“Tomorrow here is just like yesterday, warmed over” – Terry Pratchett
While the last book on my Discworld revisit wasn’t one of my most favourites, the next novel certainly goes some way to redressing the situation. Pyramids takes place in a centuries-old desert kingdom named Djelibeybi. And as with other locations on the Disc, this one parodies the ways and workings of Ancient Egypt. It comes with all the things I like about Pratchett’s work – wit, humour and a certain level of cynicism used to good effect. Pyramids also introduces characters that, unlike the books up until this one, won’t appear again in the series. That the author has created such rich characters in just one outing is testament to his writing abilities.
The mocking tone and humour is out in force in this installment. It is quite evident in what is my favourite character in this book – You Bastard the camel. The name wonderfully speaks to the perceived nature of camels in all their stubbornness. But as is often the case, this ungulate is treated in the usual manner of animals put to work – whacked with bloody big stick, pushed, shoved and yelled at. This parodies the way humans throughout history have always held a sense of self-importance and superiority over all other sentient creatures. Ironically, You Bastard just so happens to be the Disc’s greatest mathematician.
The kingdom of Djelibeybi worships a great myriad of gods, it almost seems there’s a god for everything here. And they continue to build great pyramids to inter their mummified dead. Why? Well why not-it’s worked for seven thousand years or so, why bother changing things now? Progress, that’s why.
Pratchett wonderfully illustrates the differences between remaining so isolated and true to tradition, and moving with the times. The return of a prince to ascend to the throne following an education at the Assassin’s Guild in Ankh-Morpork shows how back-looking the kingdom is. Rather than bring in new ideas – engineering, plumbing, proper beds – the people of Djelibeybi live a life dictated by the weight of history. Too often, here on Roundworld, we are guilty of this. How often do we do things that aren’t entirely logical, or are harder, more time costly? And too often, the reason is simple – that’s what we’ve always done, and that’s the way we’ve always done it!
Just because our ancestors didn’t have proper sanitation, plumbing or high-thread count bedding doesn’t mean we should keep going with these traditions. The pyramids are another part of this point in this book. Has anyone asked those put in them what they think? Well, of course not, they’re dead. But when they reanimate then they can voice their annoyance at being stuck in the dark under thousands of stone blocks! These same pyramids leach time in this kingdom, leading to it being stuck in the past compared to the rest of the Disc.
This accumulation of time leads to the kingdom disappearing from its place in time. As with so much of Pratchett’s work, there is a brilliant point well-illustrated here. Tradition is all fine and well in its proper place. But sometimes we need to look forwards, not back. If we keep looking to what has already been done, we won’t progress. Or worse, we won’t see what’s in front of us, and have a pretty spectacular trip. in evolutionary terms, that’s never good!
I am taking a very brief break from the Discworld for my next read. I have been lucky enough to be asked to read and review an anthology of short stories compiled for a great cause, which I am reading my way through as we speak!