Unseen Academicals is the 37th novel in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. The novel satirizes football (soccer as it is known in North America) and features Mustrum Ridcully setting up an Unseen University football team, with the Librarian in goal. It elaborates on life "below stairs" at the university. The book introduces several new characters, including Trevor Likely, a street urchin with a wonderful talent for kicking a tin can; Glenda Sugarbean, a maker of "jolly good" pies; Juliet Stollop, a dim but beautiful young woman who might just turn out to be the greatest fashion model there has ever been; and the mysterious Mr Nutt, a cultured, enigmatic, idealistic savant.
Unseen Academicals tells the story of the faculty of Unseen University being forced to choose between (only) three meals a day and playing a game of football, as tradition mandates the game in exchange for their large financial endowment by a wealthy family. The wizards soon learn that the local version of football (similar to the actual game of mob football) is very violent and deaths are common. Thus, in collaboration with the city's tyrant Lord Vetinari, they set out to make new 'official' football rules, which includes forbidding the use of hands and mandating the use of official footballs as opposed to the makeshift balls the street games use. The book includes a satirization of the Mallard ceremony performed at All Souls College, Oxford
Parallel to this, the book tells the story of four young people. A candle dribbler named Mr. Nutt discovers that he is not what he thinks he is (goblin) and must overcome the fear of his race, (orc) both by humans and by himself. He is also chosen to train the university's team for the big football match. Trev Likely, who is Mr. Nutt's coworker and best friend, is the son of the Ankh-Morpork's most famous deceased footballer, but has promised his (late) dear old mum that he won't play, but ultimately saves the game. Glenda, a friend of Mr. Nutt and Trev, runs the Unseen University Night Kitchen, and bakes the Disc's best pies. Juliet works for Glenda, has a crush on Trev, is simple and beautiful, and becomes a famous fashion model. The four of them end up advising the wizards on their football endeavor, which culminates in an intense game between the Wizards and the former street footballers.
One of the main themes of the book is the issue of inclusion versus exclusion which is evident in two recurring ideas in the novel. Firstly there is the theme of the outsider as villain. This is not only a common theme in literature, from fairy tales to classic literature, but is a factor in Roundworld life. Statistically, drifters, strangers to a town, etc are more likely to be wrongly charged and found guilty of violent crimes like murder and rape than should be expected, while the real culprit, the fine upstanding citizen of the town goes free. The outsider in this novel is Mr. Nutt, the dreaded 'orc" but it is also Trevor after he rejects the doctrine of the "Firm". The outsider concept is rooted in the fundamental human need to belong and bond together, whether it is the need to belong to the community as in the case of Mr. Nutt and his constant striving to have 'worth', or whether it is to the gang of hooligans like the Dolly Sisters and Dimmer football firms which Pratchett has drawn from the standard football hooligan groups prevalent throughout Europe but particularly in England in the 60s to 90s and to a lesser extend into the present.
In the case of the football groups, the name Dimwell is an obvious reference to Millwall, which, like Dimwell, is a tough dock area and has a football club noted for the belligerence of its supporters. Millwall's house chant goes "Nobody loves us. And we don't care!" The rivalries between various football clubs, particularly those of the inner cities of such places as London, Leeds and Manchester, led to violent clashes between their "supporters" - mostly disenchanted and disenfranchised young men with little future under the Thatcher regime. This violent element among the regular fan base is known as the 'firm'. In 70s and 80s London, the Arsenal FC firm's were the "Gooners" a play on the club name 'Gunners' and "The Herd" the more violent of the two with their war-cry 'E-I-E'. Their rivals in the 1980s and to the present day are West Ham's I.C.F., Tottenham Hotspur's Yid Army, Chelsea's Headhunters and Millwall's F-Troop (later known as the Millwall Bushwackers). Millwall supporters once combined an away visit to Manchester City with looting jeweller's shops on Wilmslow Road after the mob of 2000 plus overwhelmed the three policemen assigned to escort them to the grounds. West Ham United's "fans" were immortalized in the 2005 British American film starring Elijah Wood "Green Street Hooligans". Within British football hooligan counter-culture the leaders, best fighters, and other notorious individuals in the various Firms are known as Faces. Trevor Likely states proudly, "But I'm a Face, right?" This is his cry to assert his status in the ranks of the Dimmers as someone who is known throughout all the Boroughs and who is "Important". The term was also used by counter-cultural young male gangs in the 1950's and 1960's: Teddy Boys in the 50's, and Mods and Rockers in the 60's, to describe their most notorious gang members and hardest fighters. In the latter case - 1960's scooter mods - there is even a musical about it: the Who's rock opera Quadrophenia, about London Mods, has a song called I'm the Face.
A second theme in the book closely related to the first is the idea of good vs evil and the third path. The phrase "No one could have been neutral..." has these associations when one looks at the evolution of the fantasy fiction novel. J.R.R. Tolkien's master work has a rather simplistic two-dimensional "you are either Good or Evil and that's all there is to it" feel about the morality and the motivation of characters. As Tolkien's Middle Earth was heavily influenced by Tolkien's Christianity, and the notion that all that is Good comes from faith in and duty to God, while all that is Evil comes from rejection of God and joining in the Fall, this dichotomy excludes a Third Way. The Third Way is introduced by fantasy writer Michael Moorcock, who thought about the mechanics involved, and came up with a moral picture drawn as much from science as from mysticism. Moorcock, drawing his cue from the scientific laws of thermodynamics, insisted the primal struggle in the Multiverse was not between Good and Evil but between the opposed forces of Law and Chaos. After making that primal alignment, a character was free to make a secondary alignment with Good, Evil or the third state - Neutral - as he or she pleased. Being of the Law does not necessarily mean you are Good (no one would ever call the Auditors in the Discworld series good) and being of Chaos does not necessarily mean you are Evil. Consider Ronnie Soak. Moorcock's system offers so much choice and scope for delineating more complex three-dimensional characters that Dungeons and Dragons creator Gary Gygax adopted it wholesale. But here, in the Discworld, we are being explicitly told it is not an option - "No one could have been Neutral when the Dark War had engulfed Far Überwald" The Dark War takes its referents, therefore, from Tolkien and not Moorcock/Gygax.
There are many parallels throughout the novel with Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and the 1957 Bernstein/Sondheim musical West Side Story, where the plot of Romeo and Juliet is updated to warring city street gangs. The Dolly Sisters and the Dimmers are referred to as "They're two teams alike in villainy." which is a paraphrase of the prologue to "Romeo and Juliet" "Two households, both alike in dignity..." Later in the novel, Glenda and Mr Nutt go to the theatre to witness a production by the Dolly Sisters Players, called Starcrossed, written by Hwel. It is described as one of the great romantic plays of the last fifty years, making it roughly the same age as West Side Story. Romeo and Juliet are usually referred to as 'the star crossed lovers'. Like Romeo and Juliet, the lovers in Unseen Academicals are from opposite factions (in this case football firms) and one of the heroines is named Juliet. Glenda clearly has elements of Juliet's nurse in her character although she is more naive. She reads dime store romances but doesn't understand the meaning behind a lot of the innuendo in these cheap novels, whereas Juliet's nurse would never have missed a trick. Both however live vicariously through their "young charges" (although Pratchett's Juliet is the really same age as Glenda, the latter is mistaken for her mother) and are extremely solicitous of their welfare. The stabbing of Mr. Nutt in the street has parallels in the murder of Mercutio and Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet, and Riff and Bernardo in West Side Story.
Pratchett's Romeo and Juliet theme is also interwoven with the old fairy tale Cinderella who was confined to an existence of catering to her stepmother and sisters by the hearth. Juliet and Glenda work in a kitchen, the hearth of a more modern home, and Juliet is confined to an existence of catering to her father and brothers. Glenda comments at one point that the two of them were busy all day 'cleaning the ovens'. To emphasis this in case anyone missed it, Pratchett has Pepe say to Glenda, "I mean, what is this? Emberella? The wand has been waved, the court is cheering, a score of handsome princes are waiting to sign up for just a sniff of her slipper, and you want her to go back to work making pumpkins?" (Embers and cinders being synonymous). When the newspapers are searching for the mysterious Jools, Glenda thinks, "They just haven't read their fairy stories.....If you want to find a beauty, you look for her in the ashes." Juliet asks her, "Do you think they'll let me in on the banquet." Both are obvious references to Cinderella.
The "closed door" subplot iis a parody of psychoanalysis. Nutt brings a chaise longue (fainting couch) down to the candle-making area where he works, and subsequently uses it as the location for his hypnosis. He requires Trev to spin his shiny can in front of Nutt's face, mimicking the popular music hall hypnosis trick. Nutt also lapses into an Uberwaldian accent during his self-hypnosis, and explains to Glenda and Trev that this accent relaxes the patient, again harkening back to Freud. After he psychoanalyses himself he says, "I am an orc with a terrible urge to smoke a cigar" a reference to the famous phrase 'sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,' generally attributed to Freud, although it does not appear in any of his works.
The title is a play on the names of rugby and football teams in the UK who have or have had a connection to educational institutions, examples being Hamilton Academical and Edinburgh Academicals.
At the beginning of the book, Rudolf Scattering, night-watchman at the Royal Art Museum receives a nasty surprise, which is a parody of Dan Brown's mystery thrillers of the Da Vinci Code genre. Pratchett has poked fun at this popular book in other novels. The Koom Valley Codex in Thud! is a take off on it.
In the footnotes, Pratchett mentions a third proposal for governance involving a "choice of respectable members of the community who would promise not to give themselves airs or betray the public trust.....(which)was instantly the subject of music-hall jokes all over the city." Clearly Pratchett is referring to 'democracy' which unfortunately today with the likes of Donald Trump in power, is the butt of jokes all over the world - its flaws emerging throughout the 'free world'.
Mr. Scattering never tells anyone "about the gloriously glittering lady holding a large ball over her head." Discworld's Pedestriana is the barefoot Goddess of Football. The Manchester Guardian, (edition of 30/12/09), published an article on collections with a man who wanted to own a match program for every game ever played by London side Tottenham Hotspur. The newspaper reproduced the front cover of the 1921 F.A. Cup Final programme, which features a robed and barefoot Goddess of Football, the winged angel standing bare of foot atop the ball. Not surprisingly, given that she is the god of football her name is associated with feet.
Lectrology - the study of beds and their surroundings is found nowhere in Roundworld dictionaries.
Pratchett says of Glenda's teddy bear, Mr. Wobble. "Traditionally, in the lexicon of pathos, such a bear should have only one eye, but as the result of a childhood error in Glenda's sewing, he has three, and is more enlightened than the average bear."
These lines draw from the picnic basket-stealing cartoon character, Yogi Bear, who describes himself as "smarter than the average bear." The fact that Mr. Wobble has three eyes is a reference to the "third eye" of enlightenment of Buddhist and Hindhu tradition where the practitioner gains insights into the essential basis of the universe by opening the "third eye". Since a Yogi is a practitioner of these traditions, Pratchett cleverly ties both references together.
Glenda reads "yellowing romantic novels of the kind to which the word 'bodice' comes naturally. This is a reference to the slang term "bodice ripper" for a sexually explicit romantic novel; usually in a historical setting with a plot involving the seduction of the heroine. The Dutch use the term 'kitchen maid literature' which is appropriate given that Glenda is a cook in a kitchen.
The scene involving the staff at Unseen University "Hunting the Megapode" is a take off on several traditions in Britain. A megapode is a large chicken-like bird found in Australia, whose name literally means "Bigfoot". The Celtic tradition of "hunting the wren on St. Stephen's day (Dec 26th) involved capturing a wren and engaging in a day of wild revelry associated with the end of winter and the lengthening of the day. However, since the Megapode is being hunted at a university, it is more likely that Pratchett is drawing on the All Souls College, Oxford tradition of Hunting the Mallard, which traces its roots back to a "giant mallard" that supposedly flew out of the foundations of the college when it was being built in 1437. This tradition probably has roots in the 'hunting of the wren' as well. The choice is appropriate since All Souls is a research college with no students as such and the professors of Unseen University feel that their university would be much better off without the encumbrance of students interfering with their true purpose - eating.
Ponder Stibbons' technique of writing the minutes of Faculty meetings before hand is based for all intents and purposes on the standard British Civil Service policy as described in the TV satire of government life, Yes, Prime Minister, in which Sir Humphrey Appleby is an adept at predicting in advance how a meeting will work out and can quite safely dictate the minutes in advance.
Pratchett says, "No one could have been neutral when the Dark War had engulfed Far Überwald". This is likely a reference to Tolkien's Middle-earth, especially in the light of Mr Nutt's species and the orcs perceived role in the Dark War of antiquity. Vetineri likens the Dark Hordes to the playing pieces on the Thud board, in their lack of free will and their having been crafted for a single purpose - to fight. Ridcully reflects on what "the monsters" had been bred to do, and wonders what became of the thousands upon thousands of them who were bred to fight. In Lord of the Rings, Treebeard speculates that Saruman had crossbred Orcs and Men, which he calls "a black evil", to create the Uruk-hai, perfect fighting machines to fight in a war that engulfs a large area of land... Vetinari himself notes that it wasn't Igoring goblins that produced orcs, but using humans, in whom the natural capacity for violence and evil is so much greater. There's also a slight resonance with the original Tolkien orcs which were created when (Middle-earthen) elves were betrayed and corrupted. In neither case are they natural creatures - they have been twisted into these shapes through evil intent. In the Jackson film version of the Lord of the Rings, they are even more "bred": the Uruk-hai are dug from the ground in a grotesque birthing sequence. There is a reference to the spawning of Orcs from the ground earlier in Unseen Academicals where Nutt is contemplating the tallow vats, perpetually bubbling and seething, as a place where he finds himself feeling safe and peaceful in an odd and nursery-like way. People in the streets had jeered to him that he'd been made in a vat. Although Brother Oats had told him that this was silly, the gently bubbling tallow had called to him. He felt at peace here.
The line, "Alas, when the time came to write down their story, his people hadn't even got a pencil", is a reminder that the winners in war are the ones that write down the history so reality is skewed by the bias of the victor.
The image of Nutt chained to the anvil for seven years has ties to Mary Gentle who, like Neil Gaiman, is the subject of a dedication of an earlier Discworld book (the H.P. Lovecraft Holiday Fun Club consisted of her and several others from the new wave of British sci-fi/fantasy, including Neil) - two previous Discworld novels, in fact. She gets an explicit personal dedication in Guards! Guards! so it is logical that since Pratchett is aware of her writing and has referenced it in the Discworld, that Nutt and the anvil are drawn from her work.
The line, "Ridcully swayed backwards, like a man subjected to an attack by a hitherto comatose sheep" is a reference to a famous comment in the UK House of Commons in June 1978 by the Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, Denis Healey. He described being attacked in June 1978 by mild mannered Conservative shadow Chancellor Geoffrey Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep".
The line, "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless Dean" is paraphrased from Shakespeare's King Lear who, in his anguished speech about Cordelia's "betrayal" says, "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is To have a thankless child!"
The scene with Glenda and Juliet on the bus includes the line:
"Just speak with a little more class, eh? You don't have to sound like--"
"My fare, lady?" (the words of the conductor)
Pratchett is obviously referring to the movie and play "My Fair Lady" where street flower seller Eliza Doolittle improves her Cockney speech to the point where she's taken for a fine lady at an embassy ball.
After the fashion show, Juliet and Glenda take a trolley bus home because no one would mug a troll - Pratchett obviously punning on a trolley bus which is an electric bus powered by overhead wires not a ride on an actual troll.
Glenda sells cosmetics door to door to the trolls very much like an Avon Lady. She comments that the trolls don't need it but want it - the basis of marketing in any world but particularly in the fashion industry.
PEX the Brazeneck computer is clearly a knockoff of the Unseen University's HEX. While HEX has Round world connections such as Hexidecimal which is the base 16 system of numbers used to simplify binary number representation, and hex as in to cast a spell (appropriate for wizards) as well as hex which is Greek for 6 which is the number of legs an insect such as an ant (which powers the HEX computer) has. PEX on the other hand seems to have no connection to Roundworld. Perhaps Pratchett is just creating a similar sounding word like so many knockoff manufacturers do. Since it is powered by "Poultry" Pratchett may have chosen that letter accordingly. Pex is also a type of plumbing fitting.
Brazeneck University is an obvious take off on Brasenose College, Oxford and the feud between the two universities has its obvious parallel in that between Oxford and Cambridge.
Crab bucket syndrome is often used to describe social situations where one person is prevented from trying to better him or herself by the rest of their community "keeping them in their place" and dragging them back to the group's common level. Usually it is connected to the ghettos of America and the poor. It comes from the idea that when a single crab is put into a lidless bucket, it will escape. However, when more than one crab shares the bucket, none get out because if one crab elevates itself above the rest, the others will grab this crab and drag it back down to share the mutual fate of the rest of the group. Pratchett plays with this concept when Verity Pushpram gives Glenda one crab which she keeps for some time in a pot, feeding it anchovies, peering in at it occasionally and finally setting it free rather than boiling and eating it. During this Glenda asks herself if it will try to escape if the lid is left off and wonders how quickly, or if, crabs can learn.
The line, "Miss Healstether sounded bitter. "Stand by then, because he's (Nutt) discovered the Bonk School." The Bonk School is the Discworld equivalent of later German/Austrian philosophers such as Wittgenstein. On Roundworld, the Vienna School is also a collective name used for the emergent psychoanalysts of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, such as Freud, Jung and Adler. Sample Bonk Scholars and their books include:
- Ofleberger - Die Wesentlichen Ungeweissheiten Zugehörig der Offenkundigen Männlichkeit (translation: The Essential Uncertainties of Belonging to Obvious [or Overt] Masculinity)
- Trousenblert - Der Selbst uberschritten durch das Ganze (translation: The Self has passed through the Whole
- Trousenblert (trans. W.E.G. Goodnight) In Search of the Whole (marred by Goodnight's mistranslation of bewusstseinsschwelle as haircut throughout). In fact bewusstseinschelle means 'threshold of awareness" which a haircut could be if a person was trying to transform their image.
- Dr Vonmausberger - Ritual Aggression in Pubescent Rats
The names of the various Bonk school authors are reminiscent of a Monty Python sketch. In mock German Ofleberger sounds like a hamburger made out of offal (offal is a pun Pratchett has used before), Trouserblert sounds like a fart in one's pants and Vonmausberger has 'mouse' in his name - appropriate given that he studies rats. Monty Python did a sketch where the whole of the German and Greek international football teams are made up of their nations' respective star philosophers. The one exception in the German team was the West German national football team captain Franz Beckenbauer, who was in on the joke and appeared on the field looking frustrated at the philosophical reflections and lack of football by the other participants.
Ridcully says 'Gentlemen' ...'or should I say, fellow workers by hand and brain' . 'Workers by hand and brain' is a key phrase in the original Clause IV for the British Labour Party, written by Beatrice and Sidney Webb, leading members of the Fabian Society (since revised in 1995). The more complete text is as follows:
To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.
The line, "Glenda would have followed him like a homing vulture" is a reference to ex-Python Michael Palin's gritty slice of Northern working-class life, The Testing of Eric Olthwaite, in which the little-known Northern English sport of racing homing vultures is discussed at great length.
Glenda says, "I just happened to be holding a knife. You are holding a knife.We hold knives. This is a kitchen." This line is reminiscent of "The Lion in Winter", where Queen Eleanor says "Of course he has a knife, he always has a knife, we all have knives! It's 1183 and we're barbarians!"
Glenda asks Trevor the question, "Oh, Mr Trevor Likely ... Just one question: who ate all the pies?"
This classic chant is heard on across British football grounds by the fans when a player is not playing up to par because they are not in top physical shape due to excess weight. The full chant, aimed at the luckless fat boy, is sung to the tune of Knees up Mother Brown and goes, "Who ate all the pies? Who ate all the pies? You fat bastard, you fat bastard, you ate all the pies!" Footballers singled out in this way from the terraces have included England's Paul Gascoigne. The chant is reputed to be the oldest fan chant to have been continuously sung on English terraces. It was supposedly first sung in honour of William Henry "Fatty" Foulke, the legendary Sheffield United goalkeeper whose playing career spanned1894-1910. Six foot two and a svelte twelve stone at the start of his career, he was an early victim of success and the extravagant professional Edwardian footballer lifestyle. By 1902, he was estimated to weigh twenty-five stones (350 pounds) while still playing top-level football. The Sheffield United fans sang it in his honour, albeit without the "you fat bastard" line. More recently, the chant has been associated with striker Micky Quinn, who played for six football clubs in the 1980s and 1990s. He was particularly identified with the chant following an incident in a match between Quinn's then club Newcastle United and Grimsby Town in March 1992, in which a fan threw a pie onto the pitch which Quinn promptly picked up and ate. The chant even formed the title for Quinn's autobiography, which was published in 2003. Knowing Pratchett's love of minutia and obscure connections, it is likely Pratchett had these stories in mind when wrote the character of the Ankh United goalkeeper, who is seen eating and gorging his way through the big game...
When Nutt is writing a love poem for Trevor to give to Juliet, he talks about Robert Scandal's famous poem, "Oi! To his Deaf Mistress". This is a reference to the poem by Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress" first published in 1681. Pratchett adds that, "Nutt was technically an expert on love poetry throughout the ages... he had tried to discuss it with Ladyship, but she had laughed and said that it was frivolity, although quite useful as a tutorial on the art of vocabulary, scansion rhythm, and affect as a means to an end, to wit, getting a young lady to take all her clothes off. The idea of one person writing a love poem for someone else has been used throughout literature most famously Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand.
This line is very reminiscent of Robert Anton Wilson's character Sigismundo Celine in "The historical Illuminatus: The Widow's Son." Celine, who is imprisoned in the Bastille, passes his time by reading the prison library and, in reflecting on romantic love poems decides that: "they mostly argue the case that a Certain Woman is like a certain Natural Phenomenon (sunlight, stars, birds, flowers, et c) and that the poet's heart, in response to this fact, was like another Natural Phenomenon (parched desert, wounded animal, dark cave, etc) and that there was only one natural resolution to this natural conjunction of natural phenomena..... she would have to take her clothes off. (p. 149 R.A.Wilson, The Widow's Son, Lynx Books, New York, pub. 1985)
"Someone at the Royal Art Museum had found the urn in an old storeroom, and it contained scrolls which, it said here, had the original rules of foot-the-ball laid down in the early years of the century of the Summer Weevil, a thousand years ago, when the game was played in honour of the goddess Pedestriana. A similar incident involving gods and religion is described in 2 Kings Ch. 22 of the Bible. Supposedly, a lost "Book of the Law" dating back to Moses was found in the Temple, but since the rules decribed were in the best interests of the Temple and its priests, most scholars believe that the ancient book (likely an early version of Deuteronomy) had been recently composed.
When Ponder Stibbons kicks the football he is referred to being, by his "own admission, a wet and a weed." This line is a reference to the Molesworth series of books by Geoffrey Willans. Molesworth, who is the narrator and a schoolboy constantly refers to his brother, Molesworth 2, as "a wet and a weed."
The "Owlspring-Tips diagram" is likely a reference to the Herzsprung-Russell diagram which is used in astronomy to plot the absolute magnitude of stars against their spectral clas
Ponder Stibbons says, "I'm even the Camerlengo, which means that if you drop dead, Archchancellor, from any cause other than legitimate succession under the Dead Man's Pointy Shoes tradition, I run this place until a successor is elected which, given the nature of wizardry, will mean a job for life."
Camerlengo is Italian for "chamberlain. The Camerlengo of the Roman Catholic Church is, among other duties, the person in charge of the Vatican between the death of one pope and the election of the next.
Glenda says "You're giving them Avec. Nearly every dish has got Avec in it, but stuff with Avec in the name is an acquired taste." "Avec" is french for "with." Pratchett is poking fun at ostentatious restaurants with their menus written in french, even when they are serving standard fare.
Ridcully's comment about liking a bit of Sturm and Drang is a reference to the late 18th century German literary movement characterized by works containing rousing action and high emotionalism that often deal with the individual's revolt against society. Nutt replies, "no thunder and lightning", elements which are a common motif in works of this style. The reference is ironic, given Nutt's desire to fit in and have worth and not be an 'individual revolting against society".
The proposed 'battle' on the football pitch between the Unseen University and the rougher elements of the city has echoes with the battles between 'town and gown'; university vs the citizens of Oxford, Cambridge and other universities in the middle ages. When the universities were first form there was considerable tension between the students, who were usually foreign to the area and/or country, spoke Latin and didn't seem to contribute much to the local economy, and the working people of the town, whose families had lived in the area for centuries, spoke the local dialect, worked hard to survive and were taxed. the tension increased as the universities grew and displaced the local citizens, culminating in Oxford with a riot in 1355 in which many students were killed. Cambridge was formed after an earlier such battle when the students and their masters fled Oxford to establish a new community safe from physical assault from the 'town' residents.
At the gala dinner, the serving staff comment to Glenda that they never seen Lord Vetenari drink before, even wine. Glenda responds, "When you say he does not drink wine, do you mean he does not drink wine ,or he does not drink...wine?" Pratchett has used this line over and over in his novels in regard to vampires, which many people suspect Lord Vetenari is, especially given his relationship with Lady Margolotta, the vampire from Uberwald who founded the League of Temperance. The Roundworld reference is to Bela Lugosi's lines from the original 1931 Dracula movie 'I do not drink... wine.' This line, immortalized by Legosi, with the dramatic pause before the word 'wine', appeared in many subsequent movie versions of Dracula, down to the Francis Ford Coppola 1992 remake Bram Stoker's Dracula. It originally came from the Hamilton Deane stage play Dracula which was popular in New York in the 1920s.
Winkles Old Peculiar is Ankh-Morpork's favorite and signature beer (brewed with the flavorful and nutritious waters of the River Ankh). It even enjoyed a brief vogue among the aristocracy when Earl de Nobbes introduced them to it in Feet of Clay. It a one of the many drinks of the festivities of the Wizards at the Unseen University. Likely its origins are in the Roundworld's Theakston's Old Peculier (note spelling) which is brewed in Masham, North Yorkshire and sold throughout the world.
When Glenda sneaks into the palace by bribing the guards, Drumknott tells Vetinari that she is "a maid" meaning "kitchen maid" to which Vetinari replies "I can't help her with that. Perhaps.... a different perfume might help". Pratchett is obviously playing on "serving maid" and "girl who is still a virgin", but the scene re-enforces what the reader suspects about Glenda, reading her dime store novels and leading a cloistered life.
The "secret of Bubble and Squeak" and "the Truth of Salmagundi" is a reference to two recipes. Bubble and squeak is a traditional British breakfast made from boiled potatoes and cabbage. In modern times it is a dish made with the fried leftover vegetables from a roast dinner. The main ingredients are potato and cabbage but carrots, peas, Brussels sprouts, or any other leftover vegetables may be added. The dish is so named because the cabbage makes bubbling and squeaking sounds during the cooking process. Salmagundi is a salad dish, originating in the early 17th century in England, comprising cooked meats, seafood, vegetables, fruit, leaves, nuts and flowers and dressed with oil, vinegar and spices. There is some debate over the meaning and origin of the word, but it likely comes from the French word "salmigondis" meaning a hodgepodge or mix of different things.
Sator Square is reminiscent of all major squares in cities where revolutionaries meet to protest; whether it is Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China or Red Square in Moscow, Russia.
Pepe informs Glenda that a lot of people want to ask Juliet some very important questions, including "What is your favourite spoon?" and "Do you wax?" In this line Pratchett is poking fun at the inane questions celebrities get asked in interviews. The gag stems from the satirical magazine Private Eye which carries a "Me and My Spoon" column in every edition, in which a celebrity is quizzed minutely about their favourite spoon. Foreshadowing this, Vetinari is seen to be playing with a spoon during the dinner at the University, thoughtfully studying it and the way the varying concavity and convexity of it alters his reflection. Glenda responds that Juliet, "Hardly even dusts" - Pratchett playing on removing body hair by waxing it off vs polishing a piece of furniture.
The various newspapers have their parallels in Roundworld. The Times has its origins in the respectable Roundworld papers such as The New York Times and more specifically the London Times. Bu-Bubble has its roots in such British magazines as Hello and Heat but also in the London Sun and the Star with their page 3 girls. Perhaps Pratchett was playing with the French word for 'beautiful', 'beau' in the title, drawing on such magazines as Marie Claire, Vogue, etc. The dwarf paper 'Satblatt' is a mix of English and German for "Sat(urday) leaf or page".
Glenda, Trevor and Juliet take the night bus to try to catch Nutt. The driver refers to it as the 'omnibus'. Pratchett is playing on the word itself and explains in detail what he means. An omnibus is both a 'bus' and something (such as a volume of literature or a bill before parliament) compiling a number of different things in one (like works by the same author or a series of legislative acts). In this case the omnibus contains a bunch of people traveling for disparate reasons.
When the crowd gathering to witness Nutt chained to a bench and fully aware of his Orc-hood for the first time the named speakers are a Butcher and a Baker and Nutt is a Candle(stick)maker. The earliest version of this nursery rhyme "Rub and Dub Dub" dating back to the 14th century refers to "maids in a tub" – a fairground attraction similar to a modern peep show. The rhyme is of a type calling out otherwise respectable people for dis-respectable actions, in this case, ogling naked ladies – the maids. The nonsense "Rub-a-dub-dub" developed as a phonetic association of social disapprobation, analogous to "tsk-tsk," albeit of a more lascivious variety. By using this nursery rhyme, Pratchett is shaming the respectable citizens for their belief that Nutt needs to be chained to the bench and running away when he frees himself.
The line about the novel named "Pride and Buns" is an obvious reference to the Jane Austin novel, "Pride and Prejudice" with a cooking spin.
Juliet says that Glenda always told her to "keep my hand on my ha'penny" which provokes a snort from Pepe. On the surface this sounds like Glenda is telling Juliet to be fiscally responsible but the expression comes from British music halls. "Ha'penny" is slang for "vulva" so the expression refers to female masturbation.
In the line, "Juliet's version of cleanliness was next to godliness, which was to say it was erratic, past all understanding and seldom seen", Pratchett, the atheist, neatly exposes what is generally considered to be a positive moralistic expression into what it really is - a tired and incomprehensible 'saw'.
The reference to the "denizens" who live in their "den" is an obvious pun on the word. Denizen means an inhabitant or resident of a place (any place not just a 'den') but historically it meant a foreigner who has certain rights to live in an area, much like Nutt who is one of the "denizens".
Lady Margolotta's maid says that Glenda seems to be a "vehement supporter" of Nutt to which she replies, "Is that something to do with foxes?" Hard core football (or any sport) fans are often referred to as 'vehement supporters' but so are those in favour and against fox hunting in Britain.
It has been suggested that the line, "Was it a football team of Orcs?" is a reference to the British fantasy board game of 'Blood Bowl' marketed by Games Workshop, which is based on American football. Pratchett said he was heavily involved in fantasy role playing gaming of the "Dungeons and Dragons" variety so was likely to have been familiar with this game. In this game, teams are selected from the various fantasy races and play against each other, utilising their traditional cultural and racial strengths and weaknesses much the way fantasy league hockey or football pools work. However, there are many Dungeon and Dragon style role playing games of a similar nature, so Pratchett could be referring to any of them. For example, in Warhammer 40,000, another Games Workshop product, the "Orks" are supposedly based on 'English football hooligans' and serve as a comedy relief race in the setting. They obviously would be very enthusiastic about the more brutal form of Ankh-Morpork foot-the-ball.
"Orc's Deep" is likely an allusion to the Roundworld battle of Rorke's Drift in the Anglo/Zulu wars in 1879 which was used as a model in fantasy writer Mary Gentle's story, The Battle of Orc's Drift", in which the Orcs encounter a faerie race not unlike the Feegle.
"Fartmeister" Carter is badly beaten up by the established villain Andy and his gang to send a message to Trev Likely. This echoes a scene in the classic gangster film Get Carter, in which the local mob, inconvenienced by London gangster Carter's attempts to disrupt them, go gunning for him. They miss Carter (Michael Caine), but console themselves by beating his friend and local ally to a bloody pulp - "getting" Carter.
Pratchett says that Mrs Atkinson was"..one of the most feared Faces who had ever wielded a sharpened umbrella with malice aforethought." Mrs. Atkinson evokes the image of a freelance Discworld Agony Aunt, (a hired assassin) and is very typical of the hordes of shrieking old ladies who would descend on professional wrestling events* every Saturday to berate, belabour and batter the participants often using their sharpened umbrellas to poke one of the wrestlers in the buttocks should they have the misfortune to be tossed into the audience during the match. Kendo Nagasaki, a legend among British pro wrestlers, who played the evil baddie role in the ring, is on record as saying he feared nothing so much as a bloodthirsty seventy-year old lady with a sharp umbrella.
The reference to The Doors of Deception is a play on Aldous Huxley's philosophical treatise on using psychedelic drugs to expand the senses - The Doors of Perception which was also the inspiration for the name of the 60's psychedelic rock band The Doors, fronted by Jim Morrison. Both originally have their roots in a line from William Blake's poem The Marriage Of Heaven and Hell in which Blake says: "If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is: infinite"
Nutt discusses football tactics in a style on quite a different plane than that usually expressed in a football interview where the players and coach usually say things like, "We gave 110% (which Nutt comments on later) and "we came to play". He refers to 'Das Nichts des Wissens' by Herr Frugal which is German for 'The nothingness of knowledge'. The following line ""Ich kann mich nicht genau erinnern, aber es war so etwas wie eine Vanillehaltige susse Nachspeisenbeigabe," translates as ' I can not remember, but it was something like a vanilla rich sweet dessert'
Nutt then adds what Doctor Maspinder said in "Das Meer von Unvermeidlichkeit" which translates from German as "The sea of inevitability"
The banana throwing incident on the surface looks like it is simply a fan's comment on the fact that Unseen University's keeper is an orangutan. In reality it is a reference to a long standing racist tradition in football of throwing bananas and shouting racial epithets at black football players - mocking them as less than human (monkeys). This was an extremely common practice in the 1980s in Britain, largely eradicated today because of the fact that few footballers are white in England now, but mainly because of the work of a lowly administrator with the Greater London Council, Herman Ouseley, (now Lord) who, in 1993, set up a project to tackle racism in football called Kick It Out. Making football free from discrimination was his aim. Sadly the practice still continues in other parts of the football world and, additionally, the fan's hate focus has shifted to attacks aimed at openly gay footballers.
Glenda Sugarbean invents Discworld's equivalent of "crowd-surfing" as she descends from the stands to the pitch to come to the aid of the poisoned Librarian. A hazard of crowd-surfing in the mosh-pit for most women would be inadvertent or deliberate groping: Glenda is disappointed that this 'happens to her not even once'.
Bledlow Nobbs, who is "no relation" of Nobby Nobbs of the Watch, is referred to by Trev "as a clogger at heart." His name is likely drawn from Manchester United legend Nobby Stiles, who was a member of England's 1966 World Cup winning team. A clogger is a football player who habitually fouls the opposing player when tackling him. Stiles was a tough defender and very definite a clogger of the old school.
The lines, "You think it's all over?" "It is now!" is a reference to the classic BBC commentary at the end of the World Cup Final in 1966, at Wembley Stadium when England beat West Germany 4-2 with the referee unaccountably adding more and more extra time. Kenneth Wolstenholme drily says there are some people on the pitch... they think it's all over... it is now! This piece of British deadpan, where a South American or Italian commentator would have been screaming with excitement, has justly gone down in commentating glory.
At the end of the novel when Juliet rises into the air with Trevor, shining like gold, there is a similarity to the the Jules Rimet Trophy for the World Cup winner which has a golden figure of Nike, the Greek goddess of victory rising into the air on it.
Trev & Juliet are the Discworld's "Posh & Becks" (Victoria 'Posh Spice" and David Beckham) but the pairing of a glamorous actress or model and a top sports star is common throughout the pro sports world, from football (both soccer and North American), to hockey, golf and baseball. The British press coined the term "WAG" - the 'Wives And Girlfriends' in connection with football but the term is now applied to sports figures in general throughout the sporting world. Stereotypically, WAGS are incredibly glamorous but also seen as incredibly vacuous, just like Juliet who is clearly Discworld's first WAG.