Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett
Thief of Time is Terry Pratchett’s 26th official entry into the DISCWORLD series. Published roughly six months after The Truth and six months before The Last Hero, Thief of Time finds Pratchett in good form, extemporizing on the scientific quest to put time in a bottle versus more transcendental ideologies revolving around passive regard to the great clock of life (pun intended for those who’ve read the book!).
Thief of Time opens at a monastery where the History Monks keep the spindles of time greased and spinning eternally. Lobsang Lud, a common monk, averts a major disaster one day and earns himself an apprenticeship with the master, Lu-tze. Meanwhile in Ankh-Morpork, a down-on-his-luck clockmaker, Jeremy Clockson, is commissioned by an Auditor-in-disguise to build the world’s first glass clock, and is not told that the giant mechanism will in fact stop time rather than measure it. The Auditors, who want time to stop so they can have time to account for all the matter and molecules in the world, send one of their own, Myria Lejean, to ensure Jeremy performs his commission, little knowing the effects and influence mortal life will have on her. When Lobsang and Lu-tze learn of the secret plot, they rush to Ankh-Morpork to stop the end of time. All hell breaks loose — literally and figuratively — when they arrive in town. It seems everyone on the Disc is a stakeholder in the moment.
DISCWORLD (thankfully) lacks the linear progression of so many fantasy series, so Thief of Time would be considered a “Death, Susan, Auditors, Four/Five Horseman of the Apocralypse, History Monks” novel, with its setting being both Ankh-Morpork and the unnamed monastery of the Monks.
As usual for a DISCWORLD novel, symbolism and allusion run rampant through Thief of Time. As announced in the title, time is the subject under discussion, with the Auditors and Monks representing differing views of how time can/should be thought of and utilized. One a cold definitive view, the other a warm free-flowing perspective, it’s obvious Pratchett’s views on the subject have more in common with Eastern perennial philosophy than the Western desire to extract every ounce of meaning and knowledge from the fourth dimension. Thus, a worthwhile moral message underlies the story regarding modern man’s proclivity for getting caught up in the machinations of the clock.
Don’t worry, the humor is all there, too. The subject of time is the source of many an idiom, expression, and phrase in English and Pratchett picks and chooses his battles, inserting puns and jokes in signature style. The narrative is also not without its opportunities for quick but relevant insights regarding time and humanity. In fact, little of our lives and language is untouched by time, so Pratchett has no shortage of avenues in which to expand his theme and make it amusing in the process.
In the end, Thief of Time is one of the best offerings in the DISCWORLD — though I suppose everyone has their favorites. My reasoning is the complementary nature of plot, theme, and humor, facets which Pratchett usually grabs in pairs rather than threes. Trademark storytelling, symbolism, setting, and wit from Pratchett are all on display, so Thief of Time is not a bad entry point into the series for the uninitiated. Readers who enjoy the above mentioned characters will also want to check it out, while fans of the series in general will not be disappointed.
Discworld — (1983-2015) Discworld is a satirical fantasy world created by Terry Pratchett to poke fun at 1980s fantasy novels. Since then, they’ve evolved so that they now make fun of everything. Mr. Pratchett explains Discworld: “The world rides through space on the back of a turtle. This is one of the great ancient world myths, found wherever men and turtles are gathered together; the four elephants were an indo-European sophistication. The idea has been lying in the lumber room of legend for centuries. All I had to do was grab it and run away before the alarms went off… There are no maps. You can’t map a sense of humor. Anyway, what is a fantasy map but a space beyond which There Be Dragons? On the Discworld we know There Be Dragons Everywhere. They might not all have scales and forked tongues, but they Be Here all right, grinning and jostling and trying to sell you souvenirs.” The Discworld novels are presented here in publication order. To read more about the Discworld “arcs” and reading order, see this Wikipedia article.
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