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The 27th Discworld story, the text is roughly the length of a short novel, but each page features lavish illustrations by Paul Kidby, providing much amusing side info (such as a breakdown of different breeds of swamp dragon) and very epic images that capture almost every detail of the characters ever mentioned.
We start with Cohen the Barbarian and most of the Silver Horde (minus Old Vincent, who choked to death on a cucumber), last seen in Interesting Times, setting out on a quest. You see, Fingers-Mazda, the first hero, stole fire from the gods and the Horde feel that is only fair, as the last of the true barbarian heroes, to return the stolen fire.
However, there is a problem. An explosion as big as they are planning to make on the top of Cori Celesti will collapse the Disc's magic field for several years. Of course, the Disc runs on magic, and without it the seas would dry up, the sun would crash and burn, and the turtle and the elephants would probably just stop existing altogether.
So, Cohen's former subjects in the Agatean Empire tell Lord Vetinari to sort it out (as he and the city both have a reputation for getting things done). The solution is devised by the Wizards (after the usual heated debate) and Leonard of Quirm. They build the Kite, Discworld's second known spacecraft, powered by Swamp Dragons, to slingshot under the Disc and to try and beat the Horde to Cori Celesti. The craft is intended for three: Captain Carrot (by the logic that a policeman can find a reason to arrest anyone), Leonard (because the ship will need working on even after take off) and Rincewind (because he's met Cohen before and survived, and because he knows he will end up going anyway). Can they reach Cori Celesti in time to stop Cohen and his horde from their misguided crusade?
The Last Hero provides examples of:
- Absurdly Sharp Blade: Cohen uses his ancient notched sword to roll a natural seven on a six-sided die by slicing it in half while it's in the air.
- Achievements in Ignorance: Leonard asks for journeyman craftsmen, rather than masters, to design his spaceship, because he has no use for "people who have learned the limits of the possible" - specifically the false limits of what people expect to be possible.
- Affably Evil: Evil Harry Dread stays on good terms with the Silver Horde - he just happens to technically be on the other side.
- Appeal to Obscurity: "What about all the heroes who aren't remembered in song and saga, eh? You tell me about them."
- Badass Creed/Gallows Humor/Pretentious Latin Motto: Played with. The heroes about to journey to Dunmanifestin have patches made with a Latin motto: "Morituri Nolumus Mori." Rincewind thought them up. With something between amusement and disdain, Vetinari requests he translate the motto, which proves to be "We who are about to die, don't want to." Vetinari lets it stand, because it's the perfect motto for a mission to save the world.
- Butt Monkey: Rincewind's perennial status as this is lampshaded when he un-volunteers for the mission, in essence volunteering to prevent the universe from contriving his participation anyhow. He should be proud -- his brand of totally relevant logic managed to confuse the Patrician, probably the only time this has happened in 27 books.
- Call Back
- One of the birds Leonard is feeding is a parrot with the word 'DoG' written on it. In The Truth, William de Worde offered a reward for Lord Vetinari's then-missing dog, Wuffles...
"-- no, that's not it. No, sir, I know that's not it. Because it's a parrot, that's why. You've taught it to bark and you've painted "DoG" on the side of it but it's still a parrot --"
- The two-page picture of the gods gathered around the playing-board Disc includes a penguin on the shoulder of Patina (a joke from Small Gods), and a scarab beetle perched on the hovering mini-sun (in reference to Scrab, a Djelibeybian deity seen in Pyramids). Scrab is also referenced in one of Leonard's notes, in which he hypothesises that the Disc's minor planets are balls of dung from the elephants, rolled into spheres by giant spacegoing dung beetles that inspired the Scrab legend.
- Canis Latinicus: Rincewind's chosen motto for the mission, "Morituri Nolumus Mori". Only the Patrician knows the language enough to realise the translation is "We who are about to die don't want to". This is of course a joke on the motto Roman gladiators would call out to the Emperor before fighting, "Morituri Te Salutant" ("We who are about to die salute you").
- Card-Carrying Villain: Affectionate Deconstruction with Dark Lord Harry Dread. He comes off as a Worthy Opponent and a Noble Demon due to his Contractual Genre Blindness honor code.
- Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: For Dark Lord Harry Dread, the Horde would expect nothing less. It's part of the Code.
- Conservation of Ninjutsu: The Silver Horde are a bunch of old seasoned warriors that are willing to and capable of blowing up Dunmanifestin, and they could easily kill anyone who stands in their way - unless they're facing a single truly brave hero like Carrot Ironfoundersson. Which makes them the villains. They realise this when it happens.
- Continuity Nod: Rincewind mentions falling off the Disc before, a reference to the end of The Colour of Magic, and then mentions that he couldn't see anything as his life was flashing before his eyes, a nod to the beginning of The Light Fantastic. Carrot also remarks that the moon's native dragons resemble Errol, the
total whittlethrowback swamp dragon from Guards Guards.
- Contractual Genre Blindness: Lord Harry Dread always hires stupid (and inattentive) minions, builds escapable dungeons and leaves caches of food, medicine and weapons for heroes to find, because that's how things are done, and in return he profits from his ventures (until the third act), always escapes to try again, and both their reputations are enhanced.
- Cool Starship: The Kite. Untested and still under construction when they left Ankh-Morpork, Leonard still built in many advances features, including Prince Haram's Tiller (an autopilot). Note that Vetinari, being the product of an arts-based education, understands the reference to the Klatchian folk tale but Stibbons -- a scientist -- doesn't.
- "Haram" is a Islamic term meaning "forbidden".
- Conservation of Ninjutsu: When the Silver Hoard is originally confronted with Carrot they laugh at his idiocy...until they realise that as a single, brave fighter against seven, he's the hero, and will therefore win.
- Cosmic Chess Game: "The gods play games with the fates of men. Not complex ones, obviously, because gods lack patience."
- Cutting the Knot: How Cohen beats Fate at dice. The original story is also mentioned, and was how Cohen gut his inspiration.
- Cohen himslef even lampshades this, calling it a "knotty problem" and reminding the Bard (who had told Cohen the tale of the Tsortean Knot earlier) to remember that he said that.
- Dem Bones: There is a "very old zombie" that appears to have lost all his soft tissue over the years. His name is "Gak". Or least they think it is. He doesn't have a tongue, so it's all he ever says.
- The Drag Along: Not Rincewind, for once, who knew he would be The Drag Along and decided to cut to the chase. Instead, it's the Bard, who was kidnapped by the Silver Horde so that he can write their saga.
- Dying Moment of Awesome: "Aren't we supposed to shout somethiiiiiiinnnnngggggg..."
- End of an Age: As the title suggests, the world has no place for barbarian heroes or evil overlords any more. Cohen and the Horde decide to Go Out With a Bang and take the Gods with them instead of sliding into senescence, and Harry Dread and Vena The Raven-Haired join them for the same reason. Still, Cohen is taken aback to learn all his other peers have settled down to quiet lives, or more often died of old age and mundane causes, like choking on their stew. The Time of Heroes is over.
- The End of the World as We Know It: What would happen if the Silver Horde succeeded. The book includes a 'what-if' illustration showing the Discworld turned red and dead, with the elephants and the turtle reduced to skeletons.
- Every Man Has His Price: The bard is offered a substantial bag of rubies for joining the Horde and writing song about their final adventure. He's well aware that rubies it's madness to join these rubies lunatics as they try to rubies get themselves killed, but harder to ignore the rubies rubies rubies.
- Expy: Vena the Raven-Haired is Xena: Warrior Princess or Red Sonja grown elderly.
- Famed in Story: Those who follow The Code. And the reason why they drag a bard along.
- Fang Thpeak: Offler the crocodile god
- Fantastic Nuke: The keg of Agatean Thunder Clay.
- Fun T-Shirt: One illustration shows Ponder wearing a long-sleeved tee with "Actually, I Am A Rocket Wizard" across the front rather than the gray robes he wears in every single other picture of him.
- Genre Savvy: Both Rincewind realizing that if he does not volunteer Fate (or, rather, not Fate but The Lady) will ensure he ends up going anyway and The Code that shapes how Dark Lords and Barbarian Heroes interact.
- Also the Silver Horde realizing that they don't stand a chance against Carrot.
- God Test: Done literally when the Silver Horde try to sneak into Dunmanifestin by claiming to be "new gods". The existing gods decide to have some fun by demanding Cohen prove his bonafides by rolling a seven on a six-sided die. He does.
- Hero Antagonist: A major plot point.
- He's Just Hiding: Evil Harry Dread so wants to believe that The Horde is still alive, somehow. The Bard and Vena know better, but keep quiet about it.
- I Can See My House From Here: Cohen: I can see everyone's house from here!
- Insane Troll Logic: Like much Disc physics, how gravity works on the moon: it only has enough gravity to hold down light things, like air molecules, not heavy things, like people. So it has an atmosphere but the adventurers are in constant danger of flying off into space.
- I Was Quite a Looker: Vena the Raven-Haired, now a great-grandmother and no longer exactly raven-haired, as such.
- In Harm's Way: If you settle down, you're no longer a hero.
- Jerkass Gods: Toyed with. The gods are, as has been established long before this story, as a whole selfish, short-sighted and literally play games with people's lives. On the other hand, Nuggan is regarded by even his fellow gods as being an unpleasant, odious little oik for banning his followers from eating chocolate, garlic and mushrooms. It's mentioned that some gods toy with averting this in order to get more worshippers -- specifically, forbidding the eating of certain unpleasant foods like broccoli or brussels sprouts. Sweevo, God of Cut Timber, is noted as banning the practice of panupunitoplasty. He has no idea what it is, or even if it's real, but is amused by how it makes his worshippers panic. Nuggan's got this fussy little moustache too. A footnote makes mention that outside of Borogravia he's a minor deity in charge of paperclips, correct things in the right place in small stationery sets, and unnecessary paperwork - on the whole a god who garners approval the way Cohen saves money.
- Jet Pack: Leonard builds a contraption that straps a dragon, upside down, to Rincewind's back, with mirrors that can be put in front of the dragon to make it flame. Why? Because he's Leonard of Quirm, dammit.
- The Knights Who Say Squee: At the end the horde hunts down Mazda, the Discworld Prometheus, just so they can shake him by the hand. Then they break his chains and leave him a sword to deal with that damn bird...
- Afterwards, Mazda isn't sure what happened, who they were, why there were congratulating him, or even if it was quite real. What he is sure of is that he has a sword, he's not wearing chains, and he's going to enjoy the hell out of this.
- Let's Split Up, Gang!: Parodied, though not in the main story. When the crew of The Kite realise someone else (the Librarian) is on board, they briefly consider the idea that the ship's under attack by some monster that lives under the Disc. One of Leonard's sketches shows his idea of such a creature, with a note that if something like it actually does appear it's essential that the crew split up to search for it.
- Lizard Folk: Evil Harry has "the last two stupid lizard men" working for him. They're both called Slime.
- The Magic Goes Away: What will happen if the Silver Horde succeeds. Lord Downey of the Assassins' Guild thinks they can get on without magic for a few years (and indeed would rather enjoy the wizards being taken down a peg or two), but Ponder Stibbons rapidly disabuses him of this notion:
Ponder: The seas will boil. The sun will burn out and crash. The elephants and the turtle may cease to exist altogether.
Downey: And that'll all happen in two years, will it?
Ponder: No, sir. That'll all happen in the first ten minutes. You see, magic isn't just lights and fireballs. Magic holds the world together.
- Mugging the Monster: What Vena the Raven-Haired does to a couple of bandits with her knitting needles shall be left as an exercise for the reader.
- Mundane Wish: When the gods of the Disc are granting requests to the heroes, Rincewind asks for a blue balloon (to replace one he had lost when he was six). He also speaks on behalf of the Librarian and asks for three thousand file cards, a new stamp, five gallons of ink, and a red balloon.
- Never Mess with Granny: Vena the Raven-Haired, a barbarian heroine (now a great-grandmother) who joins the Silver Horde. Much like them, she's quite an elderly heroine, and if anyone gets that old as a barbarian hero(ine), it means they're really, really good.
- Noble Demon: Evil Harry Dread isn't even pretending he isn't one.
- No Name Given: The Bard is never named. "No one remembers the singer, but the song remains." Ironically, he seems to be inspired by Orpheus "famous of name."
- No One Could Survive That: And so they presumably didn't. And do they care? Nope.
- Obvious Judas: Evil Harry Dread even warns them that he is, it's in the code. To which Cohen replies that he would have expected nothing else, since he also knows "The Code".
- Our Dragons Are Different: Swamp dragons are rather different to mythological dragons (which appeared earlier in Guards Guards).
- Our Nudity Is Different: Apparently there's a religion in Ankh-Morpork which prohibits women from showing their ears, lest they inflame the passions of men.
- Pals with Jesus
- Planet of Steves: All lizard men are apparently named Slime. The entire species is too stupid to remember more than one name.
- Pretentious Latin Motto: Morituri Nolumus Mori. It means "we who are about to die don't want to."
- Rage Against the Heavens: What motivates Cohen and his Horde. Averted by Carrot, who's obviously appalled by the deities' attitudes but restricts himself to a Stealth Insult.
- Resigned to the Call: Rincewind.
- Schmuck Bait: Schmuck baiting is considered a spectator sport among the gods.
- Secret Legacy: After it slowly dawns on the Silver Hoard that Carrot might be more than he appears to be, one recalls the story of Ahnk-Morpork's true King working as a watch-man because he prefers it. Carrot, being Carrot, responds thusly.
Carrot: Never heard of him, sir.
- Seen It All: Rincewind just knows he'll end up being drafted into the mission, and if he runs away and hides it'll be in a crate that gets loaded onto the ship, or something, so he just volunteers (or "not volunteers") at the start.
- Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Rincewind barges into the meeting to declare that he's definitely not volunteering for the mission and wants it known that he never wanted to go, even though someone's bound to put him up to it. No-one had considered him until then, and when then subsequently do so, he seems more satisfied that the universe is still working as normal than annoyed about it.
- Shark Pool: Evil Harry got cheated. His pool of dolphins just didn't cut it, even with the fins.
- Another ship took a trip over the edge of the Disc. There was one survivor. His last words: "My God, it's full of elephants!".
- Ponder Stibbons bares a striking resemblense to the apprentice seen in the U.U. garden from the first game of discworld. It could be him anyway.
- "Ankh-Morpork, we have an orangutan..."
- After landing on the moon: "Small steps, I said. Not giant leaps."
- Emperor Carelinus is the Disc's version of Alexander the Great, complete with his cutting the Tsortean Knot.
- The Nothingfjord Blue. Lovely plumage... er, wonderful scales, but a tendency to pine for the fjords... I mean, towards homesickness.
- One illustration of Rincewind screaming in abject terror with his hands on his face is a Shout-Out to Edvard Munch's "The Scream".
- Just as the Kite launches, Leonard tells Rincewind to think of it as "a magic carpet ride". Steppenwolf's "Magic Carpet Ride" is played by Zefram Cochrane during Earth's first starship launch in Star Trek - First Contact, and is also one of the songs played regularly as an in-flight wake-up call for NASA astronauts.
- Some Aliens references too, when Carrot searches the hold and finds a banana skin.
- Harry Dread has a pool of dolphins, you say? Are they ill-tempered?
- You would have to be insane to take part in the mission. Of course, if you're not insane, the Patrician has a duty to send only the keenest minds on such a vital errand. It's the best catch there is.
- Cohen's cutting the dice in half so it comes down as 6+1=7 is a reference to a Viking king who did this to win a bet. The legend implies the dice split on its own, but in The Science of Discworld Terry Pratchett wondered if he was holding a large axe at the time.
- "Second star to the right and straight on till morning." "That's the worst navigation advice I've ever heard."
- A sketch of Rincewind, stripped down to a loincloth, strapped spreadeagle into a three-axis rotation device, and clearly about to hurl, mirrors Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man (except for the hurling part).
- The Silver Horde discusses finding maps, keys and first aid kits just sort of lying around in the dungeons, and never speculating who'd put them there or why up until that moment. Inexplicably helpful item placement will sound very familiar to anybody who's ever played an old first-person shooter. (Sir Pterry is, of course, an avowed fan of Doom.)
- Sistine Steal: A sketch parodying Michaelangelo's "The Creation of Adam", with Cohen (as Adam) flipping off Blind Io (as God).
- Space Suits Are Scuba Gear: Literally here, as Leonard's notes indicate that the space suits are repurposed deep diving suits.
- Stealth Pun: Read the description of the Nothingfjord Blue.
- Story-Boarding the Apocalypse: Ponder's description of what will happen to the Disc if magic goes away. On the next page, a full-page spread of the burnt-out Disc and skeletal Great A'tuin and elephants.
- The Storyteller: The Bard.
- Surrounded by Idiots
- Evil Harry does his on purpose. Because it's a rule. He has a skeleton, two lizard men who are both named Slime because they can't remember more than one name, a troll at room temperature who's stupid even for a troll at room temperature, a jailer guaranteed to wear the keys easily visible on his belt, and a dwarf - which the others congratulate him for. It's actually really hard to find a dwarf sufficiently stupid to qualify for a band of evil minions. (His name's "You're Armpit.")
- There's also the (unnamed) smith of the gods, the Discworld equivalent of Haephestus/Vulcan, who repairs Leonard's ship for him because he's the only one of them who has any kind of mechanical common sense (and, as the text notes, there always has to be one person who knows how these things work for an organisation to survive).
- Swallowed Whole: Happened to one of the Silver Horde during the (off-camera) fight with the giant fish. A good thing, since they were running out of walrus meat.
- Take Our Word for It: The description of the Bard's ballad.
- Theory of Narrative Causality: Invoked by all sides.
- Too Much Information: Rincewind hopes that if he just keeps nodding, Ponder will stop with the Info Dump.
- Took a Level In Badass: The Bard. First a Butt Monkey, is dragged along by Cohen and threatened with death. He ends the story by threatening Harry with death, throwing his payment (a fortune in rubies) into the snow, picking up a lyre he handcrafted from a sharpened stick, string, and a skull, and singing, apparently, the greatest song ever. The final illustration shows him wearing leather furs and a sword on his hip, to contrast the bright red and yellow he was wearing at the start. Even the lighting around him seems to have gotten more Heavy Metal.
- Undead Author: When the Horde begin to compare maps to Dunmanifestin, a place no one's ever returned from, the Bard asks where the maps come from. While this apparently happens to them all the time, they suddenly realize exactly what it implies (the gods play D&D with the lives of men in this setting).
- Valkyries: They show up to collect the Silver Horde and promptly get horsejacked.
- Villain Exit Stage Left: Parodied. Code heroes like the Horde let them go, but others just block the escape route before attacking (which is why Harry is the last Evil Overlord). Bastards.
- The World Is Just Awesome: Numerous times in the illustrations, but particularly one where Rincewind and the others stand on the moon as it rises and look into the continent-sized face of one of the elephants holding up the Disc.
- Worthy Opponent: Evil Harry Dread is very much one.
- Wandering Minstrel: The Bard, natch.
- With Due Respect:
"With respect," said Ponder, without respect.