experimental crossing of such well known subjects as fruit flies and sweet peas. Unfortunately they didn't grasp the fundamentals, and the resultant offspring -- a sort of green bean thing that buzzed -- led a short sad life before being eaten by a passing spider."

Sweet peas were used by Mendel in his early genetic experiments. Fruit flies are used in contemporary genetics. Among the 'fundamentals' that the wizards failed to grasp are of course the facts that (a) you can only cross individuals within each species, not across, and (b) you are not supposed to use magic.

With respect to (a) I was told that in 1991 (three years after Sourcery) an article was published in which a team of geneticists write about a certain transposon that seemed to be common to both maize and fruit flies, implying that it might be possible to have some form of horizontal transmission between vegetable and animal DNA, after all. In 2002, there was a BBC news item to the effect that Japanese scientists were claiming to have successfully implanted genetic material from spinach into pigs, leading to healthier, less fat piglets.

- [p. 68] "SEE ALSO: thee Apocralypse, the legende of thee Ice Giants, and thee Teatime of the Goddes."

In Norse mythology, the "Twilight of the Gods" refers to Ragnarok, the final conflict at the end of times between the gods and their enemies (amongst which are the Ice Giants). See also the annotation for p. 308/222 of Lords and Ladies

- [p. 69] "'Anus mirabilis?'"

"Annus mirabilis" translates to "year of wonder". "Anus mirabilis" does not.

Brewer mentions that the year of wonder in question is actually known to be 1666, "memorable for the great fire of London and the successes of our arms over the Dutch."

- [p. 71] "'From these walls,' said Carding, 'Two hundred supreme mages look down upon you.'"

Napoleon, to his troops just before the Battle of the Pyramids in 1798: "From the summit of these pyramids, forty centuries look down upon you".

- [p. 75] "'[...] that would be the Patrician, Lord Vetinari,' said Carding with some caution."

A sideways pun (via 'veterinary') on the name of the famous de Medici family, who were the enlightened rulers of Renaissance Florence.

During one of those interminable "which actor should play which Discworld character if there was a movie?" discussions, Terry gave some insight in how he himself visualises the Patrician:

"I can't remember the guy's name, but I've always pictured the Patrician as looking like the father in Beetlejuice -- the man also played the Emperor of Austria in Amadeus. And maybe slightly like the head bad guy in Die Hard."

The actors Terry is thinking of are Jeffrey Jones and Alan Rickman, respectively.

- [p. 76] "[...] his chair at the foot of the steps leading up to the throne, [...]"

In Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, the Stewards of Gondor also sat on a chair on the steps below the real throne, awaiting the return of the king. The prophecy in that case also included a magic sword, although Tolkien neglects to make any mention of a strawberry-shaped birthmark.

Other occurrences of the legend can be found in Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time epic fantasy series, in Raymond E. Feist's Prince of the Blood, and in David Eddings' Belgariad quintet.

This is undoubtedly one of those cases where everybody is drawing on a much older idea. Legends about kings, swords and birthmarks are of course legion, although I must admit that so far I haven't been able to actually find an occurrence of the 'chair below the real throne' concept outside of contemporary fiction.

- [p. 76] "[...] the sort of man you'd expect to keep a white cat, and caress it idly while sentencing people to death in a piranha tank [...]"

A reference to Ernst Stavro Blofeld, leader of SPECTRE and arch enemy of James Bond.

- [p. 88] "The market in Sator Square, the wide expanse of cobbles outside the black gates of the University, was in full cry."

The word 'Sator' refers to a famous magic square (magic square, get it?) dating back to the times of the spread of Christianity in Europe. 'Sator' means sower or farmer. The complete square is:


This square is palindromic in all directions. The sentence you get reads: Sator Arepo Tenet Opera Rotas, which means, more or less: "The sower [i.e. God] in his field controls the workings of his tools [i.e. us]". Some correspondents questioned the correctness of this translation, so if anyone has a good reference to something else I'd love to hear it.

The magic Sator square also has the property that it can be 'unfolded' into two "A PATER NOSTER O" strings that form a cross with the 'N' as a pivot element (sorry, proper graphics will have to wait until a future edition of the APF). The 'A' and the 'O' stand for alpha and omega.

- [p. 107] "'And I seem to remember he spoke very highly of the soak. It's a kind of bazaar.'"

Punning on 'souk', meaning a Middle Eastern marketplace; and the verb 'soak', meaning to charge (and get) exorbitant prices.

- [p. 122] "the kind of spaghetti that would make M. C. Escher go for a good lie down [...]"

Maurits C. Escher: Dutch graphic artist of the 20th century, well-known for his tangled, paradoxical pictures of optical illusions and plane-filling tilings. Read Douglas Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach for much, much more information.

- [p. 122] "'It looks like someone has taken twice five miles of inner city and girded them round with walls and towers,' he hazarded."

From Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem Kubla Khan:

So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girded round

- [p. 122] "[...] 'sherbet and, and -- young women.'"

'Sherbet' is a cooling Oriental fruit drink (also a frozen dessert) as well as a fizzy sweet powder children eat as a sweet, which comes in a cardboard tube with a liquorice 'straw' at the top. To get to the sherbet you bite off the end of the liquorice and suck through it. See also the annotation for p. 104 of The Light Fantastic .

- [p. 125] "'[...] pretty much of a miracle of rare device.'"

Coleridge's Kubla Khan:

It was a miracle of rare device
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!

- [p. 125] "My name is Creosote, Seriph of Al Khali, [...]"

Ok, let's see: Creosote parodies the proverbially rich Croesus (king of Lidya -- which lies in what is now Turkey -- in the 6th century BC), 'Serif' is a typographical term which also puns on 'caliph', and 'Al Khali' is pronounced 'alkali' (just covering all the bases here, as my original source put it), but probably refers to the Rub' al Khali desert in Arabia.

Creosote itself is actually the name for an oily liquid mixture of organic chemicals, resulting as a by-product from the industrial burning of coal or wood.

- [p. 126] The hashishim as the "original Assassins".

The English word 'assassins' was originally used to denote a group of fanatical Ismailis (a Shi'ite Muslim sect) who, between 1094 and 1273, worked for the creation of a new Fatimid caliphate, targeting prominent individuals. Later, 'assassin' in English came to mean any politically motivated murderer.

The name derives from the Arabic "hashashin" -- Marco Polo and other European chroniclers claimed that the Assassins used hashish to stimulate their fearless acts. For example, Brewer writes:

"Assassins. A band of Carmathians, collected by Hassa, subah of Nishapour, called the Old Man of the Mountains, because he made Mount Lebanon his stronghold. This band was the terror of the world for two centuries, when it was put down by Sultan Bibaris. The assassins indulged in haschisch (bang), an intoxicating drink, and from this liquor received their name."

For more information, see also the Hawkwind song 'Hassan I Sabbah' on their album Quark, Strangeness and Charm.

- [p. 126] Creosote's poetry is mostly based on Edward Fitzgerald's translation of the Rubaïyat of Omar Khayyam. The poem parodied on this page goes:

A book of verses underneath the bough
A jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and thou

- [p. 127] "'They spent simply ages getting the rills sufficiently sinuous.'"

Kubla Khan:

And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills.

- [p. 127] "'Wild honey and locusts seem more appropriate, [...]'"

Because John the Baptist ate those, according to Matthew 3:4 (also Mark 1:6): "And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey."

In order to avoid confusion it should perhaps be pointed out that the locusts in question are the seeds of honey locust trees, also known as carob and (subsequently, from this story) as St John's Bread.

- [p. 127] "'You can't play a dulcimer, by any chance?'"

Kubla Khan:

It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played.

- [p. 128] "'Has anyone ever told you your neck is as a tower of ivory?'"

This, and Creosote's further compliments to Conina ("your hair is like a flock of goats that graze upon the side of Mount Gebra", "your breasts are like the jewelled melons in the fabled gardens of dawn", etc.) are all very similar to the compliments in the Biblical 'Song of Solomon':

Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair;
thou hast doves' eyes within thy locks:
thy hair is as a flock of goats, that appear from mount Gilead.

Thy neck is like the tower of David builded for an armoury,
whereon there hang a thousand bucklers,
all shields of mighty men.

Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins,
which feed among the lilies.

I did an electronic search across the entire King James bible for "jewelled melons", but those appear to be an invention of Creosote's. Fine by me -- I was already slightly shocked to find out that "your hair is like a flock of goats" was a genuine Biblical compliment and not something Terry had made up.

- [p. 129] "Get up! For the morning in the cup of day, / Has dropped the spoon that scares the stars away."

The Rubaïyat:

Awake! for morning in the bowl of night
Hath flung the stone that puts the stars to flight.

- [p. 130] "[...] a falling apple or a boiling kettle or the water slopping over the edge of the bath."

A falling apple supposedly helped Newton discover the Law of Gravity, a boiling kettle helped Watt revolutionise the steam engine (see also the annotation for p. 153 of Reaper Man ), and Archimedes, according to legend, discovered the principles of fluid displacement while taking a bath.

- [p. 132] "The Seriph's palace, known to legend as the Rhoxie, [...]"

No connection to the original Croesus here, but rather to the Alhambra, the palace of the Emirs of Granada in 15th century Spain. As Terry says:

"Incidentally, the Seriph's palace, the Rhoxie, is indeed a 'resonance' with the Alhambra -- a famous Moorish palace which became a synonym for an impressive building, and later became a common cinema name as in Odeon and, yes, Roxy."

- [p. 141] "Nijel the Destroyer" may be a suitably heroic-looking name, but 'Nijel' is of course pronounced as 'Nigel', a name that is traditionally associated with wimpy rather than with heroic males.

I am told that among school-age Australians, Nigel is in fact slang for someone with no friends.

- [p. 142] "'For example, do you know how many trolls it takes to change a lamp-wick?'"

Someone, somewhere, hasn't heard of the "How many <insert ethnic group> does it take to change a light-bulb?"-jokes this is a reference to. This annotation is for him/her.

- [p. 142] "'[...] it's more than just pointing a finger at it and saying "Kazam--"'"

Captain Marvel, an American comic book character, was able to transform himself into his superhero alter-ego by saying the magic word 'Shazam'.

- [p. 154] "[...] the Librarian dropped on him like the descent of Man."

Reference to Charles Darwin's landmark 1871 book on evolutionary theory, The Descent of Man.

- [p. 162] "'He asked me to tell him a story.'"

This is the first, but not the last time in the book that Creosote asks Conina for a story. This refers to One Thousand and One Nights, and the stories Scheherezade had to tell every night to her Caliph, Shahryār.

- [p. 167] "'I'm looking up the Index of Wandering Monsters', said Nijel."

'Wandering Monsters' is a phrase that comes from the world of fantasy role-playing games such as Dungeons And Dragons, and it more or less means just what you think it means. Nijel is of course exactly the type of stereotypical nerd who would, in our world, actually play D&D.

- [p. 171] "'It have thee legges of an mermade, the hair of an tortoise, the teeth of an fowel, and the wings of an snake.'"

More reputable witnesses than Broomfog describe the chimera or chimaera (from Greek mythology) as a fire-breathing monster having either the hindquarters of a serpent and the head of a lion on the body of a goat, or else the back of a goat, the wings of a dragon, the front half of a lion, and three heads (one each for goat, lion and dragon).

Woody Allen somewhere describes a mythical beast called the Great Roe, which has "the head of lion and the body of a lion, only not the same lion".

- [p. 185] "Next to it was a small, sleek oil lamp and [...] a small gold ring."

The magic lamp and magic ring, which summon a demon when rubbed, appear in the legend of Aladdin. On p. 208 Creosote tells the story of how "one day this wicked old pedlar came round offering new lamps for old [...]". This is also part of the original Aladdin fairy tale.

- [p. 210] "It was a Fullomyth, an invaluable aid [...]"

Refers to the 'Filofax' system: a small notebook (the more expensive versions are leather-bound) with loose-leaf information sheets, diary, calendar, notes, wine lists, London underground maps, etc. In the UK the Filofax at one time became the badge of the stereotypical 80s Yuppie, seen working in London's "square mile", walking around with a mobile phone clamped to his ear while referring to his Filofax to find a free appointment. Hence the Genie: "'Let's do lunch...'".

- [p. 215] "'Like not thinking about pink rhinoceroses,' said Nijel [...]"

I always thought that the impossibility of trying not to think of something specific was a general concept, but a correspondent informs me that the writer Tolstoy actually founded a club as a boy, which you could be admitted to if you managed a test. The test was to sit in a corner, and not think of a white bear.

- [p. 215] Significant Quest -> Trivial Pursuit.

- [p. 227] "Other things besides the cream floated to the top, he reflected sourly."

Another Tom Swifty, as per the annotation for p. 26 of The Light Fantastic .

- [p. 230] "'The world, you see, that is, the reality in which we live, in fact it can be thought of as, in a manner of speaking, a rubber sheet.'"

Ovin is modifying Einstein's explanation of gravity for a magical setting. See also the annotation for p. 134 of Pyramids .

- [p. 236] "'We are poor little ... unidentified domesticated animals ... that have lost our way ...' he quavered."

'Sheep' was almost right. The exact song the horsemen are trying to sing goes:

We're poor little lambs, that have lost our way
CHORUS: "Baaa, baa, baa."

and is a favourite of the highly drunk.

- [p. 245] "'It's not that, then?'"

In all editions of this novel I am aware of (UK Corgi paperback, UK Gollancz hardcover, US Signet paperback) this line is printed in a plain font. It seems logical, however, that the line is said by Pestilence and should therefore have been in italics.

- [p. 257] "'Oh, yes. It's vital to remember who you really are. It's very important. It isn't a good idea to rely on other people or things to do it for you, you see. They always get it wrong.'"

Rincewind, nerving himself up to distract the Things in the Dungeon Dimensions so that Coin can escape, is anticipating Granny Weatherwax in this little speech. The theme is clearly important to Terry from the humanist angle, but its roots are in the occult -- actively holding in mind who and what you are is a traditional exercise in a number of mystical teachings. Note that this statement is the result of the inspiration particle which hit Rincewind on p. 165.

- [p. 259] "For a moment the ape reared against the darkness, the shoulder, elbow and wrist of his right arm unfolding in a poem of applied leverage, and in a movement as unstoppable as the dawn of intelligence brought it down very heavily."

This is a rather subtle reference to the scene with the bone and tapir skull in the 'Dawn of Man' portion of Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke's movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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