Trust is a valuable commodity. To whom do I give my trust? The entertainment industry? News media? Scientific research? Pratchett’s Moving Pictures is a biting and funny social commentary about the impact and influence media can have on us.
About thirty miles Turnwise of Ankh-Morpork the surf boomed on the wind-blown, seagrass-waving, sand-dune-covered spit of land where the Circle Sea met the Rim Ocean.
The hill itself was visible for miles. It wasn’t very high, but lay amongst the dunes like an upturned boat or a very unlucky whale, and was covered in scrub trees. No rain fell here, if it could possibly avoid it. Although the wind sculpted the dunes around it, the low summit of the hill remained in an everlasting, ringing calm.
Nothing but the sand had changed here in hundreds of years. (p.10)
Moving Pictures is the 10th novel in the Discworld bibliography and was published in 1990 (my paperback edition is 333 pages). Its cover was illustrated by Josh Kirby. His illustration is spot on with regards to both the spirit and letter of the story. Our narrator is omniscient and, therefore, knows and shares details from important places and people. One of Pratchett’s techniques is Footnotes. They aren’t essential to the story-line, but they do add to the narrative-believability. Chapter headings are non-existent. At first, that might be confusing but you soon get used to it. There are 17 non-English translations of the story and the novel has been dissected by scholars from some of those countries.
‘Oh, yes. Yes. Yes,’ breathed Soll. ‘What a picture! Pure kinema!’
‘A giant woman carrying a screaming ape up a tall building,’ sighed Dibbler. ‘And we’re not even having to pay wages!’ (p.300)
Making fun of the movie industry begins on the dedication page with Pratchett’s “Thank you speech” and continues throughout the story. Names (e.g. “Silverfish“), titles (e.g. “Last Keeper of the Door“) and places (e.g. “Holy Wood“) are from novels and films (e.g. “Gone with the Wind” + “King Kong” = “Blown Away”) that span the period that started with the Phantasmagoria shows of the 1790’s up through the one-reel Celluloid film from the late 1800‘s that developed into the silent movies of the early 1900‘s ending with the movies 1980‘s.
Many of the characters in this story are like people I know. Main characters are Theda Withel (Ginger/Delores del Syn), Victor Tugelbend (Victor Marachismo), Cut-My-Own-Throat Dibbler (Dibbler), Gaspode The Talking Dog (Gaspode), the Alchemist’s Guild, the Wizards of Unseen University, the Librarian, Holy Wood and Ankh-Morpork.
Our story begins and ends with Holy Wood. From the description above, it seems an idyllic place yet all Keepers of the Door have maintained a 3-times-a-day set of rituals to prevent an apocalypse. When Death puts a stop to the priestly line, whatever was kept back by the chanting begins to seep out.
It was old in a way not measurable by any calendar known to Man and what it had, right now, was memories and needs. It remembered life, in other times and other universes. It needed people. (p.13)
As anyone who has encountered Ankh-Morpork knows, it teems with life. Smelly, overcrowded and dangerous, its citizens are strangely loyal “can’t wait to get back so they can enjoy hating living there some more.” In other words, perfect for an entity needing people. Upon arrival it finds the Alchemist’s Guild.
At the best and worst of times Alchemists invent things that go “boom” or “bang”. One of Thomas Silverfish’s booms results from the creation of Octo-cellulose. Octo-cellulose is the substance that, together with imps, leads to clicks. Unfortunately these moving pictures lean towards magic. As only Wizards can legally practice magic in Ankh-Morpork, the Alchemists, led by Silverfish, decide to take their discovery to Holy Wood.
Where the Alchemist Guild is thought of as free entertainment for people passing by, it is best to avoid the Wizards of the Unseen University (UU). Like the faculties of many universities, the UU is filled with bright and ambitious individuals who tend to overestimate their own importance. The Wizards were tired of the deadly infighting and wanted a pushover Archchancellor for a while. They thought Mustrum Ridicully, who’d been running around “talking to trees” for the last 40 years, would fit that bill. What they got was a man who brought stability to the Archchancellorship and a complete lack of respect for their august personages.
Another important Wizard in Moving Pictures is the Bursar who is responsible for, and adores, paperwork. He and Ridicully tend to be at odds with each other, but in Moving Pictures they must cooperate to get to the bottom of things.
The Librarian is one my favourite UU character. According to rumours, a long time ago something went wrong during an experiment and the result was an orang-utan. As long as one does not call him a “monkey” he is a pretty laid-back person. His immense dedication to the books in the UU library, along with his agility and heft, makes him the perfect caretaker of some extremely dangerous works, e.g. the Necrotelicomnicon (see picture by Dee Ellis).
@Marc SimonettiOnce upon a time, Victor Tugelbend’s uncle set up a college fund for Victor. It stipulated that he must never get a grade lower than 80 points. Finals had a passing grade of 88 points. This stipulation gained Victor a well-trained body and mind hard to keep him from graduating. He is a fairly good-looking fellow with a pencil thin mustache. On his way back to the UU, on the night before exams, he somehow finds himself at the Plaza of Broken Moons. Something happens and eight hours later he finds himself he road to Holy Wood along with the rest of the crowd who were at the Plaza with him. Including Gaspode the Wonder Dog.
Gaspode is a talking dog. One day he woke from a nap with the ability to talk human and has regretted it ever since. Victor is one of the few people who understands that Gaspode is truly a talking dog and that gives Gaspode something to hold onto. I pity Gaspode. Imagine waking up one day only talking dog. He is an extremely conflicted dog and things do not get any less conflicted when Laddie (beautiful but stupid) gets all of the love and attention.
Another essential character dragged along by the entity is Dibbler. Between schemes Dibbler is a “hot-meat-pie-and-sausage-in-a-bun salesman” (p.15) who tends to go easy on the meat and whose remarkable con-skills include selling “sausages to people that have bought them off him before.” (p.70). This is one of the few times in the Discworld history that he gets to shine. And shine he does. To protect him from the consequences of his actions, Dibbler hires Detritus, a high-mountain troll whose brain capacity has been severely reduced by the low-lands of Ankh-Morpork. Trolls in the Discworld, and particularly Ankh-Morpork regions, put on sun-lotion while the sun is up and no longer openly “swaller” humans.
Once Victor arrives in Holy Wood he comes across Theda Withel. The two of them become the scorching hot starring couple Victor and Ginger and Victor Maraschino and Delores del Syn. He becomes the dashing hero who comes to her rescue. Even today, that is a role women are often stuck with as actors. In addition to acting in the clicks, and with the help of Gaspode, they look for answers to Ginger’s strange behaviour, what the entity of Holy Wood is and how it affects everyone.
Looking at the world today, it’s simple to see that we suffer from the same illusion of how our needs and ideas must be met and heard. Our “entity from Holy Wood” is difficult to escape in a time when fronts matter more than content. I’m whether that would be true in a collectivistic culture. Most likely it is but on a larger scale, i.e. the family, the club, the country, etc. We are easily fooled. Pratchett does a good job. I never felt preached at yet I had no problem understanding that I need to pay attention to the “real” message of what I encounter.
Moving Pictures moves between characters. Most times the breaks in the text indicate that we are moving to another location/person. Since there are no Chapter breaks, this is a useful tool for us to keep everything in order. In addition, these breaks also handle the sub-plots of the story (e.g. Wizards’ in-house drama). Towards the end everything comes together in a climax worthy of an action movie.
When it comes to movie references, readers do not need to know the original to have fun with the story. Details are weaved together in a manner that gets the message across. As usual I’m amazed at how Pratchett manages to make a bit of our world into a part of the Discworld. As usual, his humour is dry, biting, kind, intelligent and revealing.
Moving Pictures remains relevant. Definitely recommended.
- Audiobook: Moving Pictures; Narrated by Nigel Planer; Oxford: Isis, 1997.
- Australian English: Narrated by Kate Buring; Sydney: Australian Listening Library, 2005.
- Bulgarian: Тери Пратчет; Подвижни образи / Podvizhni Obrazi; Translated by
- Czech: Pohyblivé obrázky; Translated byPraha: Talpress, 1996.
- Estonian: Liikuvad pildid; Translated by : Varrak, 2002.
- Dutch: Rollende prenten; Translated byUtrecht: Het Spectrum, 1994.
- Finnish: Elävät kuvat; Translated by Mika Kivimäki; Hömeenlinna: Karisto Oy, 2003.
- French: Les zinzins d’Olive-Oued; Translated by Paris: Pocket, 1997.
- German: Voll im Bilde; Translated by
- Hungarian: Mozgó képek; Translated by Alföldi Nyomda; Debrecen: Cherubion, 2001.
- Italian: Stelle cadenti; Milano: Salani, 2007.
- Norwegian: Levende bilder; Translated by Oslo: Tiden Norsk, 2003.
- Polish: Ruchome obrazki; Translated by Piotr W. Cholewa; Warszawa: Prószyński Media, 2000.
- Romanian: Imagini mişcătoare; Translated by
- Russian: Движущиеся картинки : [фантастический роман] / Dvizhushchiesi︠a︡ kartinki; Translated by В. Вольфсона / V. Volʹfson; Москва: ЭКСМО, 2006. Moskva: ĖKSMO, 2006.
- Serbian: Pokretne slike; Translated by ; Beograd: Laguna, 2001.
- Spanish: Imágenes en acción; Translated by Barcelona: Altaya, 2003.
- Swedish: Röliga bilder; Translated byStockholm: Wahlströms, 1996.
- Turkish: Hareketli resimler; Translated by Istanbul: Ithaki, 2004.