DISCWORLD DISCUSSIONS: The Last Continent (1998)
I know I said in my ‘Jingo’ article that I was psyched to be embarking on the second half of the series, but I will not lie to you; ‘The Last Continent’ was difficult to get started on as the first book after that halfway mark. It is a Rincewind and assorted wizards story, which you may remember I have a tumultuous relationship with; I have enjoyed them far more this second time around, but they will never be my favourites. It occurs to me that the wizard books are quite gimmicky, and gimmicks get old quickly. They tend to follow the same general pattern; a strange Discworld science event occurs, the wizards get in the middle of it, they resolutely refuse to believe that there is any real problem, they argue a lot, there is a cataclysm during which they argue more, and then the problem tends to solve itself.
A lot of Discworld books, depending on the characters that are being followed, do seem to have a loose structure that they stick to, but I struggle with the wizard books because of the characters. The witches and the members of the Watch have very distinct personalities and character development over the course of their stories, from the Granny Weatherwaxes and Sam Vimses all the way down to the Sean Oggs and Cheery Littlebottoms. The joy of these novels comes in watching these characters grow and change as they live and learn. The wizards, on the other hand, are a bunch of stubborn and argumentative old men, who are literally never going to change; it is literally the joke, I think, that they are never going to learn from their numerous mistakes. This joke is good to begin with but at this stage, I am tired of it. Aside from Ridcully, Ponder Stibbons and the Bursar (distinct only because he is ‘mad’), I could not tell you a single detail about the other wizards from one book to the next. The Senior Wrangler, the Dean, The Chair of Indefinite Studies, the Lecturer in Ancient Runes are just names to me. They aren’t people in the same way that other characters in Discworld are.
That being said, I did enjoy Ponder Stibbons in this book. He is the youngest member of the Faculty, in his mid-twenties at most, and apart from the Librarian, he is the only rational voice in the group. I wouldn’t go so far as to say his character has been developing over the series but he has become more prominent in his role and he is the wizard I found myself latching onto this time. Ridcully has grown on me, as you may remember, with his hidden kindnesses and comparatively sane existence. He was the same Ridcully in this novel, protective of the Bursar and the Librarian, and almost sensible. He is, however, just as stubborn and prone to valuing his own opinion as the rest of the Faculty. Ponder, on the other hand, is desperate to learn, desperate to understand the crackpot adventures that the wizards have and loathe to brush off once in a lifetime opportunities for the sake of a sandwich and a pipe full of tobacco. I expect that some readers would find him boring in comparison to the rest of these characters, but I have a lot of time for the Ponder Stibbonses of the world.
Rincewind’s separate adventures in the novel almost play second fiddle to the wizards, but they are worth a mention for sheer entertainment value. The last continent of the title is a parody of Australia, introduced so perfectly at the end of ‘Interesting Times’ four novels ago. I’d go so far to say that none of this novel quite lives up to the perfection of that last page of ‘Interesting Times’, but I did enjoy a lot of what Pratchett had to say. My favourite part is the parody of ‘Mad Max’, a reference that I didn’t get last time I read it but, now that I have seen ‘Fury Road’, made perfect sense this time around. I loved the description of a building that may or may not be based on the Sydney Opera House as a box of tissues, and the flock of budgies that bothered Rincewind for a number of pages.
Once I had forced myself to get started, there was a lot of this novel that I enjoyed, as with any Discworld. I am glad, however, as I look at my bookshelf, to see that I have a lot of books to get through now before I come to the wizards again. I think we need a break from each other and I’m very pleased it is coming now. By the time ‘Unseen Academicals’ rolls around, I hope I will be ready for their shenanigans again.
“They say the heat and the flies here can drive a man insane. But you don’t have to believe that, and neither does that bright mauve elephant that just cycled past.”