Thirteen-year-old Eric Thursley conjures up demons. Except, in this case, his first successful conjuration, he gets the hapless wizard Rincewind.
The result — detailed in Terry Pratchett’s ninth Discworld novel, titled, appropriately, Eric — is a trip through time and space to such locales as:
- the Tezuman Empire (the Discworld equivalent of the human-sacrificing Aztec Empire),
- Tsort (the Discworld equivalent of Troy with its own version of Helen, a lady called Elenor who isn’t quite the looker she once was),
- an immense blackness where “a little rat-faced man” identifies himself as a creator (the Discworld equivalent of the Big Bang) and
- Hell (the Discworld equivalent of Hell).
Rincewind, being Rincewind, much of this novel has to do with him doing what he does best, i.e., running away, and dragging Eric along with him. As Pratchett explains:
Pre-eminent amongst Rincewind’s talents was his skill in running away, which over the years he had elevated to the status of a genuinely pure science; it didn’t matter if you were fleeing from or to, so long as you were fleeing. It was flight alone that counted. I run, therefore, I am; more correctly, I run, therefore with any luck, I’ll still be.
“I do all my own trees”
But his essential shallowness means that the books in which he plays a prominent role always include a lot of much more interesting figures, such as, in this novel, the Demon King Astfgl who is so modern that he fills up Hell with ugly, plastic potted plants and inflicts boredom rather than pain on his inmates, a much worse punishment.
On the flipside, as it were, is that rat-faced guy who is a craftsman, but not The Craftsman:
“You’re the Creator?”
“Not the. Not the. Just a. I don’t contract for the big stuff, the stars, the gas giants, the pulsars and so on. I just specialize in what you might call the bespoke trade. I do all my own trees, you know. Craftsmanship. Takes years to learn how to make a tree. Even the conifers.
“I don’t get someone in to finish them off. No subcontracting, that’s my motto. The buggers always keep you hanging about while they’re installing stars or something for someone else. You know, people think it must be very easy creating. They think you just have to move on the face of the waters and wave your hands a bit. It’s not like that at all.”
“Where professionalism comes in”
Snowflakes, he explains, are a real headache. “You soon run out of ideas for snowflakes.” That’s dangerous because of the temptations that lie in wait.
“You start thinking it’d be a doodle to sneak in a few identical ones.
“You thinks to yourself, ‘There’s a billion trillion squillions of them, no-one’s going to notice.’ But that’s where professionalism comes in, sort of thing.”
“So bloody stupid”
Pratchett, as usual, gets in his commentary on humans and the way we live, such as when Rincewind and Eric meet Lavaeolus (Latin for “Rincewind, a distant ancestor), the Ephebian commander at Tsort, a cross between Alexander the Great and Homer’s Odysseus.
Lavaeolus has the idea that life doesn’t have to be so violent and hard. He tells Rincewind, “I thought, you see, that if I could show people how to get what they wanted more easily they’d stop being so bloody stupid.”
“It never works,” the wizard responds. And the soldier says, “It’s got to be worth a try, though. Hasn’t it?”
A few minutes later, after Lavaeolus has departed in a boat, Rincewind says to Eric, “The trouble is, is that things never get better, they just stay the same, only more so.”
An example of things staying the same is Pratchett’s use in Eric, as in all of his works, of atrocious puns, such as when Eric asks the wizard, “What’re quantum mechanics?” To which Rincewind responds:
“I don’t know. People who repair quantums, I suppose.”
“The bees of Death”
As usual with Pratchett’s work, Eric is a fun novel, with laughs and wry comments on every page.
But, for me, the best part of the book was its opening two paragraphs which describe Death’s garden, a description in which Pratchett displays his wonderfully odd imagination and deep well of silliness.
The bees of Death are big and black, they buzz low and somber, they keep their honey in combs of wax as white as altar candles. The honey is black as night, thick as sin and sweet as treacle.
It is well known that eight colors make up white. But there are also eight colours of blackness, for those that have the seeing of them, and the hives of Death are among the black grass in the black orchard under the black-blossomed, ancient boughs of trees that will, eventually produce apples that…put it like this…probably won’t be red.
Patrick T. Reardon