Moving Pictures is the tenth book of the Discworld and is normally cataloged among those of the industrial revolution even if, in my humble opinion, it’s more of a stand-alone book in which the Unseen University wizards play an important part. Along with them, as often happens with wizards and with Rincewind in particular, here come the monsters of the Dungeon Dimensions, and therefore there’s a touch of Lovecraft, which never hurts. Personally, I don’t consider this book part of the industrial revolution series simply because the innovation it deals with, unlike the postal service of Going Postal or the currency introduced in Making Money, doesn’t become part of the world in subsequent books.
But let’s talk about Moving Pictures. Near Ankh Morpork, in Holy Wood, a new industry flourishes when it becomes possible to shoot real films thanks to a new technology (which uses demons that capture images, a bit like what happened with Twoflower’s camera in The Colour of Magic). We follow two young stars, Victor and Ginger, accompanied by the talking dog Gaspode,1 and also the well-known Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler (accompanied by Detritus who’s not yet enrolled in the Watch, as it happens in Men at Arms). At first everything goes perfectly, but then all this creative activity begins to distort reality and attracts the attention of the creatures of the Dungeon Dimensions…
Let’s be honest: I love cinema and I’m crazy about the Discworld, could I possibly not like this book? No, I couldn’t. I love every smallest detail of it. I most certainly missed some references, but I appreciated all the ones to Gone with the Wind, King Kong (with the inevitable librarian of the University), Lassie (the intelligent dog, so to speak), Casablanca, Snowwhite… Pratchett paid homage to the golden age of Hollywood and did so in an extremely humorous book.2 And he didn’t do it in a naive way, since there’s even some subtle criticism of a system in which women are worth only if they are beautiful in front of a camera, and the producers don’t exactly think about art when producing supposedly artistic works.
So, if you think that the whole book is just jokes and parodies3, you’re very wrong. For example, the theme of ephemeral success and believing in one’s own possibilities led Pratchett to write some of his most poetic and evocative passages.4 Another theme explored in Moving Pictures is that of faith, which once again plays a fundamental role in the Discworld, something we already knew from Small Gods: if you believe in something, you give power to it.5 With reality being distorted by the activity of Holy Wood, the perception of things (and the expectations about how these things should be) becomes crucial, even more than the things themselves. Take for example the set of Ankh-Morpork which appears to people more real than Ankh-Morpork itself! Gaspode, an amazing character to say the least, has a lot of cynical jokes about this6, and it’s no coincidence that Pratchett reused it/him in Men at Arms.
Finally, the wizards are used very well here, and as always (at least in my opinion) they work better as secondary characters than as protagonists. The Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully appears here for the first time and will remain in office for the rest of the saga, and there’s also Ponder Stibbons, deus ex machina of the University and also destined to remain for a long time.
Let me stop here, even if this being one of the Discworld books I love the most, I could talk about it for days and days. It’s profound, it’s fun, and I couldn’t love more its theme, Moving Pictures is an absolute must-read! Ciao!
1. Gaspode is not the only talking animals in the book, but no camel does so: “Camels are far too intelligent to admit to being intelligent.”
2. There are also references to famous personalities of the time like Sam Goldwyn, for example, but above all…. Predator is mentioned! And Star Trek! No, no, I didn’t imagine that, please read the following: “This is space. It’s sometimes called the final frontier. (Except that of course you can’t have a final frontier, because there’d be nothing for it to be a frontier to, but as frontiers go, it’s pretty penultimate…).”
3. There are tons of jokes. One example? “Inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened.”
4. “You know what the greatest tragedy is in the whole world?… It’s all the people who never find out what it is they really want to do or what it is they’re really good at. It’s all the sons who become blacksmiths because their fathers were blacksmiths. It’s all the people who could be really fantastic flute players who grow old and die without ever seeing a musical instrument, so they become bad plowmen instead. It’s all the people with talents who never even find out. Maybe they are never even born in a time when it’s even possible to find out. It’s all the people who never get to know what it is that they can really be. It’s all the wasted chances.”
5. “Believe it. That was the way. Never stop believing. Fool the eye, fool the brain.” E anche: “What was it they said about the gods? They wouldn’t exist if there weren’t people to believe in them? And that applied to everything. Reality was what went on inside people’s heads.”
6. For instance, Laddie is considered super-intelligent because it does everything that a smart dog is supposed to do. Gaspode doesn’t, but it/he’s a genius compared to Laddie!