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Interesting Times is the seventeenth novel in the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett.

The title of this book was inspired by the phrase "may you live in interesting times."

Plot summary[]

The events of the novel are a "game" between the Discworld gods Fate and The Lady (Luck) with the Discworld as their game board.

This novel marks Rincewind's reappearance on the Discworld after the events of Eric. The Patrician of Ankh-Morpork is sent a letter from the Agatean Empire on the Counterweight Continent commanding him to "send us the Great Wizzard". The wizards of Unseen University, after some discussion, eventually realise the spelling of Wizzard can refer to only one man – Rincewind.

After using the Hex to assist in performing a spell to summon Rincewind, Archchancellor Ridcully convinces him to go to the Agatean Empire and speak to whoever sent the message. A second summoning spell is used, which exchanges the position of Rincewind with that of a live cannon.

As usual, The Luggage is not far behind Rincewind, following him across the continents to its homeland. However, once there it gets the impression that Rincewind has relinquished ownership, and therefore the two are separated for a large portion of the book as The Luggage explores the land.

Upon his arrival on the Counterweight Continent, Rincewind is reunited with a companion of his previous adventures, Cohen the Barbarian. Cohen has brought a group of aging heroes, The Silver Horde, with him, in order to usurp the Emperor and "steal" the country. Rincewind also learns that the Empire is in a state of turmoil thanks to a revolutionary document entitled "What I did on My Holidays". Later, Rincewind discovers that this book was written by none other than his travelling companion in the novels The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, Twoflower the tourist. The Empire's capital city of Hunghung is under "siege" from the Empire's five most powerful feudal lords – Hong, Tang, Fang, Sung, and McSweeney, and a revolutionary group called the Red Army is also independently plotting to overthrow the Emperor.

Rincewind travels to Hunghung where he meets Twoflower's daughters, who are members of the Red Army. He discovers that Agatean culture is not a good breeding ground for revolution and the Red Army doesn't do much more than putting up posters and shouting limp slogans. Rincewind is cajoled into helping the Red Army free revolutionary prisoners, but they are captured and thrown into the dungeons, where Twoflower is also being held.

The most powerful feudal lord, Lord Hong, has in fact been manipulating the other four families and fomenting the Red Army to further his own political gains. His plan is for the Red Army to assassinate the Emperor, so that he in turn can mount a counter-revolution, take control of the Empire and eventually conquer Ankh-Morpork. To this end, Rincewind and the others are mysteriously allowed to escape and led to the Emperor's bedroom, where they discover that the Emperor has already been murdered by Lord Hong's soldiers.

At the same time, Cohen and his Silver Horde infiltrate the city, and penetrate the Forbidden City, home of the Emperor. Rincewind eventually finds his way to the Throne Room, where Cohen has now installed himself as Emperor. However, the city remains under siege from five armies, and the Silver Horde are called out to meet their challenge.

Rincewind, trying to avoid the battle, finds his way up an ancient hill outside Hunghung. As the battle is about to commence, a massive thunderstorm appears, and Rincewind finds himself dropped into a mysterious cave, filled with terracotta statues, the original, legendary Red Army. After locating some magic armour that allows him to control the army, Rincewind leads them out into the middle of the battlefield and begins destroying the five attacking armies, mostly by accident. Cohen is returned to Hunghung victorious, and re-proclaims himself Emperor.

Lord Hong escapes the battlefield, and returns to Hunghung for a final showdown. Twoflower challenges him to a duel, blaming Lord Hong for the death of his wife. Just as Hong is about to kill Twoflower, the Unseen University wizards attempt to resummon Rincewind, returning the cannon that the wizards had re-lit so “no one could say we didn’t return it exactly as we found it” Hong is killed, along with one of the members of Cohen's horde; Ronald Saveloy the civilization instructor, who had given up civilization as a waste of time and thinks heroes get a better class of afterlife, (having worked as a teacher previously). The rest of the Silver Horde is unharmed, due to many years of practice at not dying.

Due to a slight error in calculation by Hex caused by Luck's interference, Rincewind is not returned to the University. The wizards determine that Rincewind has in fact been transported to "Fourecks", an unexplored continent. At the end, it appears that Rincewind is about to be pulled into another adventure despite his best efforts.

Popular References and Annotations[]

Page 7 - "'I accuse the High Priest of the Green Robe in the library with the double-handed axe.'" Fate and the other Gods are playing the Discworld variant of the board game Clue (known as Cluedo outside North America; see also the annotation for p. 201 of Witches Abroad ). Although a Reverend Green is one of the suspects in Clue, and the Library is one of the possible rooms, the game does not feature a double-handed axe. The Gods regularly play games, usually with the fate of some Discworld character in their hands. Often the poor victim is Rincewind.

Page 8 - "Let a game begin,' said the Lady." The 'Lady" is of course Lady Luck, who was first introduced in The Colour of Magic, and who has always had a soft spot for Rincewind, possibly because he never relies on her. Green is a colour often associated with luck. This stems from its association with Ireland and lucky shamrocks and St. Patrick, etc.

Page 8 - "The Hongs, the Sungs, the Tangs, the McSweeneys and the Fangs." The presence of the McSweeney name ("very old established family") in this list is used as a running gag throughout the book and is reminiscent of James Clavell's Hong Kong novels (Tai-Pan, Noble House and Gai-Jin), which chronicle the Asian business empire founded and headed by various generations of the Scottish Struan family. Most of these surnames are pinyin or transliterations of Chinese or Korean surnames but also have English equivalents, 'sung' past tense of 'sing', 'tang' a fish and crystalized dring, 'fang' a canine tooth, and 'hong' is a foreign trading house in China (hence Hong Kong). Pratchett does not choose names at random so it is logical that he is playing with the names.

Page 10 - "[...] the mandelbrot patterns on the wings are of considerable interest." The mandelbrot set was first defined and drawn by Robert W. Brooks and Peter Matelski in 1978, as part of a study of Kleinian groups. Afterwards, in 1980, Benoit Mandelbrot (after whom it was named) obtained high-quality visualizations of the set while working at IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York and plotted it in 1980. Images of the Mandelbrot set exhibit an elaborate and infinitely complicated boundary that reveals progressively ever-finer recursive detail at increasing magnifications; mathematically, one would say that the boundary of the Mandelbrot set is a fractal curve Benoit Mandelbrot is the discoverer of the Mandelbrot Set, a famous 'fractal', first plotted in 1980. In simple terms it is a kind of mathematical painting with many swirling colours interspersed by strange, heart-shaped clusters of black, popularized on computer screens or screensavers or wall posters.

Page 14 - The Agatean Empire. The Agatean Empire resonates with China; agate is a semi-precious gemstone, originally used in the Orient to make dinnerware. But there is also a connection with the Chinese Jade Emperor, also known as Yu Huang, who was viewed by Taoists as the ultimate ruler of heaven , earth, and the land of the dead.

Page 29 - "'Curiouser and curiouser,' said the Senior Wrangler." This is a quote by Alice from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Pratchett refers to Lewis Carroll in many of his novels.

Page 35 - "'To answer such questions Hex had been built, [...]'" Hex is a Discworld computer but, in addition to being short for 'hexadecimal', a common number base used by programmers , hex is also a spell or a curse. The two word meanings create the perfect name for a computer designed to analyse magic.

Page 35 - "[...] he was pretty sure no one had designed the Phase of the Moon Generator." The phase of the moon, besides being undoubtedly very handy when it comes to magical calculations, is used in Roundworld's computer jargon to humorously indicate a random parameter on which something is supposed to depend.

Page 36 - "[...] the ants rode up and down on a little paternoster [...]" A paternoster or paternoster lift is a passenger elevator which consists of a chain of open compartments (each usually designed for two people) that move slowly in a loop up and down inside a building without stopping. Passengers can step on or off at any floor they like. The name paternoster ("Our Father", the first two words of the Lord's Prayer in Latin) was originally applied to the device because the elevator is in the form of a loop and is thus similar to rosary beads used as an aid in reciting prayers.

Page 36 - "[...] the aquarium had been lowered on its davits so that the operator would have something to watch during the long hours... [...]" This is aA reference to the screensaver programs often found running on personal computers to prevent phosphor burn-in of the monitor. One popular screensaver module turns the screen into an aquarium of animated, swimming fish.

Page 37 - "+++++ Redo From Start +++++" A typically obtuse error message of the type that is thankfully going out of fashion. 'Redo from start' is a bona fide error message for the BASIC programming language, caused by incorrect responses to an INPUT command.

Page 38 - "The Unreal Time Clock ticked sideways." All computers have a real time clock, but since an unreal time clock measures imaginary time it ticks sideways since the imaginary numbers are at 90 degrees to the real numbers on the Complex Plane.

Page 38 - "'Out of Cheese Error'" In computing, you regularly encounter "out of memory" or "out of paper" errors. Presumably Hex needs the cheese for its mouse.

Page 39 - "[...] the Bursar, still happily living in the valley of the dried frogs." This is a reference to the 1966 novel by Jacqueline Susann and the subsequent 1976 movie "Valley of the Dolls". 'The dolls' in the movie title refer to the pills to which the starlets were addicted. In Discworld, the frogs are the pills, Pratchett probably choosing this because there is a "popular" fad of licking poisonous frogs and toads as a way of getting high on the bufotenin chemical and other naturally occurring drugs that are found on the toad's skin in Roundworld. Not recommended and potentially fatal.

Page 41 - "'Wardrobe? Er... Er... Isn't this the Magic Kingdom of Scrumptiousness?' [...]" This is a reference to the Kingdom of Narnia, from C. S. Lewis' series of books. Pratchett has used concepts from the Narnia series throughout his novels See the annotation for p. 22 of Sourcery for one reference .

Page 43 - "'We must storm the Winter Palace! [...] Then we can storm the Summer Palace!'" The Russian Revolutionary army stormed the Winter Palace in St Petersburg, but less well known is that the Summer Palace of the Chinese royal family was indeed pillaged and destroyed by the British and the French during the Taiping Rebellion of 1860. Pratchett acknowledged that he "had 'storming the winter palace' in mind because, yes, the events of the Russian revolution are more familiar to us -- and then I came across the storming of the summer palace while reading up on Chinese torture. It took me some effort not to find some joke about the Taiping Rebellion, I have to say... and as for the Boxer Rising..." Storming of palaces is a popular move in social uprisings - the symbol of the establishment's power. However in a bit of a reversal, in Tibet, the people surrounded the Norbulinka, the Summer Palace of the Dalai Lama to prevent the Chinese rulers from capturing him during the uprising which began on March 10, 1959.

Page 45 - "'Your Wife is a big hippo'" In Interesting Times, much is made of similar sounding words having totally different meanings. In Roundworld many languages, including Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Lao, Hmong, Punjabi, Sylheti, Chittagonian, Yorùbá, Igbo, Luganda, Ewe, and Cherokee are tonal languages in which words can differ in tones (like pitches in music) in addition to consonants and vowels. In Mandarin, the most famous example "mā má mǎ mà (妈麻马骂)" has four different words each pronounced in exactly the same way but with four different tones. If numbers identify the tones, they can be written ma1 ma2 ma3 ma4, which means "mom hemp horse scold."

  • "Mother" is "ma" that is high and level.
  • "Hemp" is "ma" that starts low and ends high.
  • "Horse" is "ma" that starts fairly high, dips very low, and then goes back up again.
  • "Scold" is "ma" that starts high and ends low.
  • To make a question, "ma" is added at the end, but it is kept very soft and short and about the same level.

Mandarin has "first tone," "second tone," "third tone," "fourth tone," and "neutral tone." Other Chinese dialects have more tones, some as many as twelve. There is a passage called Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den (施氏食狮史). It has 92 characters; all read the same way in Mandarin ("shi") but with different tones. Stories told about people learning language and saying something completely inappropriate by mistake abound in Roundworld.

Page 48 - "'Be afraid. Be very afraid.'" This is a well-known line from the 1986 remake of The Fly, starring Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, also used as a tagline to promote the movie.

Page 48 - "... possibly the finest lager in the world." In Roundworld the advertising slogan for Carlsberg is: "Probably the best lager in the world".

Page 63 - "The Art of War was the ultimate basis of diplomacy in the Empire. [...] No one remembered the author. Some said it was One Tzu Sung, some claimed it was Three Sun Sung." In Roundworld, Sun Tzu's The Art of War is the oldest known military treatise (around 400 BC). "Know the enemy, and know yourself" is a straight quote from the chapter on Offensive Strategy.

Page 70 - "'The Silver Horde,' said Cohen, with a touch of pride." This is a reference to the 'Golden Horde', one of the successor states to the Mongol Empire, based in the steppes of Southern Russia and the Ukraine, and ruled by descendants of Genghiz Khan.

Page 72 - "'And I was very interested in Auriental studies.'" This pun is a play on "Oriental Studies", ie the study of eastern cultures, and 'Aurum' which is Latin for 'gold' and signified by the symbol 'Au' in the Periodic Table of Elements.

Page 85 - "[...] a complicated pile of ivory tiles, playing Shibo Yangcong-san." In Roundworld the Chinese game of Mahjongg is played with ivory tiles, and its rules have many similarities to certain types of western card games. It shouldn't come as a big surprise, therefore, that 'Shibo Yangcong-san' is actually Japanese for 'Cripple Mr Onion'.

Page 88 - "'Where's the pork?'" This is a reference to the early 80s American TV commercial for the Wendy's chain of restaurants, featuring an irate old lady looking at her hamburger and ranting "Where's the beef?!". This became a national catchphrase for a while, and then permanently entered the language when it was used in the 1984 Presidential campaign by Vice President Walter Mondale and directed towards Senator Gary Hart as an implication that the latter's promises had no substance. Pratchett was correct when he said "See? This is probably a genuine joke that Americans will get and most Europeans won't. Hah! and they said it couldn't be done!"

Page 96 - "'Excuse me, what is your name?' Rincewind said. 'Pretty Butterfly.'" Apart from her ability to cause as many problems for Rincewind as the Quantum Weather Butterfly, Pretty Butterfly's name also resonates with that of the operatic Madame Butterfly by Puccini.

Page 113 - "Bruce the Hoon" Hoon is New Zealand/Australian slang for a lout or hooligan. 'Hooning around' describes the act of driving around wildly in one's car, spinning the wheels and so forth.

Page 125 - "There was a corral, for the Luggages." It is obvious that Luggages are fairly common in the Agatean Empire, yet in The Light Fantastic Twoflower explains that he got his Luggage from one of those mysterious magic shops. To explain this perceived inconsistency, Pratchett said, "That was a long time ago... think of how it's all progressed. They've got real clocks in Ankh-Morpork now, people wear spectacles... you might as well say home computers were rare and special things in 1980 so how come there were so many of them in 1990? What makes the Luggage special is its peculiarly endearing character..."

Page 138 - "Then he tugged the sword free and inspected the steaming blade. 'Hmm,' he said. 'Interesting...'" Lord Hong finds the blade interesting because he has just discovered a way to quench red-hot sword blades without oxidising them. Supposedly traditional Japanese sword makers did actually use condemned prisoners to test the quality of their swordmaking, but not as part of the actual forging process. Apparently, sword quality was sometimes measured in terms of the number of bodies the sword could cut through with a single blow.

Page 177 - "History told of a runner who'd run forty miles after a battle to report its successful outcome to those at home." This is an obvious reference to the original marathon in which, after a successful naval battle at the town of Marathon in Greece, a man reportedly ran all the way to Athens, 42 kilometres away, to inform his leader of the victory. He is also reported to have died on the spot from the strain after announcing their win.

Page 184 - "'Why're their feet so small?' said Cohen." Foot binding was a very common practice in China among women of the upper classes. As young girls, their feet would be wrapped in painfully tight bandages. When the girls grew, their feet did not. By adulthood the feet were barely half their proper length, which was considered attractive. The procedure is no longer practiced anywhere.

Page 189 - "'So there was only blue left. Well, he'd show them...' [...] He had to simplify it a bit, of course." Three Solid Frogs is inventing the Willow Pattern Plate, the well-known blue oriental picture of a maiden standing on a bridge.

Page 233 - "'How lucky do you feel, my lords?'" This is based on a quote by Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry. Pratchett has used variations on this quote in many of his novels. See the annotation for page 124 of Guards! Guards! .

Page 238 - "A seven foot warrior smiled at him." In 1974, thousands of terracotta warriors (no two faces alike!) were discovered around the tomb of Qin Shi Huangdi at Mount Li, in the Shaanxi Province. Huangdi was the first emperor of a unified China (221-207 BC), famed for being harsh, autocratic, and intolerant of criticism.

Paage 243 - "'Orrrrr! Itiyorshu! Yutimishu!'" Pratchett commented on this: "During WWII Hollywood obviously made a lot of gung-ho war movies. But... who could play the Japanese? The Japanese in the US were banged up in holiday camps in Death Valley or someplace. So the producers roped in anyone who 'looked Japanese' -- mainly Koreans, the story runs. The actors didn't really have lines since their job was, basically, to be shot by John Wayne. In order to give them something 'Japanese sounding' to say, some genius suggested they shout, very fast, "I tie your shoe, you tie my shoe"... I've never dared check by watching the actual movies..." Whether this story is true or a legend is unknown.

Page 246 - "It was a grainy picture, and it was in shades of green rather than proper colours, [...]" Rincewind is wearing the Discworld equivalent of a military night vision device such as night vision binoculars or 'Sniperscope'.

Page 246 - "[...] a row of little pictures lit up on the wide cuff. They showed soldiers. Soldiers digging, soldiers fighting, soldiers climbing..." The icons for controlling the Red Clay Army are immediately familiar to anyone who has ever played the computer game Lemmings, in which you have to use similar controls to guide a group of brainlessly wandering lemmings across intricate and dangerous underground labyrinths. When this was first remarked upon by readers Pratchett wrote: "What? Lemmings? Merely because the red army can fight, dig, march and climb and is controlled by little icons? Can't imagine how anyone thought that... Not only did I wipe Lemmings from my hard disc, I overwrote it so's I couldn't get it back."

Page 264 - "'Friendly stab', as it is formally known." The Discworld version of Roundworld's military euphemistic language, in which "friendly fire" stands for weaponry accidentally or deliberately fired at own troops, "permanent pre-hostility" means 'peace', and "collateral damage" refers to civilians killed. Pratchett uses terms like this in Jingo as well.

Page 281 - "[...] a calendar for the year surmounted by a rather angular picture of a beagle, standing on its hind legs." One of the classic computer programs that circulated in the seventies used ASCII characters to 'draw' a picture of Snoopy from Peanuts, followed by the year's calendar.

Page 282 - "The old blokes say that sort of thing used to happen all the time, back in the Dream." Clearly, Rincewind has landed in Fourex XXXX as this is a reference to aboriginal Dreamtime in Roundworld's Australia. The reference to kangaroo is another clue. See the annotation for page 132 of Reaper Man


  • Интересни времена (Bulgarian)
  • Zajímavé časy (Czech)
  • Interessante Tijden (Dutch)
  • Huvitav aeg (Estonian)
  • Kiintoisia aikoja (Finnish)
  • Les Tribulations d'un mage en Aurient (French)
  • Echt Zauberhaft (Truly magical - German)
  • Érdekes idők (Hungarian)
  • Ciekawe czasy (Polish)
  • Интересные времена (Russian)
  • Zanimljiva vremena (Serbian)
  • Tiempos Interesantes (Spanish)
  • Spännande tider (Swedish)

External links[]

! colspan="3" | Reading order guide