The L-Space Web: Analysis

The Seven Ages of Discworld


by Juliette Harrisson

Channel 4 in the UK recently ran a series called 'The Seven Ages of Britain', in which British history was divided into seven neat little packages, presumably making it easier to digest. Divisions like this are not unique to British history; the ancient Greeks were very keen on dividing their world into Ages of gods and men, and leaving reality behind us, even Middle Earth has its First to Fourth Ages. Over the course of 28 novels, the Discworld has developed a complex history all of its very own, and the time seems to have come to look back and produce the definitive Seven Ages of Disworld.

The First Age - Prehistory

We know little of the early days of the Discworld, but over time we have been blessed with the occasional glimpse of what it was like At The Very Beginning. In the beginning was the Creator, a very busy man with a lot of work to do, and the presence of Rincewind and Eric can't have made his job any easier (Eric). Shortly afterwards a small island's evolution was forever marred by the sudden appearance of Archchancellor Ridcully, the Dean, the Bursar, the Senior Wrangler, the Chair of Indefinite Studies, the Lecturer in Recent Runes and Ponder Stibbons (The Last Continent). At some point, people, trolls, dwarfs and other miscellaneous 'intelligent' beings started to evolve, and the planet must have realised it was in trouble.

The Second Age - The Age of Myth

No civilisation is complete without an Age of Myth. This would more usually be referred to in our world as the Age of Heroes, but since Rincewind's ancestors are involved, that might not be the most appropriate term. During this time, a woman was born whose face launched a thousand ships, before settling down to produce a lot of children and Rincewind's enterprising ancestor Lavaeolus did his best to save the Tsortean and Ephebian armies from destroying each other (Eric). A fifth elephant crashed onto the surface of the planet in Uberwald (The Fifth Elephant) and the island of Leshp sank into the sea (Jingo). The Hogfather came into existence as a blood- soaked wild boar, but quickly evolved into a jolly fat man who likes to creep into children's houses at Hogswatch and leave little presents (Hogfather). It was probably at this stage that a man with a snake staff crawled out of the sands in Djelibeybi and started to build pyramids (Pyramids).

The Third Age - Early History

This Age covers all those historical events referred to in the books which took place before The Colour of Magic. Naturally, this is a pretty busy Age, so here are some edited highlights. Alberto Malich founded Unseen University, then mysteriously disappeared shortly before he was due to die (Mort). The Scone of Stone was established as the seat of the King under the Mountain (The Fifth Elephant). The Battle of Koom Valley took place, the only known battle in history in which both sides ambushed each other (Men At Arms). The Ankh-Morpork Civil War took place, against the background of a Worlde Gone Madde!!!!! (Moving Pictures). Stoneface Vimes chopped off the head of Ankh-Morpork's last king and many years later, two versions of his distinguished descendent together took place in a failed but memorable rebellion against Looney Lord Winder (Night Watch). This last event, obviously, is very close to the books themselves, leading to…

The Fourth Age - Early Medieval

This is where it gets interesting, as this is where the books begin. The Fourth Age encompasses;

These novels are characterised by a very medieval setting and heavy use of magic. Somewhere between these and the next set Rincewind spends a long time lost in the Dungeon Dimensions (where, presumably,Time works differently) Susan is born and reaches the age of sixteen and 15 years pass in the outside world while Lancre is under a spell and Tomjon grows up in Wyrd Sisters. Vetinari is named in Sourcery and Vimes, already a recovering alcoholic with a Past, introduced in Guards Guards!, making the Discworld unique in that it goes through four Ages of history within the lifetime of one man.

The Fifth Age - Later Medieval

The Fifth Age is short, occasionally sweet, filled with promise. In Moving Pictures, Ridcully is made Archchancellor of UU. All the following novels (with one exception) must therefore take place within his archchancellorship i.e. no more than a couple of decades apart (Vetinari has been Patrician since at least Sourcery so the timescale must be fairly small, though it should be noted that some dictators have been known to be remarkably long-lived!). Some new inventions start to appear, but for one reason or another (usually involving terrible Things from the Dungeon Dimensions) they never last. Towards the end of the Age, Magrat is crowned Queen of Lancre, and takes her first steps towards leaving the 'maiden' role behind her. The exception to the rule here is Small Gods. This novel can be viewed two ways - either it is set in the 'past' and Brutha died a long time ago, or it is set in the 'present' and Brutha's death is seen in a 'flash-forward' of sorts. It seems more likely that it is set in the past, as Constable Visit and Mightily Oats' practice of Omnianism seems to have developed somewhat from the days of the Quisition.

The Sixth Age - The Renaissance

The Sixth Age opens with the integration of the Day Watch and Night Watch in Ankh-Morpork to form a new City Watch under Commander Vimes (Men At Arms). This marks a new beginning in Ankh-Morpork, with the introduction of detectives (the Cable Street Particulars in Masquerade), forensics (the introduction of Cheery Littlebottom in Feet of Clay) and traffic control (Nobby and Colon's new duties in Jingo). Changes are also happening within Discworld societies, as female dwarfs start to fight for the right to wear skirts and the Watch is asked to recruit minorities from the troll, dwarf and undead communities. In Lancre, Queen Magrat finally learns about the birds and the bees and gives birth to a daughter(Carpe Jugulum), while Death's daughter and son-in-law die leaving him with a very mixed-up granddaughter(Soul Music).

The Seventh Age - The Modern Age

In these most recent novels, the Discworld has entered the Modern Age, only a few years after it left the Early Medieval Period (!). The beginning of this Modern Age is marked by the introduction of the clacks machines in The Fifth Elephant. These do not attract terrible Things from the Dungeon Dimensions, nor are they a magically induced moment of hysteria like the rock music in Soul Music. They are here to stay and they will change the world. They lead to the introduction of newspapers and the invention of the printing press in The Truth and Ankh-Morpork's involvement in the Borogravian War in Monstrous Regiment. Even Commander His Grace the Duke Sir Samuel Vimes of the Ever-Increasing Titles has produced offspring and the feminist revolution is starting to make its way into places like Borogravia, one of the tiniest backwaters of the Discworld (so tiny and unimportant that in twenty-seven novels we've never heard of them before).

Truly, the Modern Age has arrived.


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