For our eleventh episode we welcome Pratchett fan Sarah Pearson to the mic to discuss a Discworld novel of two halves: Reaper Man! The eleventh Discworld novel, published in 1991, Reaper Man is the second book to focus on Death and the newly stable faculty of Unseen University.
The faceless bureaucrats of the multiverse have decided Death is sentimental and inefficient, and he’s been fired! While he heads off to live among humans for his remaining time – until his replacement comes to claim him – his absence means those who die sort of…don’t. That includes Windle Poons, 130-year-old wizard of Unseen University, whose return as a zombie gives him a new lease on life – much to the horror of his fellow faculty members. But Death’s absence is having other weird consequences: objects spring to life, non-human species spawn their own Deaths, and strangest of all, a warehouse in Ankh-Morpork mysteriously fills with small glass orbs…
Reaper Man‘s two mostly separate plots – Death’s forced retirement, and the wizards’ investigation of the alien lifeforms – bring back not only Death but also Windle Poons and the faculty of Unseen University, both introduced in Moving Pictures, alongside cameos by familiar faces like CMOT Dibbler and Fred Colon. Plus we meet a bunch of new and memorable characters: the Death of Rats, the Auditors of Reality, Mrs Cake and her daughter Ludmilla, and undead activist Reg Shoe and his friends from the Fresh Start Club. It’s a big cast, but then with two separate plots there’s plenty for them to do! We’d love to hear what you thought of Reaper Man; use the hashtag #Pratchat11 on social media to join the conversation.
In our next episode we’ll be joined by editor Jackie Tang as we power on to the next Discworld novel and travel far from the lands we know in Witches Abroad! We’re recording only a week after this episode is released, so to have us answer them on the podcast, get your questions via social media before September 15, 2018 using the hashtag #Pratchat12.
Show Notes and Errata:
- Hard Quiz is an ABC game show, currently in its third series, in which contestants nominate a specialist topic and are grilled with exceptionally difficult questions by comedian Tom Gleeson. Contestants are eliminated each round, and the winner takes home a trophy known as the “Big Brass Mug”. (As is standard for quiz shows on the national broadcaster, there’s not a valuable prize.) Sarah appeared on the 17th episode of series two, up against horse expert Charles, French & Saunders expert Daniel and JFK expert Marc. (The ABC are currently alternating new and repeat episodes, so Sarah’s episode should reappear on iView a few months after this Pratchat!)
- Sarah mentions captioning the Australian versions of reality TV shows Survivor (in its third series) and The Bachelor (season six, starring former rugby union player Nick Cummins), both on Channel Ten.
- The previous Eurovision winner was Israel’s Netta with the song “Toy”, featuring some non-speech vocalisations which would make Cyril the rooster super envious. You can watch the official music video and the Eurovision grand final performance on YouTube. (Tellingly, neither video includes captions!)
- Morris Dancing is traditional British form of folk dance kept alive not just in the UK but wherever British immigrants and their descendants are found. A group who dances the Morris are known as a “side”, and in Australia they are loosely affiliated via the Australian Morris Ring. Ben would like to give a shout out to his local side, Brandragon Morris, which still boasts some of those “right kind of nerds” he knew at university as members.
- Monty Python’s “fish-slapping dance” sketch starring John Cleese and Michael Palin was originally produced as part of the 1971 pan-European May Day special Euroshow 71 before showing up in the following year’s series of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The sketch only lasts for 20 seconds, but is cited by Michael Palin as one of his proudest moments; the story goes that the lock next to where they were performing was drained in between rehearsals and shooting, so the drop into the water was more than ten feet further than he was expecting!
- Petunia Dursley is Harry Potter’s aunt in the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling. She later becomes a little more sympathetic, but in the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (known in the US as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) she is described like this: “Mrs Dursley was thin and blonde and had nearly twice the usual amount of neck, which came in very useful as she spent so much of her time craning over garden fences, spying on the neighbours.”
- A Nightmare on Elm Street is a hugely successful horror film franchise created by Wes Craven with the film of the same name in 1984. They feature dead child murderer Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), who stalks and kills the teenagers of Springwood, Ohio through their dreams, particularly targeting Nancy Thompson, who lives on Elm Street. He returns in five sequels; in the last, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991), he starts killing in a new town, claiming that “Every town has an Elm Street!” (It is a pretty common street name in the US.) The franchise also spawned an anthology horror TV series, Freddy’s Nightmares; Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) in which Freddy invades the real world; a 2010 remake of the original film; and Freddy vs Jason (2006), in which Freddy fights with Jason Vorhees from the Friday the 13th series of horror films.
- At the end of the tenth season of the modern Doctor Who, the Twelfth Doctor, played by Peter Capaldi, regenerated into the Thirteenth, played by Jodie Whittaker – the first woman to play the role in it’s 55 year history. Among conservative and sexist fans there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth, despite it being a change the show had been laying groundwork for many years.
- Most vertebrate animals have a spleen, and as well as being the elephant graveyard for blood (thanks Liz), it also synthesises antibodies and stores a reserve of monocytes, the largest kind of white blood cell, both of which are very important to the immune system. The “red pulp” of the spleen, where the monocytes are stored, is also known as “the cords of Billroth”, a name Ben has immediately stolen for his Dungeons & Dragons campaign.
- The “squiggly spooge” is an organ possessed by Irkan aliens, including the title character of classic Nickelodeon animated series Invader Zim, created by Jhonen Vasquez. It’s since passed into the online lexicon where it is used as a placeholder word for any unknown organ.
- There were indeed two versions of the original Street Fighter arcade game, and one had large rubber punch and kick buttons which responded to how hard to whacked them. You can find out more about the forgotten precursor to Street Fighter II in this Kotaku article from 2011.
- In the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and several other former British colonies, Boxing Day is a public holiday celebrated the day after Christmas. There are few modern traditions attached to it, though in Australia at least it is the day many Summer blockbuster films are released.
- We struggled to find a good source for Romans making roads out of garbage, but one of our favourite podcasts, 99% Invisible, have done stories about the making of new streets above the old and Seattle (and in a similar story, the creation of new land in the early history of San Francisco).
- In Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004), Uma Thurman’s protagonist “The Bride” is buried alive in a coffin, but uses elite martial arts techniques to break open the coffin and dig her way to the surface.
- Repo Man (1984) is a cult sci-fi comedy film written and directed by Adam Cox and starring Emilio Estevez and Harry Dean Stanton. Estevez plays a punk who takes a job working with Stanton as a repossession agent, and they go looking for a car which may have been involved in extraterrestrial activity. Pratchett confirmed in interviews that Reaper Man was a deliberate pun on the film’s title.
- “Rocket Man” is a 1972 single by Elton John with lyrics by Bernie Taupin, which appeared on the album Honky Château. It features the line “I miss the Earth so much, I miss my wife; it’s lonely out in space”. It was famously covered in 1991 by Kate Bush for the tribute album Two Rooms: The Songs of Elton John & Bernie Taupin.
- Professor Filius Flitwick is the part-goblin Charms Master and Head of Ravenclaw House at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. (In the world of Harry Potter, that is, he’s sadly not real.) On screen he is played by Warwick Davis of Star Wars and Willow fame, albeit with a radical change in look between the earlier and later films.
- When Ben talks about “shot matching”, he means the cinematic technique known as the match cut, in which the end of one scene is visually or thematically matched with the beginning of the next. Two of the most famous examples are the opening of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), which visually matches a bone thrown into the air with a similarly shaped satellite, and this cut from David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (1962), which uses vision and audio to thematically match Lawrence blowing out his match with the silent desert at dawn. The Lawrence cut was the work of English film editor Anne V Coates, recognised as one of the all-time greats; her assistant on Lawrence, Ray Lovejoy, was the editor for 2001.
- Blink is the tenth episode of the third series of the modern Doctor Who, in which Steven Moffat introduced the spooky “Weeping Angels” – creatures who look like statues and can’t move while being looked at. Blink, and they move lightning fast. The final shots of real statues all around London – suggesting to young impressionable viewers that the Angels might be lurking around every corner – caused an epidemic of nightmares.
- Police Constable Reg Hollis, played by Scottish actor Jeff Stewart, appeared in almost the entire 26-year run of ITV’s cops on the beat soap opera, The Bill. A fan of model trains and gardening who always had something to complain about in his softly-spoken, slightly boring way, Reg was nevertheless a dependable copper, though treated very poorly by most of his fellow officers. He resigned from the force in 2008, two years before the series ended, making Stewart the longest serving original cast member.
- There is indeed a podcast about The Bill, aptly named The Bill Podcast. It’s only been around since 2017, but consists of monthly in-depth interviews with members of the cast. You can find The Bill Podcast on SoundCloud, iTunes and Facebook.
- Keeping Up Appearances was a BBC One sit-com which ran from 1990 to 1995. It followed the farcical adventures of Hyacinth Bucket (Patricia Routledge) in her efforts to hide her lower-class origins – especially her family members – and exaggerate her accent, wealth and abilities to gain favour with those she perceives as her social superiors. Her long-suffering husband Richard Bucket was played by Clive Swift, whose family name of “Bucket” Hyacinth insists on pronouncing “Bouquet”.
- We’d like to give a shout-out to longtime listener and friend of the show Sally Evans, whose tweet sadly arrived too late for us to mention it in the episode:
- Meet Joe Black (1998), loosely based on the film Death Takes a Holiday (1934), stars Anthony Hopkins as a billionaire whom Death decides to visit because of the impassioned speech he gives his daughter (Claire Forlani) when it becomes clear she’s not all that keen on the man she’s about to marry. Father and daughter, by the way, are named Bill and Susan! The Brad Pitt body Death decides to inhabit rather inconsiderately belongs to a man with whom Susan was flirting, moments before he was violently hit and killed by two cars.
- By contrast, Mighty Joe Young (1998), a remake of Mighty Joe Young (1939), stars Charlize Theron as a woman who has raised the titular gorilla, both of whom were orphaned by the same poacher when they were young. Joe is no longer accepted by others of his kind, probably because he is inexplicably three times the normal size for a gorilla. The plot revolves around Theron and Bill Paxton trying to protect Joe from the poacher who wants revenge as Joe bit off two of his hands in their original encounter. It’s…well, it’s no Meet Joe Black, that’s for sure.
- The episode of 99% Invisible about the history of shopping malls is “The Gruen Effect“. While looking up the link for that one, we also found this great article about the birth of the shopping trolley: “Shopping Around: How Folding Basket Carriers Became Modern Nesting Carts“.
- Ben mixes up his Sylvester Stallone characters during the discussion of the Dean; the one who ties a strip of cloth around his forehead is not Rocky Balboa from Rocky (1976) and its many sequels, but John Rambo, from First Blood (1982) and its sequels.
- In Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991), the suprisingly non-bogus sequel to the surprisingly excellent time travel slacker comedy Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989), teenage rocker wannabes and future saviours of the world Bill S. Preston esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves) are killed by future despot Chuck D Nomolos (Joss Ackland) before they can fulfil their destiny. They first “Melvin” Death and end up in Hell, but then challenge Death, beating him in games of Clue, Twister and Battleship until he finally agrees to help them return to life, eventually joining their band Wyld Stallyns as a bass player (shades of Soul Music there!). Joss Ackland later played Mustrum Ridcully in the TV adaptation of Hogfather, and reportedly regretted appearing in Bogus Journey, claiming he only did so because he was a workaholic. One more Bogus Journey connection with this novel: both feature characters named Rufus who are significant to the protagonist’s backstory and future!
- ZZ Top play the “band at the party” in Back to the Future Part III (1990), performing a “hillbilly version” of their song “Doubleback” from their 1990 album Recycler. The version we remember is probably the orchestrated one played – repeatedly – during the town festival, and the album version plays over the credits. The music video uses footage from the film. While we may have forgotten the single, it was in fact a pretty big hit in the US at the time, reaching #1 in the rock charts for five weeks.
- Once and For All is currently on hiatus, but you can find all five released episodes at the link. Ben appears not only in episode five, “Death Vs Death”, but the very first episode, “Indiana O’Connell and The Kingdom of the Mummy’s Skull”, in which he goes to bat for Brendan Fraser’s character from The Mummy, Rick O’Connell, in a battle against Indiana Jones.
- In the Sandman comics created by Neil Gaiman, Death is one of the Endless, seven beings who personify fundamental metaphysical concepts: Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction, Desire, Delirium and Despair. While they are immortal in some circumstances they can die, though they are then replaced in their role by someone else. Dream is the titular Sandman of the original comics, but Death has also proven popular enough to have her own separate stories, notably Death: The High Cost of Living and Death: The Time of Your Life.
- It should be noted that Azrael appears not just in Islamic lore, or The Smurfs, but in other Abrahamic traditions, including Hebrew mysticism, though he is rarely mentioned in Christian writing. The version of Azrael with millions of eyes is only one of many varying depictions.
- You can see the full range of currently in print Collector’s Library editions of Discworld novels at the Discworld Emporium. We note that since our last visit, the Emporium now also stocks new printings of early editions of The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic…
- You can see Paul Kidby’s “Lancre Gothic” in this BBC article collecting some of the best Discworld illustrations. Kidby’s “Death with Kitten II”, a newer version of the illustration from The Last Hero, can be found in the gallery on his web site and on his Instagram. “The Imaginarium of Professor Pratchett”, originally drawn for the cover of the “Discworld Imaginarium” book, is in Kidby’s online store, and you can also see Ben’s favourite version of this concept – from the cover of the HisWorld exhibition book – on Instragram. (You’ll need to get your hands on a copy of The Last Hero to check who A’Tuin is looking at.)
- The Pratchett Armorial Bearings (the formal name for this kind of heraldry), which can indeed be seen on Pratchett’s Wikipedia page, are formally described thus:
Arms – Sable an ankh between four Roundels in saltire each issuing Argent.
Crest – Upon a Helm with a Wreath Argent and Sable On Water Barry wavy Sable Argent and Sable an Owl affronty wings displayed and inverted Or supporting thereby two closed Books erect Gules.
Motto – “noli timere messorem”
The motto is rather more accurate Latin for “Don’t fear the Reaper” compared to Mort’s Latatian “non timetis messor”.