In episode five, comedian Richard McKenzie joins us to discuss that rare beast, a Discworld tale that stars no wizards, witches, watches or Death, and isn’t part of any of the ongoing storylines: Pyramids! The seventh Discworld novel, published in 1989, it’s chock-full of jokes, footnotes, gods and characters – but we’ll see almost none of them ever again…
Pteppicymon XXVIII – Teppic for short – is heir to the throne of the ancient river kingdom of Djelibeybi. But the kingdom is broke, having spent its money on pyramids, and in order to give him a profession, Teppic is sent to the best school on the Disc: the Assassin’s Guild in Ankh-Morpork. Seven years later he’s just taken his final exam when his father dies. Teppic is now King (and God) of Djelibeybi earlier than planned – and after so long away, he finds the ancient traditions of his homeland stifling. Can even the King challenge the authority of the kingdom’s high priest, Dios?
Though it features none of his most beloved characters, Pyramids is nonetheless a favourite among Discworld fans – not least because the first quarter of the book takes us into the classrooms of Ankh-Morpork’s most famous guild. What do you think of this tale of tradition, family and mathematics gone wrong? Let us know! Use the hashtag #Pratchat5 on social media.
Our next book, for our April 8th episode, takes us outside the Discworld – and indeed the fantasy genre – for 2012’s tale of Victorian London: Dodger! Joining us to talk about toshers, geezers and peelers is a man who’s no stranger to fancy words, and better known by his initials: crypto-cruciverbalist and former Letters & Numbers dictionary master, David Astle! We’ll be recording on March 24th, so get your questions in before then if you’d like us to answer them on the podcast. You can use the hashtag #Pratchat6 to ask them via social media. (And check out the Episodes page if you want to see a bit further into our future schedule!)
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Show Notes and Errata:
- Richard hosts trivia twice a week, on Thursdays and Sundays, at the Cornish Arms on Sydney Road in Brunswick, Melbourne. Make sure to use a Pratchett pun in your team name if you go!
- Ben and Richard both have Corgi paperbacks of Pyramids with the same Josh Kirby cover and ISBN – but Richard’s is a later (not older, as Ben says) printing which unusually has more pages. Ben’s is a 1992 printing with 285 pages, while Richard’s is from 1997 and has 380! …we realise this is probably not interesting to anyone except extreme bibliophiles, but it caused Ben some trouble when trying to track his reading progress on Goodreads.
- The four books within Pyramids start off referring to the famous ancient Egyptian text The Book of the Dead, a collection of spells and other information meant to help guide the dead through the afterlife. Its full title has been translated as both The Book of Going Forth by Day and The Book of Emerging Forth into the Light. Other ancient Egyptian funerary texts include the Book of Traversing Eternity, the Enigmatic Book of the Netherworld, The Contendings of Horus and Seth, and the Book of the Heavenly Cow.
- The Assassin’s Creed games have been one of the most successful franchises of recent years; the assassins of the title are both elite killers for hire, and also engaged in an ancient war over the fate of the world against the Knights Templar, and each game takes place in a different location and era. The most recent one, Assassin’s Creed Origins, explores the founding of the assassin’s order – and is set around 50 BC in Egypt! Though as far as we know, you don’t get to kill any pyramids. (The game does, however, contain many easter eggs – including a monument shaped like the TARDIS – so if you play it, keep an eye out for Djelibeybi references!)
- For a series of books intended for kids, an awful lot of people die in Harry Potter. According to one count, there are 76 individual deaths described across the seven books, but way more people die than that – there are at least fifty casualties in the Battle of Hogwarts alone!
- In Game of Thrones, Dany’s full name and title is: “Daenerys of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, Queen of Meereen, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men, Lady Regnant of the Seven Kingdoms, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Mhysa, Breaker of Chains, the Unburnt, Mother of Dragons”. This is five words shorter than Teppic’s full title in Pyramids, which is written out in full eleven times.
- Camel humps are deposits of fatty tissue; it can be metabolised back into water. Some camels can go without drinking water for as long as ten days.
- The word “quantum”, which becomes a synonym in the Discworld for things which are too complicated or weird to make sense, is used in science to refer the smallest possible unit or portion of various things, for example “packets” of photons emitted in electromagnetic radiation.
- In fan favourite sci-fi series Firefly and its sequel movie Serenity, one of the major characters is Inara, a registered “Companion”, a role similar to a courtesan with very high social status. Their training includes languages, psychology, unarmed combat, archery and much more; they begin their training at the Companion’s Guild at the age of twelve, so they possibly have more in common with assassins than they do handmaidens!
- The Grease Megamix is a mashup of three songs from the 1978 movie version of the 1971 musical Grease, set in the 1950s. It was released as a single in 1990 to promote the film being made available on video. The song was a number one hit in Australia in 1991, in part due to Olivia Newton-John’s prominent role. It’s a killer to dance and sing along to if you know the words.
- The theory that computers could have become self-aware beings without us knowing has been around for a while; the aeon article “Consciousness creep” by George Musser is a good primer.
- There are many rankings of Discworld books that put Pyramids near the top, including fellow Discworld podcast Radio Morpork, who currently have it at number four, and a Buzzfeed list from 2015 which placed it at number three (but we’re not linking to it, because the author discounted anything Pratchett wrote after his Alzheimer’s diagnosis in 2007 as “unrecognisable”, a stance this podcast considers offensive and ridiculous).
- There is no scientific evidence for “pyramid power“, which rose to prominence in the 1970s. Proponents claim pyramids can do anything from stirring sexual urges to sharpening razors to providing unlimited free energy. It’s still popular in some circles.
- Autolycus was a demi-god whose father was Hermes; he taught Hercules to wrestle, and his grandchildren include Odysseus and Jason of the Argonauts. A version of him features prominently as a recurring character in the 1990s series Hercules: the Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess, portrayed by Bruce Campbell as a Robin Hood-like prince of thieves.
- David Carradine starred in the 1970s TV series Kung Fu as Kwai Chang Caine, a half-Chinese Shaolin monk who “walked the Earth” in the American west looking for his brother and helping the downtrodden with his skills in martial arts. You probably know who Lassie is; The Littlest Hobo was a similarly talented dog, who also “walked the Earth” helping those he encountered on his travels.
- Dave Greenslade is definitely not dead, and Ben and Liz would like to stress that they enjoyed his rendition of A Wizard’s Staff Has a Knob on the End. For The Hedgehog Can Never Be Buggered at All, check out the collection of fan-written lyrics at the L-Space web (though be aware that most of them are very…well, they’re the kind of thing Nanny Ogg would sing when she’s drunk).
- According to the most prominent timeline, Pyramids is set a few years after the events of Sourcery, and about ten years before Guards! Guards!. This also places it during the fifteen years Lancre skips over in Wyrd Sisters. Feel free to let us know if you have a different theory!
- Occam’s Razor is a philosophical principle usually applied in scientific thought, which basically says that an explanation that doesn’t require the invention of new things is more likely to be true.
- Richard’s list of Assassin’s Guild subjects was sourced from The Assassin’s Guild Yearbook and Diary released in 2000. Like the other Discworld-themed diaries it had only a single print run, and is one of the harder books to find.
- Ben’s camel’s name is, of course, spelled “Ptypical”. (Thanks to listener Brendan for pointing this out.)
- Thanks for reading the show notes! Do let us know if we’ve made any mistakes, or if you have questions.