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Thief of Time is the 26th Discworld novel written by Terry Pratchett. The title comes from the traditional saying "Procrastination is the thief of time." However, in a more recent Corgi edition, the title reads "The Thief Of Time" instead of "Thief Of Time"

Publisher's summary[]

Time is a resource. Everyone knows ithas to be managed. And on Discworld that is the job of the Monks of History, who store it and pump it from the places where it's wasted (like underwater - how much time does a codfish need?) to places like, cities, where there's never enough time. But the construction of the world's first truly accurate clock starts a race against, well, time for Lu Tze and his apprentice Lobsang Ludd. Because it will stop time. And that will only be the start of everyone's problems. Thief of Time comes compltete with a full supporting cast of heroes and villains, yetis, martial artists and Ronnie, the fifth Horesman of the Apocalypse (who left before they became famous).

Plot summary[]

The Auditors convince a young clock maker, Jeremy Clockson, in Ankh-Morpork to build a perfect glass clock. They do not reveal that this will imprison Time (the anthropomorphic personification) and thereby freeze time (the physical quantity) on the Discworld. By freezing time, the Auditors intend to eliminate the unpredictability that humans cause through their everyday actions. Death discovers their plans, but is unable to act directly because of the Rules of the universe. Death sends his granddaughter Susan to stop them.

Meanwhile, in a distant valley, a young apprentice of the History Monks, Lobsang Ludd, and his old teacher, Lu-Tze, called 'The Sweeper', hear that a glass clock is being built. Lu-Tze knows of such a clock's side-effects, since he was sent, but failed, to prevent a previous clock from being built. He and Lobsang head for Ankh-Morpork to stop Jeremy from building it.

The Auditors were using one of their own as an agent when contacting Jeremy. Myria LeJean took a human form and became quite disturbed by "her" experiences as "she" became more human and individual, as opposed to the collective Auditors. As she begins to understand more about humans, she opposes the activation of the clock and she eventually joins with Lobsang and Susan to defeat the other Auditors who have also made themselves human. After the resolution, she ends her own life by diving into a vat of high quality chocolate.

Ideas and Themes[]

One of the themes in the novel is the modern Kafkaesque trend in government and society to put process ahead or at the exclusion of production. The monks led by Rinpo focus on ensuring that all the 'i's are dotted and 't's crossed rather than actually doing something to address the problem when time starts to unravel. They look with contempt on Lu Tse as just a sweeper and try to get him assigned to "projects" that keep him out of the way.

A second theme is the emphasis in modern education to be all things to all people at the exclusion of actually learning anything. Susan Sto Helit is teaching her children algebra and advanced reading when they "clearly" don't have the capacity to do it according to the educational experts of the day.

A third theme is the idea that research at any cost is valid, in this case, even if it means the end of the world. In Roundworld we often hear people say, "Well if I don't build it, someone else will anyway!"

A fourth theme is the question of what it is to be human. Unity, Susan and Lobsang/Jeremy all explore the question as they come to terms with their humanity and/or immortality. The Auditors in typical fashion explore the concept by taking things apart that make us human, down to the last atom and analysing each piece while missing the whole.

Notable aspects[]

  • Thief of Time features the neologism 'substition' (first used by Pratchett in Jingo), a term denoting the opposite of superstition.

'No, they're a 'substition', said Susan. 'I mean they're real, but hardly anyone really believes in them. Mostly everyone believes in things that aren't real.'

  • A number of the oddities noted by Susan as evidence that the timeline was fractured had previously been commented on by fans. These include the variable dating of Koom Valley; the fact that an Elizabethan theatre was "a new type of building" in Wyrd Sisters, but there was a venerable Victorian Opera House by Maskerade and the uncertainty as to the setting of Small Gods.

Popular References and Annotations:[]

Page numbers taken from the Doubleday editon

Page 5 - The opening discussion regarding the existence of anything but the present has been a popular Pratchett theme. The philosophical arguments of whether or not one exists are based on the works of Rene Descartes and his famous line, "I think, therefore I am". Pratchett says, "for something to exist it has to be observed. For something to exist, it has to have a position in time and space. Pratchett often plays with the idea of "if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it exist (see the opening of the (Fifth Elephant). Ultimately some existential philosophers argue that the only thing that can be proven to exist is the narrator or observer's mind since anything else could simply be synapses creating a stimulus of an object or event within that observer's mind.

Page 6 - The "purple mountains" are a reference to the line from America the Beautiful, by Katharine Lee Bates: "For purple mountain majesties Above the fruited plain!" Pratchett uses the purple mountains phrase in Carpe Jugulum as well.

Page 7 - The line, "[...] an enthusiasm for healthy sports [footnote: Mostly involving big, big beach balls] [...]" is a cliché of 50s "naturist" films with group of women throwing around large beach balls.

Page 7 - "Tragedy loomed in the shape of thousands of tons of unaccountably floating iron and an exciting soundtrack..." is a reference to the 1997 movie Titanic.

Page 8 - The Death of Rats is playing with the laws of probability and the assumption that toast always lands butter side down when it falls on the carpet when he builds his toast and carpet machine. Later in the novel, this theme is repeated when Susan is reviewing the real fantasies (not the Tooth Fairy or bogeymen which were solid facts but that the world didn't care if toast landed butter side down).

Page 9 - Quoth the Raven is a reference to the Edgar Allen Poe poem, The Raven and the line "Quoth the raven, Nevermore."

Page 10 - When the giant turtle, the Great A'tuin does a barrel roll and snaps up an asteroid destined to crash into the world and annihilate all of life, Pratchett is drawing a parallel to the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs in Round World as well as to the 'threat' of a future asteroid strike and mankind being unable to prevent it which the media likes to trot out on a regular basis.

Page 15 - When Death is going through his album, Pratchett says, "There were snatches of sound, too, of laughter, tears, screams and for some reason a brief burst of xylophone music, which caused him to pause for a moment." This is a reference to a conversation his grand daughter Susan had with Albert in Soul Music when Albert says, "Listen, ordinary kids get a xylophone. They don't just ask their granddad to take his shirt off!"

Page 15 - The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are: War, Death, Famine and Pestilence (Conquest was the original rather than Pestilence). Pratchett adds a fifth one: Kaos who left before they became famous for artistic reasons. This is likely a reference to the Beatles and the original 5th Beatle Stuart Sutcliffe who was their bass player left to pursue his artistic career but it also relates to Brian Epstein their manager, the original drummer Pete Best all who have been called the 5th Beatle. Since Kaos encompasses aspects of all the other four, George Martin, the Beatles record producer could also be who Pratchett had in mind. The comments about breakups, creative disagreements and smashed hotel rooms reflect a common theme throughout the music industry with artistic differences leading to groups breaking up when they finally reach their peak. The British band, the Who were famous for trashing their hotel rooms as well as their equipment. Later in the novel, Lu-Tse discovers that Ronnie Soak, the milkman is really Kaos (a typical Pratchett trick is spelling the name backwards or using an anagram). Pratchett ties this in nicely with the missing 5th element in the Garden of Five Surprises -"Fire". He says, that people are no longer afraid of famine because they are largely city dwellers and don't even know where their food comes from but, being city dwellers, they are most afraid of fire now. At the End, Death says to Kaos, "would you care to sit in" a reference to joining the band again and playing with the others - the famous reunion tour. The line at the end of the novel, "The Fifth Horseman rode out, and a faint smell of cheese followed him.", is a reference to The Bible, Revelation 6:7: "And I saw, and behold, a pale horse, and its rider's name was Death, and Hades followed with him".

Page 18 - Jeremy Clockson, the clock maker, meets Myria LeJean. She says, "'We are Myria LeJean. Lady Myria LeJean.'" using the royal "we" but this is also suggestive of her being in the plural. The name "Myria" resonates with the English word "myriad", meaning "a large number of things". LeJean is similar to Legion a word for a large group. The biblical reference is from Mark 5, when Jesus encounters a man from the Gadarenes who is possessed by a multitude of unclean spirits "And [Jesus] asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many." (Jesus allows the spirits to leave the man, and enter a herd of swine instead.) So the name Myria LeJean is perfect for a large group of evil spirits controlling a person as Susan explains later. Later on when Myria becomes more human and changes sides, Susan renames her Unity - a good name for a person who has become an individual.

Page 18 - Clockson's name appears to be a pun upon the name of the British broadcaster Jeremy Clarkson, as both are equally fanatic about their interests (clocks and cars respectively) - although Clockson's character bears more of a resemblance to the 18th century clock-maker John Harrison. It also is appropriate given that he is the son of Time.

Page 18 - Jeremy's Heshebian lawyer Clock Beetle turns a somersault on the hour - appropriate given lawyers ability to flip flop on positions.

Pae 21 - Xeno's Paradoxes are mentioned in Pyramids and are a reference to Zeno's paradoxes in ancient Greek philosophy. The arrow paradox is significant in The Thief of Time because it states: "for motion to occur, an object must change the position which it occupies." Zeno gives an example of an arrow in flight and states that in any one (duration-less) instant of time, the arrow is neither moving to where it is, nor to where it is not. It cannot move to where it is not, because no time elapses for it to move there; it cannot move to where it is, because it is already there. In other words, at every instant of time there is no motion occurring. If everything is motionless at every instant, and time is entirely composed of instants, then motion is impossible. This paradox hints at Pratchett's theme of stopping time. Later in the novel, Pratchett describes an arrow stopped in the middle of the air when time has stopped, a reference to this paradox.

Page 21 - The line, 'Grim Fairy Tales?' is a reference to the brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm's book Grimm's Fairy Tales, but also to the fact that these stories are grim like most cautionary tales for children. The story about "The glass clock of Bad Schuschein" is an obvious play on Shoe Shine. Bad is German for Bath or Spa (a town where you take the curative waters like Bath in England). Shoe is really Schuh. There is no similar tale in the Round World Grimms Fairy Tales.

Page 22 - Pratchett continues with his largely negative views on the value of educational institutions which he first introduced in Soul Music when Susan is at a boarding school. In The Thief of Time, the differences in teaching styles between Susan Sto Helit and the Headmistress are a reflection on the conflict between traditional and so called modern techniques in education (such as play based learning) and the attempts by some modernists to pigeonhole as negatives all traditional aspects of education such as raising your hand to speak, assigning homework, calling your teacher Miss Susan instead of Stephanie or Joan, handing out gold stars for excellence, encouraging competition between the students, showing respect and being strict. Clearly the Headmistress does not approve of Susan's approach but hasn't got the guts to "correct her" for fear that she will start her own school and take all the students with her, while the parents and children are huge fans of Susan's class and fight to get into it. When Susan takes the children off on "field trips" to experience education firsthand, Pratchett is modelling Susan's teaching on the science adventures in Ms. Frizzle's classroom in The Magic School Bus written by American children's author Joanna Cole, as well as The Flying Classroom (German: Das fliegende Klassenzimmer) a 1933 children's novel written by the German writer Erich Kästner.

Page 25 - The little boy, Victor, who raises his hand at every question is that overly keen student who every teacher in the world secretly hates and who Susan marks down as "Boy Most Likely To Be Killed One Day By His Wife".

Page 28 footnote -Pratchett says, "There may, as the philosopher says, be no spoon, although this begs the question of why there is the idea of soup." The line, "There is no spoon" is from The Matrix movie. The philosophical question regarding the existence of a spoon goes to the nature of existence as outlined above but also could be a connection to the arguments for and against the existence of god - one of the earlier philosophical questions. Pratchett pokes fun at these questions throughout the book by turning the philosophical arguments about wisdom and existence into arguments about the mundane - spoons, soup, forks vs god, ego and existence.

Page 34 - Jeremy Clockson's new assistant is an Igor - like all the best assistants in Discworld. Like most Igors he has two thumbs on each hand because, if one thumb is useful, two are more so.

Page 35 - The line "[...] a crowbar dropped out and onto the street with a clang." is a bit of foreshadowing. Later in the book, Lobsang says building a clock that would tick with the universe would be impossible because "it would be like opening a box with the crowbar that's inside" which is what happens in this earlier scene.

Page 35 - the fragile box being delivered with the "This side up" sign downward plays on all the jokes about postal/FedEx etc deliveries destroying parcels.

Page 37 - Igor's business card "We R Igors" is an play on "Toys R Us" the retail store. The address on the card, "The old Rathaus" really means "town hall" but has obvious connotations of the rodent variety. The c-mail address refers to the semaphore Clack towers but is another obvious reference to e-mail.

Page 40 and folowing - The Garden of Five Surprises is a more advanced version of the Garden of Four Elements (Pratchett says that every novice finds three of the elements - bronze plaques: in the carp pond (water), under a rock (earth). painted on a kite (air), but no one finds fire in the garden. The Garden of Five Surprises plays on the five element theme that Pratchett also uses in the Five Elephants. Lobsang Ludd, quickly discovers four of the surprises: the bridge that throws you into the carp pool (water), the bronze sculpture of a butterfly that flaps its wings when you breathe on it (air), the daisies that spray you with venomous pollen (ether) and the yodeling stick insect (earth). But again, he can't find the fire equivalent, the fifth surprise element until the arrival of Kaos at the end of the novel.

Page 40 and following - Lu-Tze, Lobsang Ludd's teacher, is patterned after Lao-Tze, the writer of the Tao Te Ching and one of the founders of Taoism. Lu-Tse's signature piece is a bonsai mountain which he carries with him, which has parallels to the saying, "If the mountain will not come to Mohammed, Mohammed must go to the mountain" Lu-Tse's philosophy, sayings and actions, which Pratchett pokes fun at throughout the novel are reminiscent of the tales told about Taoist and Buddhist sages as well as the various martial arts styles popular in movies today. Lu-Tze has developed his philosophy from staying at an Ankh-Morportk boarding house where the owner, "Mrs Marietta Cosmopilite, 3 Quirm Street, Ankh-Morpork, Rooms For Rent, Very Reasonable." greets him at the door with one of Wen, the Eternally Surprised's "profound sayings", "I haven't got all day, you know" and later on "I was not born yesterday". Lu-Tse sees these words as a sign and stays to learn her "way" proper cleaning and sweeping techniques plus her little truisms which form the basis of his philosophy. He writes these words of wisdom down in his book. All this is another take off on Martial Arts philosophy and eastern mysticism and the "profound" sayings that permeate those cultures. In this case, the sayings of Mrs. Marietta Cosmopilite are the typical things that every mother says to her children -popularly called Momisms.

Some of the sayings of Mrs Marietta Cosmopilite are:

  • "I have only one pair of hands". -(Page 72)
  • "It never rains but it pours." - (Page 72) which Rinpo (Rinpo is a variation on the very common Buddhist lama name of Rinpoche) interprets as a riddle - the answer to which is a "jug".
  • "Hard work never did anyone any harm"
  • "It does you good to get out in the fresh air."
  • "It won't get better if you pick at it". (Page 122)
  • "Eat it up , it'll make your hair curly."
  • "Everything comes to he who waits."
  • "You can't tell a book by its cover."
  • "You could knock me down with a feather."
  • "I'm not as green as I'm cabbage looking." - Some of the Momisms lose a little in Lu-Tse's translation
  • "Every second counts"
  • "We live and learn"
  • "A washed pot never boils" - the Yeti's attempt at learning Lu-Tse's philosophy.
  • "If you want a thing done properly, you've got to do it yourself."- chopping off the yeti's head.
  • "Do unto otters as you would have them do unto you" - another bastardization by Lu-Tse of Mrs Marietta Cosmopilite's sayings.
  • "When you have got to go, you have got to go" - Lu-Tse's famous almost last words, followed by,
  • "You should always wear clean underwear because you never know if you will be knocked down by a cart".
  • "If you have another one, you won't have an appetite for your dinner" - The famous Momism "don't go spoiling your supper"

All these sayings and philosophical musings, culminate in the discussion between Wen, the Eternally Surprised and his apprentice Clodpool when the latter says, "Master, what is the difference between a humanistic, monastic system of belief in which wisdom is sought by means of an apparently nonsensical system of questions and answers, and a lot of mystic gibberish made up on the spur of the moment?" to which Wen replies "A fish". This satisfies Clodpool.

Page 96 - Pratchett expands on his satire of martial arts movies and eastern mysticism further with his description of the poses the martial arts students perform in the dojo - poses that in the Round World are typically named after animals - "hands held to form the Combat of the Hake....hands now held in the Advancement of the Snake" which present a bewildering image of what the martial arts pose could possibly be since fish and snakes have no hands. Later he says, 'Soto said he saw him perform the Stance of the Coyote!' a reference with more in common to the 'stance' of Wile E. Coyote's from the Roadrunner cartoons-- suspended in mid-air for seconds before dropping into the ravine -- than with any stance the real animal would do. Similarly, during the showdown scene in the dojo, this confrontation involves one side backing down, a discussion of the quality of the Ais and Hai-eees the parties have used and other "martial arts gibberish" instead of the great fight scene depicted in all martial arts epics in the Bruce Lee style. Later in the novel Lobsang Ludd, questions his teacher Lu-Tze about an assortment of martial arts with ridiculous names such as okidoki (okey dokey), Shititake (shitake is a mushroom), Upsidasi (Ups a daisy), No-Kando (no can do - not possible), Tung-pi [tongue tie(d)] and finally Deja-fu (deja vu- using time as a weapon).

There is no connection with Marco Soto and Marco Polo, the explorer. Marco Soto is actually the winner of a charity auction to have his name used in a Pratchett novel.

Page 73 - The Gentlemen's club Fidgetts, which Death belongs to is typical of English gentleman's clubs - exclusively for men, "traditional food", overstuffed armchairs, with the members just sitting around all day doing nothing, too bored to even fidget.

Susan's response to the world being about to end is "What has this got to do with me?" a sentiment expressed by many young people (as well as old) when faced with seemingly insurmountable world issues - global warming, world peace, acid rain, etc. Death's reply, "I WOULD HAVE THOUGHT THE END OF THE WORLD IS EVERYONE'S RESPONSIBILITY." is typical of those morally holier than thou types who love to fight for every cause - in this instance true however.

Page 79 - Death said, "Time had a son." which should be obvious since Time is traditionally referred to as Father Time. The concept of gods having children by mortals is an old one: Achilles was the son of the sea nymph Thetis (daughter of sea god Nereus), and Peleus, king of the Myrmidons; Dionysus was the son of Zeus and Semele (a mortal); Epaphus was the son of Zeus and Io, (a priestess of the goddess Hera); Helen of Troy was the daughter of Zeus and Leda, (wife of Tyndareus, the king of Sparta) - to name but a few. In this novel, Time is female.

Page 83 - Jeremy says, "Did you know that copper octirate vibrates exactly 2,4000,078 times per second?" This name of this compound is likely a play on copper citrate (octi simply meaning 8 and is a key number in Discworld - eight colours, eight days in a week, etc). Pratchett is using the concept of vibration at a constant rate as is used in atomic clocks as his means of gaining the precision necessary to stop time. Since 1967, the official definition of a second is 9,192,631,770 cycles of the radiation that gets an atom of the element called cesium to vibrate between two energy states.

Igor says, "Homemade lightning ith never ath good ath the real thort." an obvious reference to the various monsters created with the assistance of helpers like Igor in the horror genre. To which Jeremy adds, "Some people really seem to come alive in thunderstorms."

Susan tells the Death of Rats, "No running with scythes", a reference to the saying "Don't run with scissors" which is also a "momism" but also a reference to the childhood bogeyman who comes to children who suck their thumbs in the story, "the Scissorsman" (Struwwelpeter) by Heinrich Hoffmann.

Later in the novel, Lu-Tze says to Lobsang Ludd, 'Word one is, you don't call me "master" and I don't name you after some damn insect.' which is a reference to the Kung Fu TV show in which David Carradine is nicknamed 'grasshopper'.

"The abbot had never mastered the art of circular ageing." which forces him to regularly reincarnate. Circular breathing is the technique of breathing in through the nose while simultaneously breathing out through the mouth which allows musicians playing a wind instrument to hold a single note for minutes at a time, if necessary.

Page 107 and following - The room with the Procrastinators has many similarities to Death's room with the hour glasses of time left in a person's life - row on row on shelves, etc. It also has similarities to a spinning factory with the various colours of thread - appropriate given the Round World concepts of spinning time, the fabric of time, weaving time and the threads of time. The scene involving the imminent meltdown of Time and the Procrastinaors has parallels in Roundworld's nuclear disasters at Fukoshima, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

Lu-Tse suggests dumping the spare time in the ocean because no one would notice "Oh, maybe fishermen would start to dredge up strange whiskery fish that they'd only ever seen before as fossils, but who cared what happened to a bunch of codfish." The strange whiskery fish is a reference to the discovery in 1928 of the oldest living fish, the Coelacanth, off the east coast of South Africa. Until then, these animals were considered to have gone extinct at the end of the Cretaceous era. As for the codfish, we all know how cod stocks crashed from overfishing both off Iceland (which led to the cod war between Iceland and Britain) and off the Grand Banks, (between Canada, the USA and various foreign fishing fleets claiming the tail of the Grand Banks was international waters).

Thugpa (Thukpa) is a Tibetan noodle soup. Momos are Tibetan dumplings.

The description of the Procrastinators is very similar to the prayer wheels found outside Buddhist temples.

Premembered - remembered it before it happened - another of Pratchett's plays on words with prefixes. Another one is 'substition' a Pratchett term denoting the opposite of superstition.

Page 124 - Qu' is a takeoff on James Bond's "Q", head of MI6 Technical Branch and played by Desmond Llewellyn. The whole scene is written in the style of the classic dialogues between Bond and Q; Q telling Bond not to touch, Q blowing up things, the various secret functions of ordinary items, etc.

Page 124 -The line 'Bang, instant karma!' is from John Lennon's song 'Instant Karma!'

"Wet finger on a wine glass" makes a tonal humming noise that increases in pitch and volume much like a Tibetan bowl used in chanting. Nanny Ogg runs her finger around her brandy glass when Susan is questioning her about her midwifery. Later Lu-Tse makes a humming sound with the rim of his tea cup. Once the harmonics reach the right frequency the glass will shatter (just like the opera singer with the voice that shatters glass) - foreshadowing of the end of the glass clock.

Page 130 - Igor "... found himself thinking of his new master as the tick-tock man."

'Repent Harlequin! Said the Ticktock Man' is the title of a classic science-fiction short story by Harlan Ellison. It describes a dystopian society, ruled and time-regulated down to the microsecond by the Master Timekeeper, a.k.a. the Ticktock Man, much like the Auditors would like Discworld to be. The Timekeeper is challenged by the free-spirited Harlequin (who is never on time -- a crime punishable by death in that society). There are puns and sayings about time throughout the Thief of Time; Time waits for no man, another stitch in time, etc

The Yeti hunters are clearly a shot at the trade in the orient in every kind of endangered species imaginable for its aphrodisiac properties. "You know what they say about men with big feet" is a common sexual reference.

The line when Lu-Tse demonstrates a martial arts pose, "'Is it a book?' said one who was slightly intellectual. 'How many words?'" is a reference to the game 'charades'. After the "fight" the yeti claps his hands slowly (long arms) a reference to the "old eastern" saw "What is the sound of one hand clapping but also a familiar motif from Western movies where the cowboys or outlaws stand around applauding the victor sarcastically.

The yeti's "wool is spun out of rock" - a reference to rock wool the spun mineral wool insulation.

When Gripper "the Butcher" Smartz is executed Pratchett pokes fun at our modern tendency to find excuses for evil action - the perpetrator had an unhappy childhood, faulty toilet training, was bullied at school etc. Pratchett repeats this execution motif twice more; when Lu-Tse chops off the Yeti's head and later when Mr. White chops off Lu-Tse's own head. (Numbers and cycles play an important part in Eastern mythology and in all Pratchett novels).

The Yeti saves his life up to the point just before he is going to die - much like someone playing a video game who doesn't want to have to start from the beginning sections which they have already mastered.

The Auditors, "'Mr Black. Mr Green. Miss Brown. Miss White. Miss... Yellow. And Mr Blue.'" are taken from Quentin Tarantino's 1992 movie Reservoir Dogs (Mr White, Mr Orange, Mr Blonde, Mr Pink, Mr Brown and Mr Blue). Note how 'Mr Blonde' maps to 'Miss... Yellow'. Later Susan points out that Auditors are always gray, "they have no sense of colour." Ironic given that they name themselves after colours in their human form.

"The clock struck one" is a reference to the nursery rhyme, a reference which is repeated near the conclusion of the book with the line "The Death of Rats had scurried up the side of the clock [...]"

The nursery rhyme goes:

Hickory Dickory Dock,
The mouse ran up the clock
The clock struck one,
The mouse ran down,
Hickory Dickory Dock

Lobsang Ludd says, "Could you wind me up..." To which Susan replies," Certainly, Lobsand Ludd you are thoughtless and impulsive and deserve to die a stupid and pointless death." He is asking her to literally wind the key in his back while she "winds him up" in the sense that she annoys him.

When she is winding the key in his back Susan says, "Miss Susan. Hold still". which is a play on her name, Susan Sto Helit.

Yak butter is integral to drinking Tibetan tea - scooped in to the black tea in a big lump like a dollop of whipping cream.

Pratchett plays with the concept that once the Auditors take human form they are incapable of not behaving like humans. Their fundamental beliefs and functions fall away one by one. They no longer work by consensus, instead they question each other, they hurt each other, they fight, they drink, they murder and Mr. White becomes a dictator. Pratchett says that humans are the only species to invent boredom. The Auditors also begin quantifying everything, measuring, standardizing etc like a bunch of bureaucrats. Pratchett shows in the Auditors' progression to becoming human, the development of the human race. Ultimately, the human traits that are they find the most interesting become the fatal flaws for the Auditors - the sense of taste, the quest for power.

Susan says to Lobsang, "We're young, we've got all the time in the world." the latter part of which is a quote from the James Bond film, On His Majesty's Secret Service and another Time reference. She then adds, "Let's go clubbing". although not nightclubbing in this case but clubbing Auditors with a wrench.

Susan says, "I'm not a hiding kind of person" - a reference to the TV series, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin where Reggie's son in law Tom is always saying "I'm not a (....) kind of person." Pratchett refers to this David Nobbs series regularly in his novels.-, notably in Men at Arms.

The paintings in the Royal Art Museum in Ankh-Morpork which Susan and Lobsang see are:

Caravati's Three Large Pink Women and One Piece of Gauze - Caravati is clearly Caravaggio. However, the painting's title is probably a reference to Ruben's Three Graces in which the "Graces", are three large unclad women holding a piece of transparent gauze.

Mauvaise's Man with Big Fig Leaf - would likely be one of Michelangelo's works such as The Last Judgement or David which had the male anatomy covered up with a fig leaf during more prudish times. The fig leaf was used because it was symbolic of Adam and Eve covering their nakedness after their fall from grace in the Garden of Eden. Mauvais means bad or wicked in French which is an antonym of sorts to Michelangelo, St. Michael the angel. Pratchett plays with these opposites by having Mauvaise cover his subjects with a fig leaf while Michelangelo's subjects were naked.

Blitzt's The Battle of Ar-Gash - Blitzt is a play on Blitz (lightning - and reminiscent of the German Blitzkrieg of WWII but also on the London Blitz - the bombing of London. The name is likely a play on Leonardo da Vinci's The Battle of Anghiarri. This painting is known as the lost Leonardo and it is believed to be buried under later frescoes in the Hall of Five Hundred (Salone dei Cinquecento) in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence. However, Blitzt's painting itself doesn't jibe with what is known about the da Vinci's Battle of Anghiarri. Its style and subject matter are more in line with paintings depicting the London Blitz. In addition,elsewhere in Discworld novels Leonard de Quirm is consistently Leonardo da Vinci not Blitzt.

Sir Robert Cuspidor's Waggon Stuck in River - (a cuspidor is a spittoon). is likely The Hay Wain by John Constable.

Why a duck? Might be a reference to a Marx brothers running gag.

"the prince gets brought up as a swineherd" is a reference to the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen but is also a reminder that Captain Carrot of the Night Watch is really a king in disguise and also of the story of the Kingdom of Lancre and the accession to the throne of King Tomjon.

Susan says to Myria LeJean, "....Time is on our side...." a reference to the Rolling Stone song of the same name.

Lu-Tse says to Ronnie Soak - "Pleased to meet you. Let me guess your name" a reference to another Rolling Stone song, Sympathy for the Devil.

Lu-Tse says of Lobsang "He always looked like a lad who needed to find himself" a pun on the idea of soul searching but also in this case physically finding the other part of himself that was split at birth. Wen the Eternally Surprised repeats this when Lobsang and Susan meet him.

Pratchett explores the concept that early man saw the world as a few villages, then found it was the whole island, with the horizon always there to reach toward until the world ran out of horizon. This has many parallels in todays world where the Round World is a global village and such things as pollution, civil war, migration, extinctions, etc affect us all and we cannot escape over a new horizon to avoid our blunders.

"And with a flash of light, a figure clothed all in white appeared holding a book - a reference to Jesus holding a Bible in many religious paintings but also to the Woman of the Apocalypse of Chapter 12 of Revelations - The Virgin Mary as well as to an angel. The following sections where Death tells the angel figure that he has been written out of the apocalypse is a reference to the various christian assemblies where sections of the bible have been sanitized or eliminated and in particular the various interpretations of the Four Horsemen. The Angel bewails his fate, much like an actor whose one scene ends up on the cutting room floor. After the Four Horsemen charge, the angel of the Iron Book says to Mrs. War, "Excuse me but do you have a pencil?" Clearly the Angel's book needs some revisions.

Lu-Tse tells Mr. White, "Eat this" as he pops a chocolate in his mouth. This is likely a reference to the Harold Ramis movie, Analyze This starring Robert de Niro and Billy Crystal, reinforced later in the same scene when Lobsang says to Susan, "Are you always like this?..... so analytical?"

Lobsang says "don't let go of my hand because otherwise every part of your body will be compressed into a space much much smaller than an atom". This line and others in this section are references to black holes in cosmology.

"Oh, my paws and whiskers" - this reference is from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The White Rabbit, who is always late (i.e. having trouble with time) and anxious: says, "Oh my ears and whiskers, how late it's getting!".

Lobsang says to Susan, after smashing the clock, "When we get to the other side, don't stop and don't look back.." This is a reference to Orpheus in the underworld when Persephone is told not to look back. This and subsequent lines are also references to black holes and what happens if you go through them - the ideas surrounding parallel universes, etc.

"Galloping out of the sunset, some riders were approaching" another take off on the final scene in many Western movies where the lone cowboy rides off into the sunset, but in this case it is the Five Horsemen of the Apocalypse. "Two riders were approaching" is also a line from Bob Dylan's song "All Along the Watchtower" made famous by Jimi Hendrix.

The scene between Lobsang and Lu-Tse in the dojo and the ceremony afterwards is a take off on just about any martial arts movie or ceremony where the pupil graduates to the level of the Master - in this case Lobsang becomes a sweeper like Lu-Tse - but also a sweeper of time. There is one more Mrs Marietta Cosmopilite, "Momism" when Lobsang is given the old robe and broom in the line, "Do not lose them, remember we are not made of money".


Main Characters[]

  • Jeremy Clockson
  • Myria LeJean/Unity
  • Lu-Tze
  • Lobsang Ludd
  • Susan Sto Helit

Minor Characters[]

  • the Five Horsemen of the Apocalypse
    • Death
    • Famine
    • War
    • Pestilence
    • Kaos - AKA Ronnie Soak the milkman
  • Igor
  • History Monks
    • The Abbot
    • Clodpool -
    • Dojo Master
    • Rambut Handisides
    • Qu
    • Marco Soto
    • Wen the Eternally Surprised
    • Time
  • Old John and family
  • Nanny Ogg
  • Wen (the Eternally Surprised) -
  • Clodpool - Wen's less than able assistant
  • Mrs War - War's wife


  • Ankh-Morpork
  • Bong Phut
  • Long Nap
  • Oi Dong (in Enlightenment country)
  • Uberwald
    • Bad Schuschein


Der Zeitdieb (German)

Крадец на време (Bulgarian)

External links[]