Discworld: Terry Pratchett: Unseen Academicals (review)

Discworld is a funny and very creative fantasy series created by Terry Pratchett. He has written some 40 books in the series, all taking place on a flat disc floating in space on the backs of 4 elephants standing on the back of a huge turtle who swims through space. While being set in this fantasy world, Pratchett’s books comment on this world, our world. There are several story lines in this universe – the wizards, the witches, the watch, Death and more. This book is about the wizards.

The wizards have never exactly been sporty. Or fit. They’ve never participated in any team activities that involved athleticism or if they did, they were always the fat looser kid picked last. Dead last. So imagine how they feel when they discover that to make sure a sum of money keeps coming into the university, they have to play football. But well, when the money is part of the food money, of course they step up.

Especially because Archchancellor Ridcully and Lord Vetinari are teaming up together to make it happen.

Now, the wizards don’t just start playing the kind of football that is being played in the streets where a man who has scored 4 goals, is a hero – or where the spectators are happy whenever they get a chance to see the ball. So the wizards set out to create a new version of football, a game with rules and a referee, a game with goal keepers and a real ball that goes gloing.

Besides that, Lord Vetinari has got a guy named Nutt a job at the university – he’s a candle dripper (yes, of course the wizards have candle drippers). But he’s more than a candle dripper. Only thing is that he doesn’t quite know what he is. But when Lord Vetinari is involved, you know things aren’t always straight-forward.

And on top of this, Pratchett gives his own version of Romeo and Juliet in this book. Of course, Pratchett’s Romeo and Juliet have far bigger problems than just their families being against them – their issue is they support different football teams…!

Oh, and when Pratchett in the end gets to the big game – it’s amazing!

What I love about Discworld is that after so many books, it has become such a well-carved out universe that while each book  is readable on it’s own, you really get a lot out of having read at least some of the others. Pratchett has main characters from other books in the series show up for brief appearances. We get a brief visit from Death, we speak to Vines from the Watch, Moist von Lipwig covers the football match and of course there’s a brief appearance by Rincwind and the Luggage. This makes the world real because these are the people who would show up in those circumstances.

But what I love even more than to get the feeling that this is actually a real world, is the humor which is present on every page in the book. I always write down a lot of quotes when reading these books. For instance on the first page in the book, there’s this perfect quote about Lord Vetinari: Technically, the city of Ankh-Morpork is a Tyranny, which is not always the same thing as a monarchy, and in fact even the post of Tyrant has been somewhat redefined by the incumbent Lord Vetinari, as the only form of democracy that works. Everyone is entitled to vote, unless disqualified by reason of age or not being Lord Vetinari. (p. 13) or this quote about the relationship between women and men: The right tone from a woman with her arms folded always bounces an answer out of an unprepared man before he has time to think, and even before he has time to think up a lie. (p. 299)

I’ll end up with this quote that perfectly sums up, the wizards’ role in society – or maybe everyone powerful’s role. At least their role as Ponder, the main administrator, sees it: We can do practically anything, but we can’t change people’s minds. We can’t magic them sensible. Believe me, if it were possible to do that, we would have done it a long time ago. We can stop people fighting by magic and then what do we do? We have to go on using magic to stop them fighting. We have to go on using magic to stop them being stupid. And where does all that end? So we make certain that it doesn’t begin. That’s why the university is here. That’s what we do. We have to sit around not doing things because of the hundreds of times in the past it’s been proved that once you get beyond the abracadabra, hey presto, changing-the-pigeons-into-ping-pong-balls style of magic you start getting more problems than you’ve solved. It was bad enough finding ping pong balls nesting in the attics. (p. 428)

  • Title: Unseen Academicals (Discworld # 37)
  • Author: Terry Pratchett
  • Publisher: Corgi Books
  • Year: 2010 (originally 2009)
  • Pages: 540 pages
  • Stars: 5 stars out of 5
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