Pratchett, Terry: (27) The Last Hero

What an odd damn holiday. It was the sort of thing the phrase “mixed bag” was invented to describe, or to put it another way, it was rather like the little girl: when it was good, it was very good, but when it was bad, it was awful. Which, for these purposes, boils down to: I didn’t have much time to read. (I also didn’t have net access, so this is going to be a long entry [ed.: split up for import into MT].)

I did read one of my Christmas presents, Terry Pratchett’s The Last Hero, beautifully and richly illustrated by Paul Kidby (not to be confused with Josh Kirby, the recently-deceased artist who did many of the UK Discworld covers). This is a much better story than the other recent Discworld book, The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, though I don’t think it’s because this one actually is about the end of the world (again). This time, the end is nigh because Cohen the Barbarian and the Silver Horde (a handful of very old, and therefore very skilled, heroes, last seen conquering the Agatean Empire), have decided that it’s time to return fire to the gods—with interest.

A mix of familiar characters from Ankh-Morpork are drafted to stop him, leading to such conversations as this one:

‘What is that on your badge, Captain Carrot?’

‘Mission motto, sir,’ said Carrot cheerfully. ‘Morituri Nolumus Mori. Rincewind suggested it.’

‘I imagine he did,’ said Lord Vetinari, observing the wizard coldly. ‘And would you care to give us a colloquial translation, Mr Rincewind?’

‘Err . . . ‘ Rincewind hestitated, but there really was no escape. ‘Er . . . roughly speaking, it means, “We who are about to die don’t want to,” sir.’

There are moving bits among the silliness, and a nice clean plot, too. The book is fairly short—160 lavishly-illustrated, coffee-table-sized pages—but just the right length for the story. What’s more, the detailed illustrations add another layer, one that could not adquately be conveyed by text alone; just the picture of Death with the kitten (link to postcard page [*]) is priceless, but the painting of the swamp dragons and the excerpts from Leonard’s notebooks are great, too (“Clothing of the Empty Void: Mk 1.0 Rincewind. Converted pearl Diving Helmet with Simple Pressure Gauge (if eyeholes turn red, head has exploded).”). This is great stuff, though probably not for those new to Discworld. (Try Small Gods for that.)

[*] If you go to “Originals,” you can see a few more pictures from the book. I didn’t link straight to that page because it, like much of the rest of the site, has annoying and unnecessary Java applets. (And I won’t link to the site’s front page because the navigation options from that end are truly terrible.)

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