These are the episode notes and errata for episode 44, “Cosmic Turtle Soup“, featuring guest Joel Martin, discussing the 2nd Discworld novel, 1986’s The Light Fantastic.
You can listen to the State Swim jingle right here:
The ridiculous fight between Xander and cheerleader-turned-vampire Harmony, occurs in Buffy: the Vampire Slayer‘s fourth season, in the seventh episode “The Initiative”. But you can see it on YouTube:
Notes and Errata
- The episode title is references Joel’s comments that this book is the “primordial soup” of the Discworld books yet to come, the analogy of the “cosmic ocean” put forward by Carl Sagan in his book and television series Cosmos, and of course Great A’Tuin the World Turtle himself.
- The term “hat-trick” does indeed originate with cricket, where it means taking three wickets (i.e. getting the batter out) on three consecutive deliveries (i.e. a single bowl of the ball). It has since spread to other sports and to mean more generally three successful attempts in a row. (In football, it specifically refers to a player scoring three goals in one game.) The term dates back to 1858, when English cricketer Heathfield Harman Stephenson performed the first recorded hat-trick; fans collected up money for him and used it to buy a hat, which they presented to him to commemorate the achievement. While this story seems well-documented, if Helen Zaltzman (see below) has taught Ben anything, it’s to be suspicious of neat etymological explanations…
- The custom of throwing hats in the air to celebrate a victory or achievement is said by multiple sources to be a military tradition: cadets graduating to officer status would be given new hats, or at least no longer need to wear their old cadet ones, and they would symbolically throw them away. At least one story says this started specifically at the US Naval Academy with the class of 1912.
- Helen Zaltzman is a comedian, writer and podcaster best known for the long-running comedy podcast Answer Me This? with fellow comedian Olly Mann, and her more recent show, The Allusionist, which explores language in as many different ways as possible. The Allusionist started out as part of the Radiotopia Network, but went fully independent in 2020 as part of Helen putting her money where her mouth was in backing diversity and inclusion in podcasting. If you enjoy the show, please consider supporting The Allusionist via Patreon. Oh, and we nearly forgot: Helen also makes a Veronica Mars recap podcast called Veronica Mars Investigations! Helen is the best.
- “Commitment to the bit“, or “commit to the bit“, is a common phrase in comedy circles. It means to stick with a joke or comic premise all the way to the end, rather than shy away from it because it it doesn’t immediately work, or is impractical or uncomfortable. It’s obviously not always a good tactic, as seen recently during Eurovision 2021. Iceland employed actor Hannes Óli Ágústsson to relay their jury’s points in character as Olaf Yohansson from the comedy film Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. Olaf’s whole shtick is that he only likes one song, “Ja Ja Ding Dong”, which he awkwardly and angrily demands at every opportunity. At the contest, he tried to give Iceland’s 12 points to the song – twice. Few things are as hated at Eurovision as a country’s jury announcer talking too long before delivering the points, so this over-commitment to the bit did not go down well.
- The Colour of Magic was first published on the 24th of November, 1983 (one day after the 20th anniversary of Doctor Who!), and so its 35th anniversary was two weeks before #Pratchat14, published on December 8, 2018. It originally had cover art of Great A’Tuin swimming through space painted by Alan Smith; the Josh Kirby art first appeared on the first UK paperback edition, published in March 1985. The Light Fantastic was first published on the 2nd of June, 1986, so we’re a bit closer to the anniversary this time around!
- Liz’s “double book” is the combined edition of The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic published in 2008, to tie in with The Mob’s two-part television adaptation The Colour of Magic, which also combined both books. They had previously been collected as a single volume in 1999 as The First Discworld Novels.
- Liz’s annoyance with the “cosmic turtle business” at the start of many of the earlier Discworld books is well documented in many previous episodes.
- In The Colour of Magic, Krull’s spaceship the Potent Voyager is only vaguely described as being made of bronze and looking “like a great flying fish”. The graphic novel depicts it as fish shaped, but without the wing-fins of a flying fish.
- The Rocket Clock is one of the clocks used by the Australian version of Playschool to help tell the time in the 1980s. (The other famous one is the Flower Clock.) As you might expect, it resembles a space rocket, with a clock on the top section, and a bottom section which rotates to reveal a small diorama connected to a theme explored in that episode. The original version of the clock, used from 1966 to at least the 1980s, is now in the collection of the National Museum of Australia.
- Mr Squiggle was a long-running Australian children’s program starring puppet character Mr Squiggle, “the Man in the Moon”. It ran for forty years between 1959 and 1999. Mr Squiggle, who would arrive in “Rocket“, his smoke-belching impatient rocket ship, had a pencil for a nose. He would use it to turn “squiggles” – scribbles sent in by children – into pictures. Because he was a marionette, puppeteer Norman Heatherington was watching upside down from above, so a lot of his drawings were upside down. This led to him having to tell his assistant, who was holding the puppet’s hand to keep him still, that “Everything’s upside down, Miss Jane”. He would later inspire the title of #Pratchat55: “Mr Doodle, the Man on the Moon“.
- In the tabletop roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons, players create characters whose power is measured in “levels”. As they accumulate experience, they gain levels of power and new abilities. In the current edition all characters can reach up to level 20, with wizards learning more and more powerful spells as they level up. Ben has mentioned Dungeons & Dragons many times, as far back as #Pratchat4; his article “What Even Is Dungeons & Dragons?” is a good primer for the novice, though note it’s a little sweary.
- The Necrotelicomnicon is mentioned in several books, including The Colour of Magic, Sourcery and Moving Pictures. It’s a pun on the Necronomicon, a fictional book of evil magic written by the “Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred” that appears in the stories of H. P. Lovecraft.
- “Vancian magic” is the sort used in older editions of Dungeons & Dragons, in which a wizard must study their spell book and memorise a spell, fixing it in their mind, before they can cast it. Once cast, the spell leaves their mind entirely, and they must memorise it anew to cast it again. The name comes from the source that inspired this form of spellcasting, the “Dying Earth” books by American writer Jack Vance.
- The comic with several different Joker origin stories is probably 2020’s Three Jokers, by Geoff Johns and Jason Fabok, which reveals that three of the stories are correct – there have been more than one Joker all along. But he’s had many other origin stories; this article from Screen Rant runs through many of them.
- In case the pun is lost on you, timber is wood that’s been prepared for building, usually by being sawn into planks. Timbre is the quality of tone of a sound, especially a voice or musical instrument. You can think of it as all the things that distinguish two sounds of the same frequency from each other.
- The Tooth Fairy – well, one of them at least – plays a major part in Hogfather (#Pratchat24). Buggy Swires is a gnome exterminator living in Ankh-Morpork; he returns in several books, starting with Feet of Clay (#Pratchat24). The pictsies known as the Mac Nac Feegle first appear in Carpe Jugulum (#Pratchat36).
- Toadstool houses are the traditional homes of Smurfs, small blue creatures invented in 1959 by Belgian cartoonist Peyo. We previously talked about them in #Pratchat9, “Upscalator to Heaven“, about Pratchett’s second tiny people book, Truckers; and in #Pratchat36, “Home Alone, But Vampires“, about the book that introduced the Nac Mac Feegle, Carpe Jugulum. (There’s more detail about the Smurfs in the show notes for #Pratchat36.)
- Lonely Planet is a prominent publisher of travel guides for tourists on a budget. In the pre-smartphone days every backpacker bought a Lonely Planet guide to the country where they were headed, but in recent years – especially since the global pandemic – their business has waned. The company was started in Australia by Maureen and Tony Wheeler in 1972, but was later sold to the BBC and is now owned by Red Media, the company behind CNET, Metacritic and GameSpot, among other prominent online media outlets.
- Pratchett writes about tiny people many times, including in his first novel The Carpet People, the Bromeliad trilogy (Truckers, Diggers and Wings), and the various tiny denizens of the Discworld, most prominently gnomes and pictsies.
- While houses made of food or confectionary date back further, the gingerbread cottage appears in the fairytale of “Hansel and Gretel”, collected and published by the Brothers Grimm in 1812. “Hansel and Gretel” is the archetypal story of Aarne–Thompson–Uther type 327A. Pratchett returns to the idea in the witches books, especially Wyrd Sisters (#Pratchat4). The witches refer to Aliss Demurrage, aka “Black Aliss”, as a witch who worked some of the greatest magic, but also as a cautionary tale: she built a gingerbread cottage, a sure sign she’d gone to the bad, and by the end was making poisoned apples before she was pushed into her own oven by children she was trying to eat. (Her cottage is also said to be in Skund, leading some Pratchett fans to suggest that Granny Whitlow was an alias she used to lure children.)
- The Rite of AshkEnte is performed here, and also in Mort (when it summons Mort as well as Death), Reaper Man, and Soul Music (where it summons Susan). Death tends to show up without needing to be asked in later books.
- We have a play with the famous “you have my sword” sequence from the film Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, which doesn’t appear in the book. (Frodo does say “I will take the Ring to Mordor!” and then “Though I do not know the way” in the book, but Elrond decides who will accompany him after the council is over.) Here’s the dialogue from the movie:
Frodo: I will take it. I will take it. I will take the Ring to Mordor. Though… I do not know the way.The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (2001, dir. Peter Jackson)
Gandalf: I will help you bear this burden, Frodo Baggins, as long as it is yours to bear.
Aragorn: If by my life or death I can protect you, I will. You have my sword.
Legolas: And you have my bow.
Gimli: And my axe!
- You can find Fury’s drawing of the Luggage as Trunkie from The Last Continent in the notes for #Pratchat29, “Great Rimward Land“.
- The Last Continent was published twelve years after The Light Fantastic, in 1998, so Liz was pretty close with her guess of ten years.
- Liz suggests the Luggage might have “a chamber full of pigs?” in reference to the “having your enemies’ corpses eaten by pigs” method of getting away with murder. This features prominently in the television series Deadwood and Guy Richie’s film Snatch. You can find a list of uses as the “Fed to Pigs” trope on TV Tropes. Ben also mentions a bath full of (Hollywood style) acid, most famously used by Walter White in Breaking Bad.
- Pratchett uses the Megalith pun in Lords and Ladies: “It was always cheaper to build a new 33-MegaLith circle than upgrade an old slow one.” This is a pun on MegaHertz (MHz), the unit used to measure the clock speed or clock rate of computer processors – in simple terms, how many instructions they execute per second. In the 1980s, home computers used chips like Intel’s 386, which had speeds of between 16 and 40 MHz. While it was used heavily in marketing, clock speed was not a sure measure of computer performance.
- Pratchett moved to Broad Chalke in Wiltshire in 1993, seven years after The Light Fantastic was published. Before that he lived in the village of Rowberrow, Somerset, about 67 kilometres (or about 42 miles) to the northwest. He was never very far from many sites of ancient interest, but Broad Chalke was only a stone’s throw (sorry) from Stonehenge.
- There are several stone circles better than Stonehenge, depending on who you ask and how you define “better”, but the one at Avebury is about 30km to the north and much, much bigger. Longtime British YouTuber Tom Scott made this video about it.
- The Small Faint Group of Boring Stars is mentioned again in The Last Continent; the wizards travel quite far back in time, to an age when the stars were much closer and less faint (though possibly just as boring).
- The Free and Sovereign State of Yucatán is one of the 52 states of Mexico. There are several theories behind its name, and there are two versions of the “Your Finger You Fool” type: one involves the Mayan phrase Ma’anaatik ka t’ann, or “I do not understand you”, and the other uh yu ka t’ann, or “hear how they talk”. Another involves the casava plant, known locally as yuca (see #Pratchat41, “The Adventures of Crab Boy and Trouser Girl” for more on this plant) which was cultivated in the area, the name Yucatá meaning “land of yucas”. A third one suggests the name comes from the local Chontal Maya people, who call themselves the Yokot’anob or Yokot’an, meaning “the speakers of Yoko ochoco“.
- Cohen is not in fact mentioned in The Colour of Magic; this is the first time we meet him.
- The famous “What is best in life?” dialogue was made famous by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1982 film Conan the Barbarian, based on the Conan stories of Robert E Howard. The lines in full are below; they don’t appear in Robert E Howard’s stories, but are instead inspired by words attributed to Genghis Khan himself…
Mongol General: Hao! Dai ye! We won again! This is good but what is best in life?Conan the Barbarian (1982, dir. John Milius)
Mongol Soldier: The open steppe, fleet horse, falcons at your wrist and the wind in your hair.
Mongol General: Wrong! Conan, what is best in life?
Conan: To crush your enemies, see them driven before you and to hear the lamentation of their women.
- The people around the breakfast table in The Truth are Mr Windling and the other lodgers at Mars Arcanum’s guest house, where William de Worde lives. He doesn’t tell them he’s the editor of The Ankh-Morpork Times. (We covered The Truth in #Pratchat42, “Truth, the Printing Press and Every -ing“.
- The cover art we’re talking about is the Josh Kirby art for the Corgi edition, still mostly in use today. You can find it on the official Josh Kirby website.
- The “uncanny valley” describes the discomfort felt at seeing an artificial creature that is very like, but not mistakable for, the real thing. It can apply to anything living but is strongest – and most often used – to refer to the effect produced by androids and computer-generated representations of faces. There are many theories that try and account for why these things creep it out.
- In Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film version of The Shining, based on Stephen King’s 1977 novel, a pair of creepy twins appear as ghosts. The “Grady twins” are not twins in the book, but sisters aged 8 and 10, and are only mentioned, rather than appearing as ghosts. In the film, they appear to the young psychic Danny Torrance, dressed identically and speaking to him in unison saying “Come and play with us” – now a famous classic line of horror cinema. Though Kubrick denied it was intentional, many have pointed out that the look of the twins in the film resembles the photograph Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, 1967 by American photographer Diane Arbus.
- Mort was published in November 1987, so about seventeen months after The Light Fantastic. Liz’s guess of seven months is spot on for the third Discworld book, though – Equal Rites was published in January 1987!
- It was announced on the 28th of April, 2020 that Narrativia had made an exclusive new deal with Motive Pictures and Endeavour Content to produce “definitive” and “absolutely faithful” Discworld adaptations for the screen. So far no actual productions have been announced, but the Narrativia website now has sections for all of the major Discworld screen projects of the last decade or so. The page about the new Discworld deal still lists only the initial agreement.
- The extra space in Death’s House is described near the start of Soul Music, when Death watches Albert flit from the edge of his impossibly large office to the edge of the carpet around his desk:
Death gave up wondering how Albert covered the intervening space when it dawned on him that, to his servant, there was no intervening space…Pratchett, Soul Music (1994)
- By season three of The Good Place, the humans who are at the centre of the show have been exposed to a lot of the weirdness that exists beyond the material world. Near the end of the season, an accident in the “Interdimensional Hole of Pancakes” sends Chidi briefly to another realm, and when he returns he describes it like this:
Chidi Anagonye: I… I just saw a trillion different realities folding onto each other like thin sheets of metal forming… a single blade.
Michael: Yeah yeah, the Time-Knife. We’ve all seen it.The Good Place, season 3 episode 12, “Chidi Sees the Time-Knife” (2019)
- The Untempered Schism is “a gap in the fabric of reality from which can be seen the whole of the Vortex” of space and time. It’s introduced at the end of the third season of the revived Doctor Who in the penultimate episode, “The Sound of Drums”. The Doctor explains that it’s an initiation rite for young Gallifreyans, who at the age of eight must stare into it; according to him, “some would be inspired, some would run away, and some would go mad.” He says he ran away; the Master instead went mad, constantly hearing “the drumming”, though this is later revealed to be more than it seems.
- The Doctor Who universe influencer jokes refer to the city of New New York, as introduced in the episode “New Earth”; the “EarPods” used by alternate universe Cybermen to control and convert humans, as seen in the two-part season two story “Rise of the Cyberman”/”The Age of Steel”; and the Adipose, a species of creatures whose cute babies could be incubated in a human body by accumulating fat tissue, under the guise of a diet pill, as seen in the season four opening episode “Partners in Crime”. The idea of influencers in the Whoniverse isn’t a million miles away from the later BBC fiction podcast Doctor Who: Redacted, published in April 2022, which features a gang of podcasters who follow a conspiracy theory about a blue box associated with mysteries throughout human history.
- Icelandic names are subject to some fairly strict conventions, overseen by the Icelandic Naming Committee. There’s a list of around 4,000 traditional Icelandic names which can be used freely, but new names must be approved by the committee. In addition, by convention Icelandic people take either their father’s or mother’s name as a surname, appended with -son, –dottir or (since 2019) –bur for son, daughter or child, respectively. Episode 87 of The Allusionist podcast, “Name v. Law”, covers some of this in detail, though note it was released in 2018, before the change allowing non-gendered suffixes. The Allusionist returned to Icelandic names in December 2021 for episode 147, the second of the two-part story, “Survival: Today, Tomorrow” about trying to change the Icelandic language.
- “That bit in The Hobbit” is Chapter II, “Roast Mutton”, when Bilbo is scouting ahead of the company of dwarves and comes upon three trolls named William, Bert and Tom. Bilbo is caught picking a troll’s pocket (Tolkien trolls wear trousers!), and he and the dwarves are caught. Gandalf manages to keep all three trolls arguing with each other, distracting them until the sun comes up and turns them to stone.
- 5G, short for fifth-generation, is the name given to the newest mobile communications network technology being rolled out around the world. 5G is capable of far greater data transfer speeds than its predecessor 4G, at least at short range. It has been the subject of many conspiracy theories that claim it causes health problems in humans, despite a lack of any evidence that this is true. These theories mutated during 2020 to suggest that 5G caused or spread COVID-19, and they were believed enough that 5G towers in several countries were vandalised.
- Lackjaw does indeed describe himself as “of the dwarfish persuasion“.
- The magic shop trope can be traced back as far as H. G. Wells’ stories The Crystal Egg (1897) and The Magic Shop (1903). TV Tropes lists it as “The Little Shop That Wasn’t There Yesterday” and has many other examples. Pratchett revisits it in a more traditional way in Soul Music (discussed by us in #Pratchat19, “It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got Rocks In”), where Buddy buys his guitar. It’s not the same shop, though – the proprietor is an old woman who seems quite happy with her lot, and she seems to sell only musical instruments.
- We keep mentioning Howl’s Moving Castle, so it’s probably a good idea for us to do that Diana Wynne Jones episode we keep talking about. Previous episodes where this book have been mentioned include #Pratchat17, #Pratchat26, #Pratchat30 and #Pratchat43. In a nutshell: Howl is a wizard who lives as a recluse in a castle that not only can move from place to place, but has a magical front door that can open in one of several fixed locations.
- Cane toads, Rhinella marina, are native to the Americas and were introduced to Australia from Hawaii in 1935 for purposes of pest control on sugar cane farms. We previously talked about them in #Pratchat22, “The Cat in the Prat“, where we recommended in the episode notes the documentaries Cane Toads: An Unnatural History (1988) and its sequel, Cane Toads: The Conquest (2010). You can indeed still get various souvenirs made from dead toads; you can see examples at the website Souvenirs Australia (though it’s not a pretty sight).
- The “critical Black Mass” pun is not about wizards or gods, but rather books of magic. It comes up in a description of the library as Trymon heads there to bribe the Librarian while the wizards are still speaking to Death.
- Bethan is not mentioned in Interesting Times. Rincewind does mention in Sourcery that he was a guest at Cohen’s wedding to “a girl of about Conina’s age”, but Bethan isn’t mentioned by name and Rincewind gives no indication that he knows how the marriage went.
- We looked up Echidna penises for #Pratchat12, “Brooms, Boats and Pumpkinmobiles“.
- Rincewind will return in The Last Hero, The Science of Discworld II: The Globe, The Science of Discworld III: Darwin’s Watch and The Science of Discworld IV: Judgment Day. He’s also a minor character in Unseen Academicals, and mentioned briefly in Raising Steam.
- Michael Moorcock’s “Wizardry and Wild Romance: A Study of Epic Fantasy” is less an essay, and more of a book, first published in 1987. An expanded edition, now 206 pages long, was released in 2004.
- Blades in the Dark is a tabletop roleplaying game written and designed by John Harper and published in 2015. It’s set in an “industrial-fantasy” world, and players form a company of criminals who try to stake a claim for themselves in the inescapable city of Duskvol, surrounded by horror and haunted by deadly ghosts. Among its distinctive features are a system of retroactively planning heists and packing gear, which gets you into the action quicker. If industrial-fantasy isn’t your thing the system has also been used to make several other games in other genres.
- Campaign settings are the various fantasy worlds used for Dungeons & Dragons and other games which aren’t tied too much to a specific universe. D&D has a large number of these covering various sub-genres of fantasy, from the post-apocalyptic sword and sorcery of Dark Sun to the gothic horror of Ravenloft. There are too many to list them all, since aside from the dozens of official ones there are many more published independently. (Ben’s favourite is probably Planescape, which both ties together all the others in a weird multiverse, and introduces an interdimensional hub city on the inside of a ring in the theoretical centre of everything.)
- Mage: The Ascension, first published in 1993, was the third game in the World of Darkness series of modern horror roleplaying games, following Vampire: the Masquerade and Werewolf: the Apocalypse. Mage is also effectively a sequel to the earlier game about medieval wizards, Ars Magicka, but in the modern world the rise of science and rational thought means magic doesn’t work like it used to.
- Cavaliers of Mars by Rose Bailey is the latest in a fine tradition of games that seek to emulate the “planetary romance” genre of fiction. These were science fiction or fantasy stories from around the turn of the twentieth century in which the fantastic adventures take place on other worlds – either in our own solar system as in A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (adapted as the hugely underrated film John Carter), or in other galaxies entirely – for example, James Herbert’s Dune is sometimes classified as a planetary romance.
- The Old-School Renaissance or Revival – usually abbreviated to OSR – is a movement in roleplaying game communities which prefers the early versions of Dungeons & Dragons and similar games from the 1970s and 1980s. There are now many games that seek to recapture the feel of those games, either by re-implementing the original rules (a genre known as “retro-clones”) or writing games with more modern rules but the old-school philosophy in mind. Exactly what that philosophy is varies according to who you ask, but it usually means a smaller set of rules, and more reliance on both player skill (as opposed to rules which emulate the skill of the characters being played) and rulings by the Game Master (who OSR games often call the referee). Famous examples include Torchbearer, The Black Hack, Dungeon Crawl Classics, the Old School Reference and Index Compilation (OSRIC) and Old-School Essentials. Dungeon World isn’t usually counted as an OSR game, but it has many similarities. (It’s a translation of D&D-like fantasy into the now super popular “Powered by the Apocalypse” framework, created by Meguey & Vincent Baker for their post-apocalyptic RPG Apocalypse World.)
- The six flavours of quarks are up, down, charmed, strange, top and bottom. “Flavour” is the name given to unique combinations of other characteristics like spin and charge; it’s sometimes also called “species”. Quarks form other particles, like neutrons and protons, when three of them are combined in different flavour combinations.
- The World War II realtime Twitter account is @RealTimeWWII. It tweets “on this day” war events from the years 1939 to 1945, and is currently up to 1943 on its second time around.
- In Chinese numerology, four – 四 (Anglicised as sì or sei) – is inauspicious because it sounds like the word for “death”, 死 (sǐ or séi). This causes as serious an aversion as Europeans traditionally have to the number thirteen, and just as some might have triskaidekaphobia, in China and other parts of East Asia, tetraphobia is common enough that buildings do not number floors using the digit 4.