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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.

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