In episode 24, weather presenter, meteorologist and science communicator Nate Byrne joins Elizabeth and Ben for a Discworld tale of murder, golems and nobility in 1996’s Feet of Clay.
Two old men have been murdered in Ankh-Morpork, but they’re not the worst of Commander Vimes’ woes. His best Sergeant is six weeks from retirement; his worst Corporal might be the Earl of Ankh; his newest recruit is an alchemist with some pretty strange ideas for a dwarf; and someone has poisoned the Patrician, though he’s damned if he can figure out how. And somehow, the golems are involved…
Content note: this episode contains brief discussion of (fictional) suicide. If you or anyone you know needs help, use the Wikipedia list of crisis lines to find one local to you.
Following on from Men at Arms (from way back in episode one!), Feet of Clay evolves the Watch – and its leader – even further, and introduces some of Pratchett’s most memorable supporting characters: Cheery Littlebottom, Wee Mad Arthur and Dorfl the golem. It gets a bit deep on questions of artificial life, gender expression and identity, and is a heck of a mystery novel to boot. Did you figure out “whatdunnit”? Who’s your favourite new character? And what do you think the Pratchat coat of arms and motto should be? Use the hashtag #Pratchat24 on social media to join the conversation and let us know what you think!
PS – we recorded this just before the casting announcements for The Watch television series, so don’t be disappointed when they don’t come up! We’ll find a place to discuss them in the near future.
Next month we’re joined by author Claire G Coleman as we head back to the early days of Discworld with Equal Rites. Plus our subscriber-only bonus podcast, Ook Club, has launched! You can subscribe for as little as $2 a month to check it out. You’ll find all the details on our Support Us page.
Show Notes and Errata:
- Nate Byrne is a meteorologist, weather presenter and science communicator. He presents the weather for ABC News Breakfast, which means he gets up very early and had been awake for around 14 hours when we recorded this episode, making his jokes and insights even more impressive! You can find Nate’s writing for the ABC here, and follow him on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.
- The gig at which Liz and Nate met was Sci Fight, a comedy science debate created and hosted by Ben’s sometime comedy partner Alanta Colley. At the time of writing, the next debate, “Nature Knows Best”, is on October 17 at Howler bar in Brunswick – featuring our own Ben McKenzie!
- The Discworld videogame was released by Perfect Entertainment in 1995, and if we can find a way to play it, we’ll cover it for the podcast! It was written by Paul Kidd and designer Gregg Barnett, with the main plot drawn from Guards! Guards! but substituting Rincewind as the protagonist and adding in ideas from other books, especially The Colour of Magic. As well as Eric Idle as Rincewind, the voice cast includes Tony Robinson, Nigel Planer, Rob Brydon (The Trip), Robert Llewellyn (Red Dwarf), Jon Pertwee (Doctor Who) and – playing all of the notably few significant female characters – Kate Robbins (Spitting Image). Discworld was followed by two more games: 1996’s Discworld II: Missing Presumed…?!, with a plot written by Barnett and mostly based on a mash-up of Reaper Man and Moving Pictures, again with Rincewind as the protagonist; and Discworld Noir in 1999, an original story about Lewton, an ex-watchman and the Disc’s first private investigator, written by Chris Bateman in consultation with Terry himself. While none of the games are considered canonical, Discworld Noir is set not long after Feet of Clay.
- We’d like to note that the language used in the blurb around suicide isn’t recommended; use of the verb “commit” implies criminal wrongdoing and further stigmatises those suffering from mental health problems. These days the recommended language is to say “died by suicide”, which acknowledges that such a death is caused by mental illness and other factors, rather than blaming the deceased.
- There’s no good source for the origins of the name “Tubulcek“, but the golem’s names are definitely all based on Yiddish; see the further show note towards the end.
- The golem myth Ben is remembering is actually about how to kill a golem. In some stories the golem has a word written on its forehead; one example is the word אמת (emet), which means truth. If the golem got out of control, erasing the letter aleph at the end of the word transformed it into מת (met), which means “dead”.
- The 99% Invisible episode Ben and Nate refer to is episode 368: All Rings Considered (an almost Liz-worthy pun). It documents the rise and fall of customisable ringtones for mobile phones. The particular story they’re talking about is right at the end.
- Dwarves as a plural for dwarf was popularised by J. R. R. Tolkien in his fantasy novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but is still not as popular as dwarfs. Its not as straightforward as that, though, as the conventions of Old English and its Germanic influences also play a part; episode 95 of The Allusionist podcast, “Verisimilitude”, describes some of the considerations involved when trying to invent a fictional language that sounds real, including some thoughts on English plurals.
- Wildlife Wonderland was a minor tourist attraction and wildlife park in Gippsland, Victoria, which closed in 2012, leaving behind the abandoned “Giant Earthworm Museum” – a building in the shape of, and dedicated to, the Gippsland giant earthworm – and “Rosie”, a Great White Shark preserved in a glass and steel tank filled with formaldehyde. The podcast Abandoned Carousel has an episode all about Rosie.
- Arsenic was originally popular as a poison because it’s very potent, easy to get ahold of – it was used in just about everything during the 19th century – and there was no way to detect its presence until the invention of “the Marsh test” in the 1830s. It remained popular in fiction for all of these reasons, and also because it causes really gruesome deaths.
- Mr Pump is a golem who works for the Ankh-Morpork Post Office, and a major character in Going Postal. The fate of golems post-Feet of Clay is most significantly discussed in that same novel.
- The 1920 play R.U.R. – “Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti“, or “Rossum’s Universal Robots” – was written by Czech playwright and author Karel Čapek. It imagines a future in the year 2000 where “roboti” – synthetic people made of flesh, closer to Blade Runner style replicants than mechanical robots – have replaced humans as a labour force, but rebel against the conditions under which they are forced to work. The play was a hit was widely restaged and adapted, introducing the word “robot” in its modern sense into English. It comes from the Czech word “robota“, which referred to peasant forced labourers under the old Czech feudal system.
- The “Galaxy Brain” or “Expanding Brain” meme is a series of illustrations of the human brain in order of increasing brain activity, culminating in one with energy streaming out of it. The images are paired with text of ideas that are humorously suggested to be increasingly sophisticated or intelligent. It first appeared in 2017, and you can find examples at knowyourmeme.com.
- The dream of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, appears in the Bible in chapter 2 of the Book of Daniel, specifically verses 31-33, and 41-43.
- Asimov is our resident “Pratcat”, who has his own Instagram account and was a guest in our recent episode about Pratchett’s non-fiction humour book, The Unadulterated Cat. Isaac Asimov is a famous science fiction author who created the “Laws of Robotics“, three rules used to govern the behaviour of all artificially intelligent robots in his books.
- Orlando Bloom’s Dad – or, more accurately, his Pirates of the Carribbean character Will Turner’s Dad, Bootstrap Bill – was a member of the pirate captain Jack Sparrow’s crew when they were afflicted by cursed gold to suffer a living death. In the first film, it’s revealed that Bootstrap Bill was the only one to defend Sparrow when his first mate Barbossa marooned him on the island from which they stole the gold, and was thrown overboard. As Liz predicted, this didn’t kill him, and in the second film we discover he is now one the cursed souls who serve aboard the ghost ship The Flying Dutchman, under captain Squidfac- er, Davy Jones.
- Tallow is rendered animal fat, usually from cows or sheep. It was once used widely in the production of candles, explaining why Arthur Carry’s candle factory is in the slaughterhouse district, but modern candles are predominantly made from paraffin wax, a petroleum product.
- Otto von Chriek is the vampire iconographer for Ankh-Morpork’s first newspaper, The Ankh-Morpork Times. We’ll meet him for the first time in The Truth.
- The Kentucky Fried Chattin’ podcast not longer has its own web site, but you can find it on your podcast directory of choice, or on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. It’s hosted by Melbourne comedians Bec Petraitis, Peter Jones, and Xavier Michelides.
- It is established later, in the Tiffany Aching books, that Wee Mad Arthur is indeed a Pictsie who has been raised as a gnome. Whether his accent is intended as Geordie or Scots is still up in the air.
- Hornets are larger than wasps, and build large, enclosed paper nests, usually suspended from trees. They are vary aggressive, but don’t come into contact with humans as often because they prey primarily on other insects, and aren’t attracted to sugars like wasps.
- Titus Andromedon is the roommate of Kimmy Schmidt in the Netflix sit-com The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which we previously discussed in our bonus live episode, “A Troll New World“.
- Modern casters (or caster wheels) were first patented in the US in 1876, making wheeled chairs a 19th century invention – so not entirely out of the realm of semi-industrial Ankh-Morpork.
- “It is a good day to die” is a common battle cry of Star Trek’s Klingons, a culture of ferocious warriors with a code of honour that glorifies violence. It is most famously said by Worf, one of the protagonists of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which is set at a time when the Klingons have made peace with the United Federation of Planets.
- Red dwarfs are indeed among the smallest and coolest stars, but Ben is incorrect about this being part of their life cycle – red dwarfs actually have very long lifespans, and might actually still be burning when the Universe collapses!
- The Dungeons & Dragons clay golem is listed in the free basic rules for the current 5th edition; you can find it online at D&D Beyond.
- Golem stories come mostly from Jewish folklore, with connections to the Jewish, Christian and Greek stories of the first humans being fashioned by gods from clay. The classic golem narrative is that of Golem of Prague, in which the 16th century Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel created a golem to protect his ghetto from an anti-Jewish pogrom. He was forced to kill it and the pieces of it were supposedly kept in the Prague synagogue, to be brought back to life if needed again.
- The golem names, in this book at least, are based on Yiddish. “Meshugga” is meshuga, which means “senseless” or “crazy”. “Dorfl” is a clever one, as it seems to be a mashup of the Austrian word for a town, “dorf“, and the German diminutive, “-l”, and is a play on the term Jewish folks in Austria used for their communities, “stetl“. Thanks to listener Felix who tipped us off about this, and also for pointing out that Dorfl’s name is particularly appropriate for a policeman!
- For more info about the crowdfunding campaign for Night Terrace season three, visit nightterrace.com.