Book:The Last Hero/Annotations

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These are annotations for the book The Last Hero. Note that the consistent layout of the book means that the English editions from before 2024 share exactly the same page numbers, except that the original hardcover lacks the sixteen extra pages of new illustrations added with the 2002 Gollancz softcover. The first of those appears on page 50 in newer editions, so before that the pages are in sync, and then drift further out. We've noted both page numbers where appropriate, and will update these references when possible to include the new 2024 paperback, which has promised a new layout.

Specific annotations

Page 8 (all editions)
This is a reworking of the Prometheus fable on Roundworld, with Fingers Mazda taking the place of Prometheus. Also, Ahura Mazda was the chief god in the ancient Persian religion Zoroastrianism, and was often symbolized by fire.
Page 17 (all editions)
The illustration of Dunmanifestin looks suspiciously like the centrepiece of the board-game "Escape From Atlantis!"[1], where the trick is to get as many Atlanteans off the doomed island as possible before it collapses under the sea. [2] When the central city collapses into the sea, the game is over. And of course on page 18, Cohen himself is represented as a playing piece complete with moulded-on base... The scene also bears some resemblance to scenes from Olympus in the original Clash of the Titans.
On a separate hill connected by a path to Dunmanifestin is a much smaller but still grand (when you consider the scale) building next to a large tree; according to Paul Kidby, this is the home of the Great God Om, and was an addition to the painting requested by Pratchett himself.
Page 21 (all editions)
The infamous portrait of Ponder Stibbons which has led some observers to notice a passing resemblance, across the mists of space-time and the infinite Multiverse, to another intrepid young Wizard called H***y P****r. Although coincidence is indeed a funny thing... there is a similar portrait on page 113. (In the t-shirt carrying the legend "Actually I am a rocket wizard", in which the play of light and shadow on a frowning forehead suggests a shape... investigation shows it to be nothing like HP's "interrobang", but you do wonder for an instant.) Still, just coincidence again...
Page 31 (all editions)
"I recall an old story about a ship that was pulled by swans and was pulled all the way to the..." This specifically references Bishop Francis Godwin of Hereford's 1638 "The Man in the Moone", in which a Spaniard travels to the moon in a chariot drawn by swans (echoed by the illustration on pp32-33 of Leonard in a chariot pulled by swamp dragons). Godwin's book is one of the earliest published stories about space travel, and was famous enough to be parodied by the real life Cyrano de Bergerac twenty years later, as referenced in Rostand's famous 1897 play about Bergerac. Godwin's story, or Bergerac's parody, may have influenced many other writers, including Rudolf Raspe in his tales of Baron Munchausen.
Page 38 (all editions)
Leonard absent-mindedly draws a perfect circle freehand, a task thought to be so impossible that only a complete lunatic or inspired genius could manage it. This feat is attributed in history to Italian 13th century painter Giotto, but elements of the tale go back to Alexander the Great's court painter Appeles (c. 320BC)
Page 40 (all editions)
Vena, the Raven-Haired:- Refer to the TV adventure series Xena: Warrior Princess. Doesn't the artwork in The Last Hero just remind you of a sixty-year old Lucy Lawless? This character may also be a reference to the film Red Sonya.
Page 51 (2001 hardcover)/53 (subsequent editions)
Evil Harry Dread's name resonates with the film character Dirty Harry. His Evil Overlord status and references to the Code are also reminiscent of the now-famous Evil Overlord List, a guide for aspiring Evil Overlords which comprises rules designed to prevent the overlord from falling into clichéd movie traps - an example from the list being: "I will instruct my Legions of Terror to attack the hero en masse, instead of standing around waiting while members break off and attack one or two at a time." Contrastingly, Evil Harry seems to follow a Code which adheres him to these movie clichés - e.g. his very stupid henchmen.
Page 67 (2001 hardcover)/69 (subsequent editions)
Death is talking to Albert about knowing when the cat in the box is dead or not, this is a reference to Schrödinger's cat. In Schrödinger's theoretical experiment a live cat is placed in a box containing a radiation source, a internal geiger counter and a flask of poison. If the geiger counter detects radiation it smashes the poison flask killing the cat, therefore the cat is can be both alive and dead at the same time and only the act of looking actually decides which one is real. Schrödinger's cat is purely theoretical and is meant to be a way of teaching about quantum mechanics, of course on the Discworld it is probably real. [I'm no physicist, but it's my understanding that Schrodinger actually intended this thought experiment as a satire of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics. His point as I understand it was that all this "superposition waveform collapsing on observation" gibberish is fine at explaining the subatomic world, but has no real meaning for classical physics. Perhaps someone better-qualified than I can take us in hand?] See also Lords and Ladies, in which it is determined that an unobserved cat in a box can be in one of three states: a) alive; b) dead; c) bloody furious.
Page 86 (2001 hardcover)/92 (subsequent editions)
It's clear that the Emperor Carelinus is the Discworld equivalent of Alexander the Great, who "untied" the Gordian knot. But Terry being Terry, and given the specific phrase used by the minstrel on this page, it's also very likely a nod to the film Die Hard, in which Hans Gruber (played by Alan Rickman) claims to quote Plutarch's history of the conqueror, but uses a phrasing not found in any earlier source: "And Alexander wept, seeing as he had no more worlds to conquer."
Page 93 (2001 hardcover)/99 (subsequent editions)
Rincewind has just made a last-ditch attempt to be deselected from the mission. He has just been told, by Vetinari, that a plea of insanity only reinforces that he is the right man for the job, as only an insane man would do something like this. And should you be sane... well, as ruler of the City I have a duty to send only the keenest, coolest, minds on a vital errand of this kind". Rincewind mumbles something about there being a catch there, and Vetinari replies "Yes. The best kind there is". Rincewind has just joined Yossarian as a victim of Catch-22.
Page 95 (2001 hardcover)/101 (subsequent editions)
On the page entitled "Considerations of The Great Bird", in the top left-hand corner, are the words "600ft of Bird's Eye Maple at 1 1/2d a foot". This is a reference to the poem "Three Ha'pence a foot" by Marriott Edgar.
"The Great Bird" illustration on this page, and all the "eagle" references immediately after, have at least two levels of reference. "The Eagle" was the name of the lunar module of the Apollo-11 mission, provoking the line "The Eagle has landed!" to describe its successful mission to the Moon. It may also be one of several references to science fiction: in Star Trek, both the Klingon and Romulan Empires use spacecraft called Birds of Prey; the Klingon ships can radically alter wing-configuration to suit atmospheric and deep space work. It might also refer to the "Eagle" spaceships from the British series Space: 1999, and physically it resembles the "Golden Condor" from the 1982 French-Japanese animated series The Mysterious Cities of Gold.
Page 100 (2001 hardcover)/108 (subsequent editions)
"And put your helmet on!" - Carrot to Rincewind, echoing Ground Control to Major Tom in a certain song. No previous instruction to Rincewind to "take your protein pills", though.
Page 104-105 (2001 hardcover)/112 (subsequent editions)
The three official astronauts are waking up to the possibility that a fourth, unauthorised, life-form is on board. The dialogue is suggestive of the crew of the Nostromo coming to the appalling conclusion that there is an Alien aboard. But only a fully paid-up coward like Rincewind sees all the implications, viz things erupting out of stomach cavities like a terminal case of indigestion. Carrot goes chasing it, as the hero must, whilst Leonard excitedly muses on the scientific possibilities. After the build-up, it's reassuringly disappointing that it only turns out to be the Librarian.
The presence of the Librarian also pays a sort of homage to all the dogs, chimpanzees, and other ape-like creatures whose group noun begins with an "m", who were sent into space by the Americans and Russians as surrogate human astronauts in the early days.
And on page 105, Leonard contacts base with '"Ankh-Morpork, we have an orang-utan"', which somehow manages to evoke "Houston, we have a problem." This is a reference to the real and film versions of the Apollo-13 mission.
Page 107 (2001 hardcover)/115 (subsequent editions)
"Nucleus situm ex orbita, unus certis maximus" - dog-Latin for "nuke the site from orbit, just to make sure!" - a shout-out to Aliens?
Gaping Maw (to trawl debris from the void): This description closely resembles a Bussard Ramjet, an interstellar spacecraft design which leaves for its destination without enough fuel for its fusion engines but uses enormous "scoops" to collect hydrogen from the interstellar medium along the way.
Pages 116-117 (2002 softcover and later editions only)
The illustration here of the UU faculty, Vetinari and the Luggage viewing the spell in the ship's hold is based closely on the 1766 painting A Philosopher giving that Lecture on the Orrery in which a lamp is put in place of the Sun by Joseph Wright of Derby. Derby also painted An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump, which Kidby used as the inspiration for the cover of The Science of Discworld.
Page 111 (2001 hardcover)/121 (subsequent editions)
Adorno maximus, magister! - Leonard of Quirm's declaration on designing Rincewind's spacesuit translates to "Suits you, sir!" - the catchphrase of the very camp tailors in BBC long-running comedy series, The Fast Show.
Weighted boots: There is an old urban legend that a significant number of people believe that there is no gravity on the moon but the astronauts were held down by "heavy boots." This may or may not be an intentional reference.
Page 117 (2001 hardcover)/129 (subsequent editions)
"It's your own fault," he said. "I told you. Small steps. Not giant ones." - Rincewind is misquoting Neil Armstrong's famous quote "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" (sic) as he bandages the Librarian's head.
Page 121 (2001 hardcover)/133 (subsequent editions)
Describing the dragons eating too much lunar vegetation, Mr Pratchett coins the word "dialectric". This appears to be an amalgam of dielectric and dialectic, describing both the psychological barrier across an argument which prevents each side from understanding the other, and, in context, the property of the lunar foliage making the dragons fizz with potential power.
Page 115 (2001 hardcover)/125 (subsequent editions)
A discussion about the rapidly approaching dark disc of the Moon, with Carrot being approving of the fact that if your plans for the day include Breathing, then you're in luck. How could we miss this one? All it would take is the Omniscope, in the role of ship's robot, humming like Pink Floyd. Do we need to explain this? OK. Artiste: Pink Floyd. song: Breathe. Album: Dark Side of the Moon. Eclipses are also mentioned. As is lots and lots of screaming (Speak to Me involves protracted screaming. And then there's the more tuneful screaming of Great Gig In The Sky). Rincewind's generally gloomy, fear-the-worst, disposition in space? Marvin The Paranoid Android. (And the, err, breathe it softly, Monkeyman? Arthur Dent, hitching a ride?)
Page 131 (2001 hardcover)/145 (subsequent editions)
"Prince Haran's Tiller" is an enigmatically-titled lever on the Kite, first seen in the illustration on page 100 (94 in the first edition). In the temporarily concussed absence of Leonard of Quirm, neither of the other two crewmembers has the faintest idea of the purpose of. With an imminent crisis looming - i.e. uncontrolled re-entry into the Disc's atmosphere and an awful lot of unforgiving ground coming up to meet them 'very, very' quickly - Ponder Stibbons is at a loss to advise. However, he has just, rather unwisely, denigrated the value of an arts-based education where Vetinari can hear it. Vetinari, a product of an arts-based education, suggests Ponder tells the crew to pull Prince Haran's Tiller. Ponder relays the suggestion, Rincewind pulls the lever, and the Kite levels out into free flight. Vetinari then affably tells Stibbons that there is an old myth, derived from Klatchian folklore, about a Prince Haram who devised an ingenious way for a magic carpet to safely fly itself on long journeys, while he slept. But then, one whose education has been purely technical and scientific, and deficient in areas such as languages and history, is hardly likely to be aware of that...
Prince Haran's tiller is therefore what we might describe as the autopilot.
There is a readable discourse dating from the 1950's but still relevant today, called The Two Tribes, which describes and deplores the way the educational process in Great Britain - almost uniquely in the developed world - forces able school pupils to make a prematurely early choice between "Arts" and "Science" streams. Even as early as age fourteen, the British pupil is then progressively locked firmly into either Arts or Science, and becomes as firmly embodied in that stream as a Hindu is in their caste, or inhabitants of the old South Africa were embodied according to their skin colour. Especially at the A-level stage, the pupil must choose to specialise in all Arts subjects or all Sciences: mixing the two is not permitted and is looked on with as much horror as, say, a Boer who seeks to marry into the Zulus.
The net result of this is a system where Britain has a great number of Arts grads who might be up to speed in English Lit or History, but who at age 21 last saw the inside of a laboratory at age 15 and who are woefully science-illiterate. Similarly, we have science grads who last read a novel at school and whose foreign language skills, viewed as belonging to Arts, have atrophied. These are the Two Tribes, whose stereotyped opinions of the other are illustrated by the interaction between Vetinari and Stibbons.
Leonard of Quirm, in contrast, embraces both Art and Science equally, as befits an expy for Leonardo da Vinci: the archetypal "Renaissance Man", who masters both.
you've definitely got the wrong stuff: The Right Stuff is a Roundworld book, later film, later miniseries about the first manned US spaceflights. The equivalent book in Discworld, I suppose, would be the one that this annotation is for.
Page 139 (hardcover edition)/153 (subsequent editions)
Cohen chops the dice in two as it tumbles, so that the two halves come down together as a one and a six, making a seven. There are referents to this feat in both Norse and Irish mythology, the trick being attributed to both Finn McCool and to King Olaf of Norway, when in a dispute with the King of Sweden over ownership of an island, they diced for it. The Swedish king rolled two sixes, knowing this was unlikely to be beaten. Olaf rolled two dice, one coming down as a six, and the second induced to come down as a winning seven due to the intervention of his sword-blade.
The whole extended sequence hearkens back to the original use of this device in The Colour of Magic, where the Lady outwits Fate as 'the die flipped gently onto a point, spun round, and came down a seven. Blind Io picked up the cube and counted the sides. "Come on, he said, wearily. "Play fair!"'
This time, the Lady's reward is an angry and contemptuous tirade from Cohen.
Page 150 (subsequent editions)
Hurtling Whirlers of Klatch: A reference to the Mevlevi Order known (possibly offensively) as the "Whirling Dervishes"
Page 156 (hardcover edition)/172 (subsequent editions)
At the end, the formerly foppish minstel is seen transformed, wearing the animal-skins of a barbarian warrior, a sword at his side, and even the light around him taking on the heroic air of the character on the front of a typical Iron Maiden album sleeve... has he discovered heavy metal? This might be typical of the origins of many of the great seventies heavy bands - Deep Purple and Status Quo both began as typical flower-power psychedelic bands in the late sixties, their earliest released work (Book of Taliesyn, Pictures of Matchstick Men, et c) being almost completely unrecognisable, in terms of musical content and the foppy Carnaby Street clothes they wore, from what their ouevre later mutated into. Led Zeppelin were born out of the ashes of sixties' experimental band the Yardbirds, and most amusingly, Spinal Tap started as a band called the Kingsmen who performed an anodyne first single called Listen To The Flowers Grow. (A theme they later revisited as Working In My Sex Garden).
In fact, Deep Purple's early album The Book of Taliesyn , while having pre-echoes of the band's later heavy style, contains tracks where the conceit is that they belong to a minstrel, serving the Dark Age Celtic kingdom to which Taliesyn was both bard and wizard.