The Last Continent
Other Terry Pratchett Reviews- The Colour 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 - Raising Steam - A Blink of the Screen - Sky1 Adaptations- Dodger - The Long Earth (w Stephen Baxter)
“Any true wizard, faced with a sign like 'Do not open this door. Really. We mean it. We're not kidding. Opening this door will mean the end of the universe,' would automatically open the door in order to see what all the fuss is about. This made signs rather a waste of time, but at least it meant that when you handed what was left of the wizard to his grieving relatives you could say, as they grasped the jar, 'We told him not to.”
After sending the Ankh-Morpork City Watch on some rip-roaring adventures in the exotic foreign lands of Klatch in Jingo, Terry Pratchett returned to a rather more familiar tour guide for his next expansive book. The Last Continent is by definition a landmark book in the Discworld series for being ostensibly the final installment to feature the series' original lead character as the headline attraction. In his sixth starring role, following The Colour of Magic, The Light Fantastic, Sourcery, Eric and Interesting Times, Rincewind the Wizzard sets off on his most mysterious journey yet as he fights to survive the madness of the magical continent XXXX (or Fourecks), where time and space are but mere unfinished constructs in a land that the creator hasn't quite got around to finishing yet.
Having been accidentally magically transported to Fourecks at the end of Interesting Times, Rincewind has been rather busy trying to avoid the million things trying to kill him. Back in Ankh-Morpork at Unseen University, meanwhile, the simian librarian is mysteriously ill and therefore unable to keep control of the chaotic magical library books. The wizarding faculty propose a magical cure, but unfortunately none of them know what the librarian's real name is, which is essential for it to work. The only wizard who does know is, of course, Rincewind. The wizards' attempts to track Rincewind down do indeed lead them to the isolate continent of Fourecks, but inconveniently manage to get there several million years in the past, interrupting a literal creation myth that's also connected to Rincewind's plight.
The Last Continent is a very well-balanced mix of satire and fantasy that I consider the best Discworld book since the. last Rincewind one, Interesting Times. Pratchett's integration of a classic British humour (taking from Monty Python and Douglas Adams in style and imagination) with an ambitious, Neil Gaiman-like tale of magical creationism plays entirely to his and the Discworld series' strengths. Rincewind and the University faculty share the page count fairly equally (or so it feels), allowing Pratchett to split his satire based on the time differential, with Rincewind coming into contact with contemporary Australian stereotypes and send-ups while the university wizards experience Pratchett's take on aboriginal creation myths.
If there's one real criticism to aim at The Last Continent, it would be that the direction and development of the plot ultimately relies heavily on the crutch that magic explains everything. As a result Pratchett doesn't really rely on a winding, conspiratorial plot as he often does, but instead pushes his characters into increasingly strange and mystical situations that eventually sort themselves out. With that in mind I wouldn't classify this as one of Pratchett's best books, but it sits comfortably on the shelf underneath. It returns to the classic Rincewind style of running from one dangerous encounter to another, like a series of connected sketches (similar to Python's Life of Brian, it strikes me). The wizards are an endearing collection of characters, if not as good as Rincewind, and the completely unique (yet to be revisited, at least) setting of Fourecks distinctly separates this from every other Discworld book.
As Rincewind's final starring role, it's a good one. I specifically say 'starring role' rather than appearance though, since the world's worst wizzard still crops up occasionally for cameos; and that's without even mentioning his crucial supporting role in the epic illustrated Discworld blockbuster book The Last Hero, which I shall some day here be fawning over.