Terry Pratchett – Unseen Academicals (Revisited)

As the Great Terry Pratchett Re-read-athon approaches completion[1], it’s time to catch up with this lovely book from 2009, which I belatedly and briefly mentioned in early 2010. Looking back, that wasn’t one of my more detailed reviews, quite likely because I left a couple of months between reading it and muttering about it, so I’ll try to do better this time.

This is, more or less, a story about football, but don’t let that put you off. It’s also about wizards, romance, fashion, people in general, and quite possibly much more.

Ponder Stibbons, the one wizard in Unseen University who gets to do all the work, has many roles. And in one of them, he’s come across an old document which could cause a bit of a problem. In essence, if the University doesn’t play a game of football pretty damn soon, they’ll lose the benefit of a major bequest that’s been keeping them in at least several of their numerous daily meals. Well, what’s wrong with that? Well, at this point, football is a rough game of the streets where rules are unknown and injuries are major. So it’s convenient that another useful discovery is made, this time of an old urn which reveals the allegedly genuine and ancient rules of football, and with some characteristic manipulation from Lord Vetinari, it’s agreed that a representative team from the city will take on the university, in a new (or possibly ancient) form of the game.

Now all that would be quite enough to be getting on with, but there’s the little matter of Mister Nutt, who most people assume is a goblin, but as he’s very polite and helpful, most people don’t actually mind. Of course, if they knew what he really was, most people might be more inclined to run away…

Then there’s Trevor Likely, son of the famous football player Dave Likely. Trev promised his mother he’d never play football, what with it leading to very nasty injuries or death. But he’s a master at kicking a can around.

And there’s Glenda, who runs the Night Kitchen at the university. Glenda knows what’s best for people, and always tries to help them. Not always in the best way.

And there’s Juliet, who works with Glenda, and who’s offered an unexpected opportunity….

All this comes together in a deliciously bonkers story filled with the usual references, gags, puns, and an abiding hope for intelligent creatures in general. Lovely stuff, and well worth your attention.

That’s all I’m going to tell you about the story, so let’s get on with the quotes.

Glenda’s got a teddy bear called Mr Wobble:

Traditionally, in the lexicon of pathos, such a bear would have only one eye, but as the result of a childhood error in Glenda’s sewing, he has three, and is more enlightened than the average bear.

Or perhaps just smarter, Boo Boo?

The university’s Master of the Music is asked to create some suitable chants for the game. I don’t think he’s quite got it:

Hail the unique qualities of Magister Bengo Macarona! Of Macarona the unique qualities Hail! Hail the! Hail the! The singular talent possessed by no other! Hail! Hail the! Hail the bountiful gods! Who to the, two to the SINGULA SINGULAR SINGULA!

Just needs a wee bit of work…

When the game is on, and a wee bit of cheating involving giving the Librarian (goalkeeper, of course – long arms…) a doctored banana, we’re told that he’s sick as a parrot[2], which a helpful footnote explains:

According to Fletcher’s Avian Nausea Index, parrot sickness stands at number five in the ‘wishing yourself dead’ index. The highest level of sickness is that suffered by the great Combovered Eagle[3] which can vomit over three countries at once.

And there are many, many more I could have mentioned. Excellent stuff.

[1] Well, sort of. We shall see
[2] A traditional expression in sporting circles, or at least it used to be
[3] Nice double reference to the bald eagle and to a hairstyle formerly favoured by certain footballers.

One thought on “Terry Pratchett – Unseen Academicals (Revisited)

  1. Pingback: The Great Terry Pratchett Re-read-athon | Losing it

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