Discworld Read-Along#27: The Last Hero

discworldreadingguideContinuing my read-through of the late Sir Terry Pratchett’s delightful Discworld series, one book at a time.

Today’s entry is the 27th book, the illustrated The Last Hero.

First Appearance:  Evil Harry, Mrs. Vena McGarry

Introduced to Discworld:  space travel

Plot:  Ages ago, the first hero stole fire from the gods.  Now, Cohen the Barbarian and his Silver Horde are looking to return that fire with interest.

Yes, Cohen and his ancient barbarian companions are looking to drop a ton of high explosives in the laps of the gods in their celestial home of Dunmanifestin atop the central Disc mountain of Cori Celesti.  The Horde are angry that the gods let them grow old, and don’t want to die like an associate who choked to death on a cucumber.  The Horde believes the bomb won’t really kill the gods, but at least the lot of them will die like heroes.

Of course, the bomb will also knock out the Disc’s magical field and destroy the world.  That would be bad.  To stop the Horde, Lord Vetinari of Ankh-Morpork will commission a special ship to fall off the Disc and then use rocket power (some well-fed swamp dragons) to swoop around the Disc and up the other side.  Onboard the ship will be three brave volunteers…well, two brave volunteers and another guy:  Leonard of Quirm, the genius inventor of the craft; Captain Carrot, the only man brave enough to actually try and arrest the Horde, and Rincewind, who doesn’t want to go but knows if he doesn’t volunteer something will happen and he’ll end up going anyway.

Oh, and the Librarian stowed away.

Can these three men and an ape stop a group of old men whose special skill is Not Dying?

Commentary:  This book was a short one, but it had something else going for it.  Illustrations by Paul Kidby make up a good bulk of the book.  Finally, some characters get some faces to go with names.  Rincewind himself is on the cover, copying Edvard Munch’s The Scream while a giant elephant looms in the background.  Kidby reproduces a lot of famous paintings and pictures throughout the book.

This book is generally listed as a Rincewind book, and while the world’s worst wizard is a prominent character, I wouldn’t call him the main focus.  Much of the focus falls on Cohen and the Silver Horde.  The group of them live by a Code, one that shows who the true heroes are, and they even respect villains who stick to the Code.  That would be where equally old Evil Harry Dread comes into play.  Evil Harry is allowed to accompany the Horde, bringing with him his own very stupid minions (they have to be very stupid), and not only is everyone, Harry included, aware Harry will betray the group somehow, when he does it and gets caught, no one seems to mind because he’s still following the Code.  Well, everyone except the nameless minstrel that got dragged along for the ride.

Yeah, that’s the big thing about Cohen’s plan:  he wants to be remembered, and the kidnapped minstrel is going to write a saga about this last adventure.  Cohen gives the guy a number of pointers, and the thing about Cohen is the more time you spend with him, the more you fall into the patterns of being like him.  The minstrel, who doesn’t even remember his own name at the end of the book, is one of those people…mostly.

On the other side, Pratchett finally teamed up Rincewind and Carrot.  Were there any other characters so diametrically opposed to each other than the clumsy cowardly wizard and the brave watchman who’s probably the rightful king of Ankh-Morpork?  Not as much comes of this as it could be worth noting, but the pair, along with absent-minded Leonard of Quirm, make for a delightful expedition.  And of course the Librarian is there.  Pratchett probably couldn’t resist leaving the guy behind.

I’m not sure the Discworld gods ever got as much attention as they do here, not even in Small Gods.  That book focused mostly on one god, whereas the major gods only appeared briefly at the end.  Here the gods finally get to meet some mortals, and Cohen manages to literally cheat Fate by showing how to throw a seven with a single six-sided dice.  The gods don’t really seem to do much aside from issue some vague threats and play games with mortal lives, but that’s par for the course.

Not everything about this book worked.  There’s a side plot, if plot is even the right word, involving Death trying to figure out Schrodinger’s cat and the Uncertainty Principal, but not much seems to come from that.

The book ends when the Horde is defeated by the one thing that can stop them:  their own Code.  The Code comes across more like the plot contrivances of bad sword-and-sorcery stories, but when confronted by a man who embodies the Code standing against them (Carrot), the Horde backs down.  Plus, the realization that people need to be alive to hear their Sage being sung causes them to pause.  Then they have to take care of the explosives they’ve already charged up.

The Saga, we are told, is beautiful.

If this does count as a Rincewind book, then Pratchett found somewhere else to send his well-traveled wizard by sending him under the Disc and to the moon.    But the Luggage stayed behind.  That may be for the best if the Luggage tried to eat some things it should have left well-enough alone.  Rincewind had enough problems this time around.

NEXT BOOK:  The first Discworld novel for younger readers is next, as we get the Discworld take on the Pied Piper’s story, only this time the whole thing is a scam being run by a talking cat.  Be back soon for The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents.

Previous entries:

The Color of Magic

The Light Fantastic

Equal Rites

Mort

Sourcery

Wyrd Sisters

Pyramids

Guards! Guards!

Eric

Moving Pictures

Reaper Man

Witches Abroad

Small Gods

Lords and Ladies

Men at Arms

Soul Music

Interesting Times

Maskerade

Feet of Clay

Hogfather

Jingo

The Last Continent

Carpe Jugulum

The Fifth Elephant

The Truth

Thief of Time

tomk74

Defender of the faith, contributing writer, debonair man-about-town.

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