For our ninth episode we leave the Discworld again as author Amie Kaufman joins us to discuss Truckers. One of four novels Pratchett published in 1989, it introduces the Nomes – Pratchett’s second group of tiny folk living at the edges of the human-sized world.
Masklin is the young hunter in a group of Nomes: four-inch tall fast-living people struggling to survive on rats and the scraps they can scavenge from the human world. After two Nomes are killed by a fox, Masklin convinces the group to hitch a ride on one of the humans’ enormous vehicles, and they find themselves in the Store: Arnold Bros (set 1905), a wondrous place filled with food, warmth – and more Nomes than they have ever seen. As they try to adjust to the peculiar ways of life in the Store, its electricity revives “The Thing”, an ancient Nome artefact handed down for generations. It reveals to Masklin that Nomes were stranded on Earth millennia ago, but there’s hardly time to understand what that means before The Thing warns of immediate danger: the Store will be demolished in just fourteen days…
Truckers is a middle grade book – it has chapters and no footnotes! – which is nonetheless charming for “adults of all ages”, as Sir Terry liked to inscribe copies. In Masklin, Grimma, Granny Morkie and the other Nomes are echoes of Pratchett characters we love, and it’s perhaps surprisingly sophisticated in its satire, social commentary and love of wordplay. It forms the first part of “the Bromeliad” trilogy (a name explained by the sequels), but is also a complete and wonderful story all on its own. We’d love to hear what you thought of Truckers: use the hashtag #Pratchat9 on social media to join the conversation. But do try to use small words…
We’ll head back to the Disc next time when we grab a bag of banged grains and take in a few clicks in Moving Pictures! We haven’t currently confirmed our guest, but we’ll be sure to tell you who they are when we can lock in a date! You can still ask questions to be answered on the podcast by sending them in via social media; use the hashtag #Pratchat10 so we can find them!
Show Notes and Errata:
- Amie is on social media, but if you really want to keep up with what she’s up to, we recommend hitting her web site, amiekaufman.com. Her novels include the The Illuminae Files YA sci-fi trilogy, co-authored with Jay Kristoff, and for younger readers Ice Wolves, the first in a new middle grade fantasy series.
- Ents are the tree-people of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books. They are the oldest living things in Middle-Earth, and live long slow lives, considering a three-day deliberation over a question to be “hasty”.
- The stop-motion animated television series of Truckers was made for ITV in 1992 by Cosgrove Hall, a UK animation studio whose huge canon of work includes Danger Mouse, Wind in the Willows and – five years after Truckers – two traditionally animated Discworld adaptations: Wyrd Sisters and Soul Music. Truckers was split into thirteen 10-minute episodes, and mixed stop-motion with live-action footage of the humans with whom the Nomes interacted. The cast includes many well-known voices:
- Edward Kelsey as The Thing (who is also the narrator). Kelsey was a long-time star of radio serial The Archers, and played the Danger Mouse characters Baron Silas Greenback and Colonel K.
- Joe McGann as Masklin. As well as starring in 90s TV comedy The Upper Hand, Joe is also the brother of Eighth Doctor Paul McGann.
- Debra J Gillett as Grimma. Gillett later played Susan Sto Helit in Cosgrove Hall’s Soul Music.
- Rosalie Williams as Granny Morkie. Williams’ best-known role was as Mrs Hudson in the long-running The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes television series starring Jeremy Brett.
- Brian Trueman as Dorcas Del Icatessan. Trueman is a long-time Cosgrove Hall writer who adapted Truckers for television; his most notable acting roles on other animated shows include Stilletto in Danger Mouse and Nanny in Count Duckula.
- Sir Michael Hordern as the Abbott. Amongst his long and distinguished career, Hordern is beloved by children for playing the gruff Badger in Cosgrove Hall’s The Wind in the Willows.
- Jimmy Hibbert as Vinto Pimmie (amongst others). Another regular Cosgrove Hall writer and actor, Hibbert later played the late King Verence I in Wyrd Sisters.
- Amie’s nerdy joke references “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs”, a psychological theory proposed by Abraham Maslow in a 1943 and his 1953 book Motivation and Personality. The hierarchy presents human needs as a pyramid, with the most fundamental at the bottom; a person needs the lowest needs met before they can consider the higher ones, progressing up the pyramid. In order from bottom to top, the categories of needs are Physiological (basic physical survival), Safety (a feeling of security), Belonging (social connections), Esteem (respect and status), Self-actualisation (fulfilling one’s potential) and – as a later addition – Self-transcendence (altruism and spirituality). While it has become popular as part of broader culture, the theory has been frequently criticised by psychologists, in particular for presenting what many see as a very Western set of values as universal.
- For our international (and non-drinking) listeners, Bintang is an Indonesian beer produced by the Heineken company, availably comparatively cheaply in Australia. To “smash” a beer in Australian slang is to drink it quickly.
- Amie refers to The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel, a 2017 Amazon period comedy set in 1958. The title character turns to stand-up comedy after her husband leaves her, and gets a day job in a B. Altman department store as a cosmetic sales clerk.
- Au Bonheur des Dames (The Ladies’ Paradise or The Ladies’ Delight) is an 1883 novel by Émile Zola, the eleventh in his “Rougon-Macquart” series about the lives of two related families living in the Second French Empire during the latter half of the 19th century. The store in the book is modelled after the 1852 version of Le Bon Marché (“The Good Deal”), often regarded as the first modern department store. (It originally opened with four departments in 1838.)
- Are You Being Served? was a British sit-com about the staff in the clothing department of fictional department store Grace Brothers. It originally ran from 1972 to 1985, and was famous for it’s high-camp, innuendo-laden style, not dissimilar to the Carry On films. It had a large cast, but the five characters who lasted the entire ten season run were exceedingly camp menswear salesman Mr Humphries (John Inman), officious floorwalker (supervisor) and supposedly ex-military man “Captain” Peacock (Frank Thornton), head of department Cuthbert Rumbold (Nicholas Smith), Womenswear assistant Shirley Brahms (Wendy Richard) and head of Womenswear Mrs Slocombe (Mollie Sugden), who frequently told stories about her “pussy”. (We’re not making this up.) The show was so popular it spawned a stage play, a film, a 1990s sequel – Grace & Favour, in which the five main characters run an inn – and a reunion special in 2016. There were also three remakes for other countries: the US one didn’t get past a pilot, the Singaporean version dropped the filthy jokes, and the Australian one featured Mr Humphries moving to Australian store Bone Brothers. The store’s name was changed because there’s a real Australian store named Grace Bros, which is probably why Ben couldn’t remember the name…
- The Smurfs are small (“three apples high”) magical blue-skinned creatures who live in a secret village of toadstool houses in a medieval wood, invented by Belgian artist Peyo in 1958 for a comic strip. They have expanded in worldwide popularity with cartoons, toys and most recently a CGI/live-action film franchise. Each smurf has a name describing their personality or profession: Handy Smurf is a builder and handyman, Brainy Smurf an arrogant know-it-all, Hefty Smurf a strong gym junkie and so on. The Smurfs are led by Papa Smurf, a wise older smurf with a beard, and there were originally 99 male smurfs and just one female smurf, Smurfette. She was created by Gargamel, the smurfs main enemy; he is an evil but incompetent wizard who needs a smurf as the final ingredient in an alchemical formula to transform lead into gold. Over the years many other smurfs have been added, notably Baby Smurf, Nanny Smurf, Grandpa Smurf and the “smurflings”, a group of teenage smurfs.
- Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat is a stage musical by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, based loosely on the story of Joseph and his “coat of many colours” from the Bible’s Book of Genesis. Joseph is a dreamer and the favourite of his father’s dozen sons; his jealous brothers sell him into slavery and tell their father he is dead, but eventually his skill at interpreting dreams sees him triumph and reunite with his family.
- Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson was a famous and successful commander of British naval forces during the American War of Independence and the subsequent Wars of the First, Second and Third Coalition with France. During the last of these, his ship Victory was engaged with three French vessels at the Battle of Trafalgar when a sniper in the rigging of the French ship Redoubtable spotted him and shot him through the shoulder, fatally wounding him. It’s said his officers asked him to change his dress, or at least cover up the numerous stars and other honours which were sewn into his coat, to make him less identifiable to the enemy. His coat is displayed in the National Maritime Museum in London, and this blog discusses it in detail.
- “The Ancient Mystic Society of No Homers” features in Homer the Great, the twelfth episode of the sixth season of The Simpsons. Homer joins the secretive Stonecutters (a parody of the Freemasons), but annoys the other members when he first destroys a sacred relic, then is made their leader when it’s discovered during his punishment that he bears a prophesied birthmark. His efforts to help the community at Lisa’s request are the final straw, and the other members all quit and form the “No Homers” club, leaving Homer to go back to his family.
- Some of the Departments in Arnold Bros have old-fashioned names:
- Delicatessen – traditionally sells imported or unusual prepared foods, typically meats, cheeses and foreign fruits and vegetables. Still used in supermarkets, though usually abbreviated to “Deli”.
- Haberdashery – small items used in sewing, like needles, thread, buttons, ribbons and zippers.
- Ironmongery – originally meant any items made of iron, but expanded to mean similar objects (e.g. utensils, pots, doorknobs etc.) made of other metals and also plastic.
- See the note in our previous episode about Liz and Ben’s differing feelings about Lord of the Flies, but for quick reference: in William Golding’s novel about schoolboys stranded on a desert island, protagonists Piggy and Ralph find a large conch shell on the beach and blow it like a horn to summon the other boys for a meeting. From then on when they meet, someone must be holding the conch to be allowed to speak.
- Catweazle was a London Weekend Television children’s series about a ragged 11th century wizard, the titular Catweazle played wonderfully by Geoffrey Bayldon, who accidentally travels forward in time, initially to the year 1969, then again in the second season to the 1970s. He interprets all modern technology as magic, most famously describing electricity as “elec-trickery” and a telephone as “the telling bone”. In the first season, the young boy who befriends and hides Catweazle on his farm is nicknamed Carrot!
- The first working escalator was built in 1896 on Coney Island, though patents for various designs go back as far as 1859! The first one built in Europe was for the Harrods department store in Knightsbridge in 1898 – so it’s possible, if unlikely, that the escalators were installed when Arnold Bros (est 1905) was first constructed. (The television series shows a clearly more modern escalator, though a sign next to it also clearly says it goes up to the second floor, rather than the fourth or fifth floor described in the book.)
- Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is a 1966 absurdist play, probably the best known work by Tom Stoppard. It follows two minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, giving their perspective of events in the original story, as they are first tasked to discover why their old school friend Hamlet has apparently gone mad, and then to accompany him to England, bearing a letter for the English King commanding Hamlet’s death. Hamlet alters it and they are killed instead. The pair have many interactions with the Tragedians from Hamlet who present the play-within-a-play The Murder of Gonzago, and there are many musings about fate, language and existence. Stoppard adapted and directed a film version in 1990 which features a stellar cast.
- The plan to build windowless aeroplanes that display video of the outside view on screens was announced by the airline Emirates in early June 2018. Their newest planes have already removed windows in their first class suites.
- Rick and Morty is an animated sci-fi comedy series created by Justin Roiland (who also voices both title characters) and Dan Harmon. It began life as a parody of the Back to the Future characters Doc and Marty, and follows Rick, an alcoholic, amoral genius scientist who drags his grandson Morty into dangerous adventures across time, space and multiple alternate realities. The episode Liz refers to is The Ricks Must Be Crazy from the second season, in which it is revealed Rick’s flying car is powered by an entire mini universe contained within its battery – and a scientist there has built his own mini universe.
- The scene in which our universe is shown to exist within a locker in an alien train station occurs at the end of Men In Black II, and parallels the ending of the first Men in Black film in which the Milky Way is contained inside a marble (though it’s not actually the same “galaxy” jewel being sought during the rest of the film).
- While it’s not technically true that you can’t fold paper more than seven times, it does become increasingly harder to fold as the strength of the paper increases with it’s thickness – which increases exponentially with each fold. Most people can’t fold an average-sized piece of paper more than five or six times. In 2002, Californian Britney Gallivan folded a 1.2km long piece of toilet paper in half twelve times, and derived an equation which could determine how long a piece would need to be to allow a given number of folds. So what about Masklin? Being much smaller than the piece of paper might make it easier for him to get leverage, and even if he only managed to fold the A4 letter six times, it’d end up about 1.5 x 2 inches – large, but cartable for a Nome.
- Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a “Star Wars Anthology” film, set immediately before the events of the original Star Wars (aka Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope). It tells the previously untold story of the group of rebels who steal the plans revealing the fatal flaw in the Death Star – plans that are handed to Princess Leia at the end of the movie, and are the ones she passes on to R2-D2 at the beginning of Star Wars.
- Angels & Demons is the novel by (in)famous Catholic mystery thriller author Dan Brown which focuses on the election of a new pope. It also introduces Robert Langdon, a university professor who specialises in religious iconography and “symbology” and is an “expert on the Illuminati”. Langdon goes on to appear in four more of Brown’s novels, including the international bestseller The Da Vinci Code, and is played by Tom Hanks in the film adaptations. (Incidentally, Tony Robinson – who we also mentioned in this episode – produced The Real Da Vinci Code for Channel 4 in 2005, in which he debunked many of the supposed historical facts mentioned in the book.)
- The 1726 novel Gulliver’s Travels was conceived by Jonathan Swift as a biting, broad satire on many aspects of Irish and British society. The first part is the most famous: English sailor Lemuel Gulliver is shipwrecked on the island Lilliput, home to six-inch-tall people (the same size as Nomes!), and becomes embroiled in their quasi-religious war with nearby Blefuscu over egg etiquette. In the other three parts he visits many other lands, encountering giants, scientists, sorcerers, brutish deformed humans and intelligent (if ethically questionable) horses. Generally only the first and sometimes second (giant) parts are included in the many children’s retellings.
- Lieutenant commander Montgomery “Scotty” Scott was the head engineer and second officer aboard the starship Enterprise in the original 1966 Star Trek television series. Often described as a “miracle worker”, he was often able to effect emergency repairs or modifications in short time, though when he later appeared in sequel series Star Trek: The Next Generation he admitted to overestimating the amount of time required to complete a given task.
- For non-Australian listeners: “smoko” is common Australian slang for a break from work to smoke a cigarette. It was recently immortalised in the song “Smoko” by Queensland band The Chats.
- You can watch Mr Bean (played by Rowan Atkinson) jury-rig a driving mechanism for his car out of a mop, a broom, a bucket of paint and some ropes at the start of this compilation of some of his finest travelling moments. The sequence Ben remembered involves him running late for a dentist appointment and getting changed during the drive.
- Enid Blyton (1897-1968) was a beloved children’s author who wrote both fantasy – including Noddy, The Magic Faraway Tree and Adventures of the Wishing Chair – and adventure books, most famously the Famous Five and Secret Seven books. Criticism of the books isn’t new; they have been critiqued since the 1950s. You can can still read Liz’s 2012 article “Is it okay: To read Enid Blyton books?” at Lip Magazine.
- Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is the original 1971 film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s 1964 book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, in which Charlie Bucket and four other children win the chance to tour reclusive sweet maker Willy Wonka’s fantastic factory. At the beginning of the film, Charlie’s four grandparents have been “bedridden for twenty years”, but Grandpa Joe is able to get up to accompany Charlie to the factory without too much trouble as soon as he finds his golden ticket…
- A Current Affair (ACA) is a long-running Australian current affairs television program. It is generally regarded as “sensationalist journalism”, and a stereotypical story exposes “dole cheats” (people fraudulently claiming social benefit payments). The format and content of ACA and similar programs like Today Tonight were thoroughly satirised in the 1990s by the ABC sit-com Frontline.
- “Potted shrimp” is a traditional English delicacy in which small shrimp are boiled, shelled and then mixed into spiced clarified butter.
- Graham crackers are a semi-sweet American biscuit made from “graham flour”, a type of coarse-ground, unsifted whole wheat flour. The flour is named after Sylvester Graham, an 19th century Presbyterian minister who criticised the changes in the American diet resulting from the industrial revolution. There’s no real equivalent in Australia, though English-style digestive biscuits can be used in baking. “S’mores” are traditional American treats made while camping by sandwiching a roasted marshmallow and some chocolate between two graham crackers.
- Animal crackers are another kind of sweet biscuit, originally from England but still popular in the United States. In the two-part second season Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “What’s My Line?”, Oz and Willow flirt while discussing animal crackers, in particular the fact that usually the monkey is the only animal depicted wearing pants. The line “I mock you with my monkey pants”, delivered in a French accent by Oz, was supposedly taken from a dream experienced by Willow actor Alyson Hannigan.
- We found a version of Kristy Kruger’s story about believing unicorns were real in Act 1 of Episode 293: A Little Bit of Knowledge of long-running NPR podcast This American Life, along with other folk with weird bits of childhood belief that survived into adulthood.