Towards the end of the book, the characters face final challenges, and their newfound enemies are a commentary on hateful people who resort to scapegoating and violence out of fear. The way Pratchett writes the characters is fascinating and thought provoking, and it manages to be serious despite the whimsical humor going on around it. When the main characters approach a gathering mob, they hear the silence that comes when, “hundreds of frightened and angry people are standing very still” and then a voice sails over the cloud, questioning magic and the gods and calling for ‘cleansing.’ The narrator writes, “The voice didn’t believe in gods, which in Rincewind’s book was fair enough, but it didn’t believe in people either,” and then death appears on the scene. Rincewind tells him he must be having a good day, but death shakes his head. He tells him he understands the death of a warrior, young child, or old man, but does not, “understand this death-of-the-mind.”
The characters escape the mobs, and it seems the danger has passed, but in the final battle of the book they encounter a man possessed not by demons, but things described only as, ‘things.’ The things are far worse than evil, “People were craving order, and order they would get… All the demons in Hell would torture your soul, but that was precisely because they valued souls very highly…those empty eyes would trample and destroy without even according its victims the dignity of hatred. It wouldn’t even notice them” (248).
I find it amazing that in this strange and whimsical book, Pratchett can write such insightful and pointed messages about the real world. He shows the mobs as they truly are: ordinary people who, faced with fear and desperation, became very very dangerous and hateful. He comments on the terribleness of this, but makes a point that so much worse is when this violence and hate become institutionalized and impersonal.
I have a great admiration for Terry Pratchett, both for his fascinating stories with spectacular mastery of language, and now for his awareness of real world issues as well.