The L-Space Web: Books: Synopses

The Last Continent


Written by Ed

It is the middle of a freezing winter in Ankh-Morpork, and the Librarian is very ill. Most of the symptoms are similar to the flu, but due to the Librarian's unique morphic field there is the strange side effect of transforming into a variety of miscellaneous objects at every sneeze. The wizards are at a loss about how to cure him.

Meanwhile, in another continent on the other side of the Discworld, an unlucky and useless wizard named Rincewind is trying to survive in an endlessly fry burning desert, having been marooned there some months ago. Under his feet, a party of opal miners make a shock discovery-what looks like the biggest lump of opal in the world turns out to be a shell, containing what looks like a wooden chest with lots of little feet.

Back at UU, the wizards are having serious problems. Because of the Librarian's illness there is no one to look after the books in the Library and the ancient and powerful grimoires in there have started attacking people. They need to cure the Librarian quickly; Archchancellor Ridcully suggests simple magic, but in order to do that it is required that the subjects name is known. Unfortunately, nobody knows the Librarian's name.until the Lecturer in Recent Runes hits upon the idea of Rincewind. He was a member of the University when the Librarian was transformed from a human into an orang-utan, and is the only person who might still know his real name. They then remember how they accidentally stranded him on the mysterious and arid continent of XXXX, which is cut off so completely from the rest of the world that it is still considered to be a semi- mythical place. Fortunately, there is a Professor of Cruel and Unusual Geography on the staff; the wizards resolve to find him and get him to locate XXXX.

Rincewind digs down into the burning sands of XXXX desert to find some food. He is unaware that he is being watched-but the watcher is no mortal being, but a god.

Arriving at the office of the Professor of Cruel and Unusual Geography, and find it deserted. From the look of it, the office has been deserted for some time. The wizards have no idea where he is, until they find that, for some reason, the window of the en-suite bathroom looks out onto a sunny tropical beach.

As Rincewind sleeps in the scorching desert, Death watches him from his domain. He considers XXXX; a continent sealed off from the world by a permanent ring of anti- cyclones that surround it. Rincewind is of a particular fascination to Death, as his lifespan has become uncertain due to him having been bounced around the dimensions so often. Death has no clue as to when Rincewind is going to die.

Ponder Stibbons, the youngest member of the UU faculty, is entranced at the sight of a portal leading to a faraway place. The rest of the wizards, however, are more sceptical; they have seen portals before and know that they tend to be more trouble than they are worth. However, in the bitter winter there is a certain temptation to go and enjoy the sunny beach for a while.even Ridcully, initially reluctant, is convinced when the rest of the faculty play to his love of hunting.

Rincewind wakes to find himself being observed by an old native. The man offers him food, and then performs some strange chant. Once it is over, Rincewind finds he can pull ready-cooked food from under stones. The old man is the god who was watching Rincewind, and upon returning to his own domain he summons his companion, the Trickster. The god decides that Rincewind is the one who is going to save the kingdom. The Trickster is reluctant, but eventually agrees and goes down to the Disc to enlist his help.

A few hours later, a kangaroo leaps out at Rincewind, who is surprised to find that it can talk. The kangaroo introduces itself as Scrappy (although it is simply an incarnation of the Trickster) and tells Rincewind that he has been chosen (his constant talent of falling into waterholes to survive is not down to mere luck) and upon hearing this Rincewind flees. However he is unable to outdistance Scrappy and, when he tires to stop, he falls down into a waterhole.

Ridcully and the wizards are enjoying the beach, which is in fact simply a small desert island. There is the beach around it, a forest behind that and a mountain in the centre, but apart from that it is empty save the animals and the wizards themselves. The portal leading back to the University is hovering in the air, and through it climbs UU's housekeeper, Mrs Whitlow. She is innocently trying to carry through a tray of refreshments when she knocks the plank of wood Ridcully has secured to keep the window open-and when the window slams shut the portal vanishes and strands the wizards on the island.

Rincewind surfaces and looks around the cave he has fallen into. Scrappy soon joins him, and directs him to a cave painting on the walls (which in fact carve themselves into the rock whenever the god or the Trickster pass by), which he recognises. However, Scrappy informs him that they have been there for thirty thousand years-although they weren't there last week.

 

Ridcully attempts to hold the panicking wizards together. He gives the Dean and the Senior Wrangler the task of building a boat while the other wizards are sent off to find food. He remains to catch fish in the sea. Suddenly, as the Dean makes a passing remark about cigarettes, a small plant suddenly shoots up behind him and begins to grow.

Scrappy explains to Rincewind about XXXX-the Last Continent. He says that XXXX was built after the Discworld had already been completed, by another god who came along later. The Disc already had a certain amount of time allocated to it and so XXXX had to use what it could get. As such, it is not quite as stable as it should be-time seems to be a purely subjective issue. For example, the continent was built only thirty thousand years ago-but once it had been built it had been there for millions of years (this also explains how the Luggage managed to become encased in opal in only a few months). That is not the problem however: the continent is drying up. The permanent storms around the place keep clouds away, so there has never been so much as one drop of rain in the whole of XXXX. It has survived up until now because of its vast underground lakes, but now these are drying up and the place is shaking itself apart. Apparently the problems were caused by Rincewind's arrival, which sent something wrong back in the passed when the continent was being created. Whatever it was is represented by some cave paintings-of a group of men wearing robes and pointy hats.

The wizards have found something very odd-plants bearing cheese, bread, chocolate and cigarettes. They grew within seconds after the wizards mentioned them. Breaking open one of the cigarettes, Ponder Stibbons finds some seeds. Before he can examine them properly, however, an empty pair of boots is found that do not belong to any of the faculty.

Scrappy leaves, sending Rincewind on his task. Rincewind decides not to obey though, and sets off into the desert. He does not see that, back in the waterhole, a cave painting of a kangaroo burns itself into the rock.

While the mentally unstable Bursar continues to drift in the world inside his own head the other wizards fawn over Mrs Whitlow, to whom the Senior Wrangler is particularly attracted. Ponder Stibbons is worried, however; there is something amiss on the island, but he cannot fathom it yet. The Librarian (back in the shape of an orang-utan for once) is also having the same feeling. Ridcully refuses to consider that the boots they have found are an issue and is about to dismiss it when the Librarian realises what is wrong with the island. Being an orang-utan he has some difficulty communicating the problem but eventually Ponder works it out: no two of the life forms on it are the same. There are millions of beetles, each one a separate species. The same applies to all the birds and plants also. Ponder is now faced with the monumental task of explaining to Ridcully about animal reproduction, and that the animals on the island cannot breed as there is no other animal of the same species to breed with. This conversation moves on to the subject of evolution and the plants that grow unnaturally fast. It almost explodes into an argument when Ridcully's mangled logic infuriates Ponder but this is stopped when a huge lizard-like creature (incidentally the reason for the disappearance of the professor of Cruel and Unusual Geography) crashes through the trees and charges. Ponder's theories on evolution are put through the wringer when the ferocious beast suddenly changes into a harmless chicken in front of their eyes. Ridcully throws the fireball he has been creating anyway, roasting the creature in a second.

Rincewind finally spots civilisation for the first time, in the form of a dirt track. As he walks along it he notices a cart coming, so he flags it down. It turns out to be this bizarre armoured vehicle, driven by a psychotic dwarf named Mad. As there is no other transport available, Rincewind is forced to accept a lift. Initially semi-friendly, Mad goes to battle stations when a road gang appears on the track and begins to chase them. While Mad prepares his 'supercharger' for the horses, Rincewind is forced to hold them off with a crossbow. As the supercharger kicks in Rincewind's hat is jerked off, and is picked up by the leader of the road gang. He taunts him about it, but suddenly drops dead. This causes an immense pile-up that stops the road gang and convinces Mad of Rincewind's wizardly powers-but when Rincewind goes back to collect his hat he notices the deadly spider that actually killed the man.

As night falls on the island, Ponder storms off appalled at the Archchancellor's decision to eat the chicken. As he gazes at the starts, however, he sees the real problem.

Mad and Rincewind continue to the town of Dijabringabeeralong. Mad tells him that he, like everyone else, originally came from elsewhere on the Disc and that his ship got caught up in the storms around XXXX.

Ponder finally works up the nerve to tell Ridcully that he believes they have been transported back in time; the stars in the sky correspond with what the heavens looked like some thirty thousand years ago. To his immense surprise the wizards seem to take this on faith, although more misunderstandings ensue when the young wizard tries to explain the 'treading on an ant/shooting your own grandfather' theory.

Rincewind and Mad arrive in the tiny village of Dijabringabeeralong, run by a humanoid crocodile and populated by a number of humanoid animals. Rincewind tries to ignore this strange fact by getting as drunk as possible, which eventually gets him threatened before Mad rescues him.

 

Next morning, the Dean proudly reveals the fruits of his boat-building endeavours: a log with a stick attached to it. The Bursar, badly in need of his dried frog pills, wanders off into the jungle.only to find a strange throbbing stem on the ground. With a wizard's instinct for strolling into danger, he follows it.

Rincewind awakes to Scrappy kicking him. He is sick of the whole 'mysterious quest' situation that he has been dealt and resolves to go to Bugarup, XXXX's capital city mentioned earlier by Mad. Scrappy does not object to this, but seems to know something Rincewind doesn't.

The Bursar returns to the wizards and says that he has found a proper boat. The initially sceptical wizards nevertheless go to investigate, and find to their surprise a boat-albeit one made of vegetable matter. Ridcully has had enough of this mystery, and says so-at this point there is a shimmering in the air and a god appears. He reveals that he is a god of evolution, and that he is responsible for the strange goings on upon the island. Although he is friendly, Ridcully does not want to be trapped on an island with a mad god redesigning everything and so he decides that the wizards will use the boat. Ponder storms off, angry that a priceless opportunity for research is being lost.

Crocodile wakes Rincewind up (he fainted after picking up a scorpion) and tells him that while he was drunk he made and insane bet that he could beat their best sheep shearer. He has no choice but to follow the bet through.

The Luggage is completely lost. With time and space warped as it is, it has no means of tracking Rincewind. It lies forlornly by a track, and does not object when a cart comes along and picks it up.

Daggy, a gang boss, gets Rincewind ready for a sheep shearing contest. It is obvious that he is going to fail until a ram appears from nowhere, directs the sheep across the shears and then vanishes again. Rincewind does not know what has happened, but outside a picture of a ram burns itself into the wall. It was another incarnation of the Trickster. Having won the bet in spectacular fashion, Rincewind is hastily sent away by the terrified gang. He is given a strange little horse named Snowy to ride-whom Daggy has owned for years.but he didn't have half an hour ago.

Rincewind camps by a billabong, but moves on quickly after discovering a strange species of hunting bear. He comes to a stricken windmill, which was used to pump the water from out of the ground. There is a herd of sheep, mad with thirst, milling round. Rincewind has a pang of sympathy and digs down to get some water for them, before moving on. He comes to canyon country, where he meets a group of herders led by a man named Remorse, hunting a pack of racehorses that has escaped. Snowy shows a remarkable new talent by riding down the sheer face of a canyon and up the other side, also vertical. Remorse offers to by Snowy based on this; Rincewind is only to happy to let it go after the terror of what just happened. However, the little horse vanishes, and a picture of it burns itself into the canyon wall. Snowy was yet another incarnation of the Trickster, just like Scrappy and the ram. The herders set Rincewind on the road to Bugarup and let him go.

 

That night, Ponder climbs up the mountain in the middle of the island, fuming at the wizards. He finds a huge cave-the god of evolution's headquarters. There, the god is making animals himself, by actually constructing them. He has a particular fondness for beetles, which he is making millions of by hand. He has no knowledge of conventional reproduction. Suddenly the wizards arrive, having set off to look for Ponder and Mrs Whitlow. They try to explain the functions of sex to the god, but are too embarrassed to give a proper account. Suddenly, to the wizards' horror, Mrs Whitlow arrives. To everyone's immense surprise, she tells the god everything he wants to know. The wizards leave, but Ponder elects to remain behind to help the god-who has just completed his 'major work'. The god is happy to let the wizards go, and tells them of a new continent that is being built nearby.

Rincewind camps under a tree, and gets drunk on beer given to him by Remorse. He wakes just before dawn, and discovers another thirst-crazed sheep. He is digging down to find water when a sheep stealer tries to take the sheep, but is scared off by Rincewind. Hot on his heels are the watch, and Rincewind is arrested.

Ponder Stibbons is eagerly awaiting his first task, when the god shoes him his major work. Ponder reacts with horror-it is a cockroach. He flees.

The Melon Boat is just about to set sail, with the wizards fighting each other for the privilege of peeling grapes for Mrs Whitlow. Suddenly, Ridcully sees a tiny dot on the beach, which soon becomes Ponder Stibbons swimming towards them in record time. He joins them again, and they set sail.

 

Bugarup is actually a big city-not that Rincewind can see much of it as he is stuck in gaol. The rather friendly warden, who regales him with stories about an infamous sheep stealer called Tinhead Ned. He nevertheless has distressing news-Rincewind is to be hung in the morning. He is visited by a ballad-writer, who is composing his saga, and then by Death. He reassures Rincewind by saying that his death remains uncertain. Lying back, Rincewind sees a cryptic message from one Tinhead Ned, telling him to look at the hinges of the cell door. He sees that they are not actually fixed into the wall, and so he lifts the door out of its frame and escapes.

The Melon Boat nears a huge storm. The storm is actually a huge ring of hurricanes, at the centre of which lies the Last Continent, XXXX, which is still being built. As they make ready to hit the storm, they notice a huge surge of magic nearby, which begins to affect their behaviour.

Under cover of darkness, Rincewind escapes into the streets of Bugarup. He meets a man named Fair-Go Dibbler, XXXX's own brand of the Ankh-Morporkian street merchant. This is cut short when the Watch notice him, and so he flees towards the main streets where there is a gala (or "galah") in full swing. He arrives in the Bugarup Opera House kitchens, where he is roped into helping the chefs make a new dessert for an Opera singer, named Nellie Butt. This is a problem, as the tradition is to name the dessert after the singer.

The wizards begin to fight, their tempers affected by the huge magical field that is being used to create the new continent. Their magical power increased, they eventually destroy their boat and are left clinging to the seeds as the rest of the boat sinks. A school of sharks is frightened off by the Librarian, in the form of a dolphin. The wizards swim towards the shore of XXXX.

Rincewind solves the problem of the dessert with the Peach Nellie he concocts, but then the Watch storm in. They think in terms of ballads and sagas, however, and give Rincewind time to escape into the carnival (meeting Scrappy again on the way). He hides in a float owned by a number of female impersonators, one of whom is a genuine female (her brother is unable to come). The Watch see him again, so he escapes into an alley where he is cornered by the Watch. At that moment, however, the Luggage finally arrives and beats them off. Inside the Luggage is Neilette, the female female impersonator.

The wizards are washed up on the beach. Because of the high magic field it is dangerous to use magic and so Ponder Stibbons warns them against using it. Suddenly, the magic field begins to play havoc with their temporal glands and they regress back to babies (the wizards and the Librarian), a young lady (Mrs Whitlow), or age to a very old man (Ponder). This sorts itself out before long, except in the case of the Librarian who remains a baby. Meanwhile the Bursar has wandered off again, and meets the god of XXXX (somewhat younger than when he was watching Rincewind thirty thousand years in the future) and watches him make animals by drawing them on rock.

In an attempt to escape, Rincewind and Neilette hide in the Luggage and are carried to a brewery owned by Neilette's family. The ground tremors are becoming very bad now, and the old building is shaking itself apart. Rincewind sees the smoke curl into the shape of pointy hats; thirty thousand years ago the wizards were there meeting the god of XXXX.

Thirty thousand years before this, the wizards meet the god of XXXX and take over the drawings, making a very strange creature with a mammal's body and a duck's bill.

Neilette takes Rincewind to Bugarup University, XXXX's magical academy. Rincewind is transported inside by the wizards there, who were trying to summon a demon. They force Rincewind to try to explain what is happening, but they cannot imagine his descriptions of clouds.

The baby Librarian has found a little bullroarer toy, not knowing that it is a vital piece of the god's equipment without which the continent cannot be fully formed.

Rincewind tells the wizards about the pointy hats in the brewery, and they all head down there. They find a huge underground cave, in which there are some stalagmites in the shape of pointy hats. Rincewind suddenly has an idea of what he must do-he gets some paint and draws a picture of the wizards similar to the one he found in the waterhole. Past and present suddenly merge together and the UU faculty are returned to the present.

 

Rincewind sits with the Librarian atop BU's tower, where he finds the bullroarer. As the Librarian stole it and then carried it with him when he was moved forward in time, its influence is thirty thousand years overdue. Rincewind swings it and it flies outwards towards the seas. It hits the storms and they melt away, the clouds falling inwards towards XXXX.

After thirty thousand years, rain falls on XXXX.

Rincewind and the wizards prepare to leave in a boat, saying their goodbyes to Neilette and her gang. After months away, Rincewind is going home.

The god of XXXX walks through the new lakes of his country, pleased beyond belief. He takes a boomerang and creates the country's first rainbow, and the Last Continent is part of the Discworld now.


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