Terry Pratchett on religion

I was listening to an audio book of Pyramids by Terry Pratchett today and came across this scene; one of my favorites in the entirety of the vast Discworld series. I'd forgotten which book it was in. I laughed and laughed. Luckily I wasn't the one driving.


He'd always remember the first night in the dormitory. It was long enough to accommodate all eighteen boys in Viper House, and draughty enough to accommodate the great outdoors. Its designer may have had comfort in mind, but only so that he could avoid it wherever possible: he had contrived a room that could actually be colder than the weather outside.

'I thought we got rooms to ourselves,' said Teppic.

Chidder, who had laid claim to the least exposed bed in the whole refrigerator, nodded at him.

'Later on,' he said. He lay back, and winced. 'Do they sharpen these springs, do you reckon?'

Teppic said nothing. The bed was in fact rather more comfortable than the one he'd slept in at home. His parents, being high born, naturally tolerated conditions for their children which would have been rejected out of hand by destitute sandflies.
He stretched out on the thin mattress and analysed the day's events. He'd been enrolled as an assassin, all right, a student assassin, for more than seven hours and they hadn't even let him lay a hand on a knife yet. Of course, tomorrow was another day . . .

Chidder leaned over.

'Where's Arthur?' he said.

Teppic looked at the bed opposite him. There was a pathetically small sack of clothing positioned neatly in its centre, but no sign of its intended occupant.
'Do you think he's run away?' he said, staring around at the shadows.

'Could be,' said Chidder. 'It happens a lot, you know. Mummy's boys, away from home for the first time-'

The door at the end of the room swung open slowly and Arthur entered, backwards, tugging a large and very reluctant billy goat. It fought him every step of the way down the aisle between the bedsteads.

The boys watched in silence for several minutes as he tethered the animal to the end of his bed, upended the sack on the blankets, and took out several black candles, a sprig of herbs, a rope of skulls, and a piece of chalk. Taking the chalk, and adopting the shiny, pink-faced expression of someone who is going to do what they know to be right no matter what, Arthur drew a double circle around his bed and then, getting down on his chubby knees, filled the space between them with as unpleasant a collection of occult symbols as Teppic. had ever seen. When they were completed to his satisfaction he placed the candles at strategic points and lit them; they spluttered and gave off a smell that suggested that you really wouldn't want to know what they were made of. He drew a short, red-handled knife from the jumble on the bed and advanced towards the goat-

A pillow hit him on the back of the head.

'Garn! Pious little bastard!'

Arthur dropped the knife and burst into tears. Chidder sat up in bed.

'That was you, Cheesewright!' he said. 'I saw you!' Cheesewright, a skinny young man with red hair and a face that was one large freckle, glared at him.

'Well, it's too much,' he said. 'A fellow can't sleep with all this religion going on. I mean, only little kids say their prayers at bedtime these days, we're supposed to be learning to be assassins-'

'You can jolly well shut up, Cheesewright,' shouted Chidder. 'It'd be a better world if more people said their prayers, you know. I know I don't say mine as often as I should-'

A pillow cut him off in mid-sentence. He bounded out of bed and vaulted at the red-haired boy, fists flailing.

As the rest of the dormitory gathered around the scuffling pair Teppic slid out of bed and padded over to Arthur, who was sitting on the edge of his bed and sobbing.
He patted him uncertainly on the shoulder, on the basis that this sort of thing was supposed to reassure people.

'I shouldn't cry about it, youngster,' he said, gruffly.

'But - but all the runes have been scuffed,' said Arthur. 'It's all too late now! And that means the Great Om will come in the night and wind out my entrails on a stick!'

'Does it?'

'And suck out my eyes, my mother said!'

'Gosh!' said Teppic, fascinated. 'Really?' He was quite glad his bed was opposite Arthur's, and would offer an unrivalled view. 'What religion would this be?'

'We're Strict Authorised Ormits,' said Arthur. He blew his nose. 'I noticed you don't pray,' he said. 'Don't you have a god?'

'Oh yes,' said Teppic hesitantly, 'no doubt about that.'

'You don't seem to want to talk to him.'

Teppic shook his head. 'I can't,' he said, 'not here. He wouldn't be able to hear, you see.'

'My god can hear me anywhere,' said Arthur fervently.

'Well, mine has difficulty if you're on the other side of the room,' said Teppic. 'It can be very embarrassing.'

'You're not an Offlian, are you?' said Arthur. Offler was a Crocodile God, and lacked ears.

'No.'

'What god do you worship, then?'

'Not exactly worship,' said Teppic, discomforted. 'I wouldn't say worship. I mean, he's all right. He's my father, if you must know.'

Arthur's pink-rimmed eyes widened.

'You're the son of a god?' he whispered.

'It's all part of being a king, where I come from,' said Teppic hurriedly. 'He doesn't have to do very much. That is, the priests do the actual running of the country. He just makes sure that the river floods every year, d'you see, and services the Great Cow of the Arch of the Sky. Well, used to.'

'The Great-'

'My mother,' explained Teppic. 'It's all very embarrassing.'

'Does he smite people?'

'I don't think so. He's never said.'

Arthur reached down to the end of the bed. The goat, in the confusion, had chewed through its rope and trotted out of the door, vowing to give up religion in future.
'I'm going to get into awful trouble,' he said. 'I suppose you couldn't ask your father to explain things to the Great Orm?'

'He might be able to,' said Teppic doubtfully. 'I was going to write home tomorrow anyway.

'The Great Orm is normally to be found in one of the Nether Hells,' said Arthur, 'where he watches everything we do. Everything I do, anyway. There's only me and mother left now, and she doesn't do much that needs watching.'

'I'll be sure and tell him.'

'Do you think the Great Orm will come tonight?'

'I shouldn't think so. I'll ask my father to be sure and tell him not to.'

At the other end of the dormitory Chidder was kneeling on Cheesewright's back and knocking his head repeatedly against the wall.

'Say it again,' he commanded. 'Come on - "There's nothing wrong-"'

'"There's nothing wrong with a chap being man enough-" curse you, Chidder, you beastly-'

'I can't hear you, Cheesewright,' said Chidder.

'"Man enough to say his prayers in front of other chaps", you rotter.'
'Right. And don't you forget it.'

After lights out Teppic lay in bed and thought about religion. It was certainly a very complicated subject.

The valley of the Djel had its own private gods, gods which had nothing to do with the world outside. It had always been very proud of the fact. The gods were wise and just and regulated the lives of men with skill and foresight, there was no question about that, but there were some puzzles.

For example, he knew his father made the sun come up and the river flood and so on. That was basic, it was what the pharaohs had done ever since the time of Khuft, you couldn't go around questioning things like that. The point was, though, did he just make the sun come up in the Valley or everywhere in the world? Making the sun come up in the Valley seemed a more reasonable proposition, after all, his father wasn't getting any younger, but it was rather difficult to imagine the sun coming up everywhere else and not the Valley, which led to the distressing thought that the sun would come up even if his father forgot about it, which was a very likely state of affairs. He'd never seen his father do anything much about making the sun rise, he had to admit. You'd expect at least a grunt of effort round about the dawn. His father never got up until after breakfast. The sun came up just the same.

He took some time to get to sleep. The bed, whatever Chidder said, was too soft, the air was too cold and, worst of all, the sky outside the high windows was too dark. At home it would have been full of flarelight from the necropolis, its silent flames eerie but somehow familiar and comforting, as though the ancestors were watching over their valley. He didn't like the darkness.

The following night in the dormitory one of the boys from further along the coast shyly tried to put the boy in the next bed inside a wickerwork cage he made in Craft and set fire to him, and the night after that Snoxall, who had the bed by the door and came from a little country out in the forests somewhere, painted himself green and asked for volunteers to have their intestines wound around a tree. On Thursday a small war broke out between those who worshipped the Mother Goddess in her aspect of the Moon and those who worshipped her in her aspect of a huge fat woman with enormous buttocks. After that the masters intervened and explained that religion, while a fine thing, could be taken too far.

1 comment:

Resolute Reader said...

Very funny, though I think the Pyramids is weaker on some of the social comentary than other earlier discworld novels. But I have to say that I think Jingo is a novel well worth a re-read at this time of pointless war, imperialism and racist profiling..... in the context of Iraq it's become a truely hilarious book. Even though it was written before the events.