The Last Continent by Terry Pratchett
Published in 1998
Genre: Fantasy, satire
“Against the stars a turtle passes, carrying four elephants on its shell.”
Terry Pratchett tends to zoom in on his stories by starting with a description of the Discworld; the beginning of The Last Continent is no exception. Finding Rincewind where we left him at the end of Interesting Times, the Librarian of Unseen University is sick and Rincewind is needed in order to treat the illness; the only problem: he is on the rain-less continent of XXXX which is surrounded by a magic hurricane and no one knows how to get there.
The Librarian (who is typically in a sort of orangutan shape because he is an orangutan) is transforming into inanimate objects uncontrollably with each change preceded by a sneeze, and Rincewind is digging for grubs on the continent XXXX (or as we in the real world call it, Australia). The wizards need the Librarian’s name in order to use magic to help him; the only problem is that none of them remember it, or even a time before he was turned into an orangutan. They believe Rincewind has this knowledge it since he had worked in the past as the Librarian’s assistant and they begin looking for a way to rescue him from XXXX.
The Last Continent explores more of Unseen University including the office of the Egregious Professor of Cruel and Unusual Geography. Here, the wizards find a portal in the professor’s bathroom leading to a beach and, through reverse psychology to convince Archchancellor Ridcully, they decide to take a holiday. They figure the Librarian is okay with this since he spontaneously transforms into a lounge chair; albeit, one covered in orange fur.
The wizards eventually learn the beach is on Mono Island; a place thousands of years in the past which is overseen by a god who only makes one of everything. Things get a bit awkward when the wizards try to explain sexual reproduction to him. They are effectively present at the creation of life on the Discworld and have a hand in some of the more ridiculous products of evolution, despite having no inkling of the concept.
Meanwhile, Rincewind stumbles into, or rather runs away from, more inadvertent adventures in XXXX. He has numerous run-ins with indigenous people and creates his own flip flops that he invariably leaves behind when running away from the island’s snakes and spiders. Discworld’s anthropomorphic representation of Death comes into the mix as he enjoys watching Rincewind because his lifetimer doesn’t isn’t the stereotypical egg timer shape like other humans; it zigs, it zags, and sometimes the sand flows back up.
Rincewind meets a talking kangaroo and learns his arrival has upset time and space on XXXX (again) and he must make things right in order to bring rain to the continent. The wizards are stranded on Mono Island when the house keeper of Unseen University, the vivacious and proper Mrs. Whitlow, accidentally closes the window/portal and must find a way to return to the present.
In addition to these comedic situations, Australian stereotypes are placed playfully within the story. Early on, Rincewind comes upon a dwarf nicknamed “Mad” with a tricked-out armored (or armoured) carriage, who leads him to a crocodile bartender named Crocodile Dongo. Their meeting even comes with the obligatory “You call that a knife?” exchange of dialogue, to which Mad replies, “No. This is a crossbow.” Rincewind also escapes drop bears, unleashes Vegemite into the world, and the wizards accidentally create the platypus while on Mono Island.
Rincewind finds the behavior (or behaviour) of the citizens of XXXX strange since he is wrongfully convicted of sheep stealing and becomes a hero to everyone. He learns that they want there to be a dramatic escape and last stand in order to make a spectacle of it. All of their politicians are immediately arrested and placed in jail upon election, so having someone who isn’t one is a rare treat for “Ecksians.” The guards even give him a head-start when he is cornered and people try to encourage him toward great deeds in the hopes that they will be sung about in ballads.
The Last Continent is another fun, if not intellectually elevating entry in Discworld series. Pratchett is able to bring all of these seemingly disparate pieces together at the climax as rain washes down upon the continent and another frolic through his fantasies comes to an end. This is a relatively short book and will keep those who aren’t opposed to Australian stereotypes being used for fodder entertained.
Verdict: 3 “No worries” out of 5
Recommended for: Fans of Terry Pratchett, people who like the song “Down Under” by Men at Work, those who won’t become offended at poking fun at stereotypes of Australians, and fans of entertaining storytelling.
Not recommended for: Enemies of Terry Pratchett, people who don’t like the song “Down Under” by Men at Work, those who will be offended at stereotypes of Australians, or readers who take themselves too seriously.