|Cover artist||Jonny Duddle|
|Genre||Alternative history, Fantasy|
|Publication date||September 11, 2008|
Nation is a novel by Terry Pratchett, published in the UK on 11 September 2008. It was the first non-Discworld Pratchett novel since Johnny and the Bomb (1996). Nation is in an alternative history of our world in the 1860s. The book received recognition as a Michael L. Printz Honor Book for 2009.
Pratchett took his editors by surprise by writing it before the previously scheduled Tiffany Aching conclusion. He has said "I want to write this one so much I can taste it", and that he's been ready to do it for four years. Pratchett said in February 2007, "At the moment I'm just writing. If it needs to be Discworld it will be Discworld. It could be set in this world 150 years ago while still more or less being a fantasy. The codename for it is Nation."
Written loosely in a third-person perspective, the novel is set in an alternative history of our world, shortly after Charles Darwin has published On the Origin of Species. In this history, there has been a recent pandemic of Russian influenza that has killed the king of England and the next 138 heirs to the British throne. Except for the first chapter, the action of the novel entirely occurs in the Great Southern Pelagic Ocean (a fictionalised equivalent to the South Pacific Ocean): in particular, on an island known by its indigenous inhabitants as "the Nation".
The first chapter involves a subplot in which the Gentlemen of Last Resort, a secret society serving the Crown and vested with great and urgent responsibility, set out for Port Mercia in the Great Southern Pelagic Ocean. Here, they seek the next man in the British line of succession: Henry Fanshaw, the unsuspecting governor of England's oceanic territories. Fanshaw's adolescent daughter, Ermintrude, is one of the novel's two protagonists. The other protagonist, Mau, is an aboriginal native of the Nation who is first depicted alone at neighbouring Boys' Island. Here, Mau is just completing his rite of passage from boyhood into manhood. His final task is to build a canoe by hand and ride it back to the Nation, where he hopes his people will award him his tattoos of adulthood. 13-year-old Ermintrude, meanwhile, is leisurely travelling aboard the Sweet Judy, when a ruthless man named Cox leads a mutiny aboard the ship. Cox and his cohorts are consequently set adrift at sea, but return to the novel at a later time.
The main plot of the novel begins when an enormous tsunami carries the two central characters, Ermintrude and Mau, to the shores of Mau's home island: the Nation. Mau survives the tsunami by riding over it in his canoe, while Ermintrude is the lone survivor of the British schooner Sweet Judy, which is run aground on the island. Except for Mau, the tsunami has killed all the indigenous villagers of the Nation, including Mau's family. Since his people have all died before recognising the transition of his child's soul into that of an adult's, the adolescent Mau now believes that he must no longer have a soul and rejects the gods for not sparing the lives of his family. Devastated, Mau carries all his people's corpses into the ocean, based on their religious belief that humans buried at sea become dolphins. Ermitrude tries to interact with Mau but, in a moment of overwhelming fear, she tries to shoot him. Fortunately, the wet pistol fails to fire and Mau mistakes Ermitrude's gesture of hostility as one of generosity. Though they know nothing of the other's language or culture, the two start cooperating for mutual survival and they establish some basic communication. Ermintrude introduces herself to Mau as "Daphne" and never reveals her given name, which she has always hated.
Three other survivors of the tsunami from neighbouring islands eventually arrive at the Nation, including an old cynical priest named Ataba, who calls Mau "Demon Boy" due to Mau's self-described lack of a soul and angry rejection of the gods. A few days later, several more survivors arrive, including two brothers who can speak English moderately well with Daphne, speeding along the language-learning process for all. One of the brothers has a wife who is pregnant and Daphne is employed as a makeshift midwife. Though she knows nothing of childbirth, Daphne sings "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" throughout the birth, which wins her respect from the grateful new father. Meanwhile, Mau obsessively keeps vigil over the Nation, looking out for local cannibals who are known to attack without warning. At the same time, he frequently hears the disembodied voices of the Grandfathers: ancestral spirits of the island whose angry (and often incoherent) demands often irritate Mau. They convince Mau to relocate the "god anchors," which have been displaced by the tsunami. The god anchors are white stones that are said to "anchor" the gods from drifting away, according to tradition. Mau finds and tries to salvage the anchors from the Nation's lagoon, where they have been deposited. Ataba tries to destroy one of the anchors that he believes to be false and Mau, rescuing the ungrateful priest from a shark, consequently suffers hypothermia. This, mingled with sleep deprivation from his constant vigil, causes Mau to fall into a coma, from which he is saved by Daphne, when she accepts a magic poison from a shamnistic old woman and travels in her mind to the land of the dead to rescue him.
Even more survivors have now arrived at the Nation and Daphne begins hearing the voices of the Grandmothers, who claim to be the neglected but more sensible, female counterparts to the Grandfathers. On the Grandmothers’ suggestion, Daphne prepares to open an ancient, closed-off crypt called the Grandfathers' cave. Mau, Daphne, Ataba, and some others enter this cave and discover that the Nation is probably the oldest civilisation on Earth and that its people have made huge scientific progress with creations including telescopes, eyeglasses, and accurate star charts. Up until now, all this was apparently forgotten. After leaving the Grandfathers' cave, the group is confronted by two villainous English mutineers from the Sweet Judy. Armed with pistols, the mutineers promptly kill Ataba and take Daphne hostage. Daphne, though, craftily causes one of the mutineers to poison himself and the other to flee. In the meantime, Cox, who has since joined the cannibals and claimed himself their chief, is preparing to raid the Nation. Mau proactively arranges to use cannons from the wreck of the Sweet Judy to defend the Nation from such an attack; however, there is only enough gunpowder for one shot. Due to this disadvantage, the Nation's people have to coax the cannibals, when they arrive, into having the two parties' chiefs fight to the death in single combat. The cannibals are surprised when the Nation announces the youthful Mau as their chief. Cox expects to easily dispatch Mau with two pistols, but Mau remembers Daphne's earlier attempt to shoot him, and knows that gunpowder fails when wet; Mau therefore takes the battle into the lagoon, and he outwits and kills Cox. With their leader dead, the cannibals depart and release their prisoners. A few days later, Henry Fanshaw arrives in search of his daughter. As a man of scientific curiosity, he, like Daphne, is fascinated with the re-opened cave. The Gentlemen of Last Resort arrive two weeks later, telling Fanshaw that he is the next heir to the British throne and immediately crowning him king. Mau, wary of England's politics, is reluctant to join the British Empire and instead requests that the Nation become a member of the scientific Royal Society. Ultimately, Daphne feels a duty to leave with her father, and Mau remains behind on the island with his people.
Many years later, in the present day, an old scientist tells this story to two children of the modern-day Nation. He explains that Daphne returned to England to marry a prince from Holland and that Mau died of old age. When Daphne died, her body was sent to the Nation to be buried at sea so that her soul would become a dolphin. He tells them that from those days onward, thousands of scientists have visited the island, including Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan, and Richard Feynman, and that dozens of observatories have been created to learn about the stars, as the Nation has done for thousands of years. The book ends with the elder of the two children, a girl, standing guard on the beach, protecting the Nation as Mau had done years before. In the lagoon, a dolphin leaps from the sea and the scientist smiles.
||This article possibly contains original research. (November 2010)|
Three major themes run throughout the book: the movement from a child identity that is received to an adult identity that is self-created; the relationship between the individual and the society; and the nature of the struggle between science and religion.
The child-to-adult theme is repeated in the story of Mau, of Ermintrude/Daphne, and of the Nation as a whole. Mau starts as a typical (if unusually thoughtful) island boy and would have been satisfied to walk the well-worn path of his forefathers. Instead, because of the wave and its consequences, he has a greatly prolonged moment between the shell of his boy soul and the shell of his man soul, and ultimately he chooses a much larger soul. Mau reinvents himself as a leader and protector of his people.
Ermintrude starts the story as a child, subjected to many Standards that must be Maintained. As a high-born daughter, she isn't permitted to learn anything useful or look forward to anything but marriage. On the island, she soon realizes that there is no one but herself to create the Standards. She instinctively renames herself Daphne upon introducing herself to Mau; the island is her first real opportunity to make what she wishes of herself. Daphne lets good sense and kindness be her guide, whether that means wearing a grass skirt, pre-chewing food for an old woman, or poisoning a murderer.
The Nation itself moves from childhood to adulthood under its new leadership. Before the wave, Mau and the other survivors had followed simple faiths and believed that the asking of questions was a pastime for children. As the Nation rebuilds, the survivors sort through a religious crisis. Ultimately, the Nation leaves its childishness behind, refusing to be either primitive nor colonial. It forges a new path and takes its place among nations as a leader in science.
The second theme asks what it means to have a nation. The word "Nation" is used primitively to underscore the idea that "Nation" is as fundamentally undefinable as "God" or "Earth." Mau is from an island society where no poet needs to point out that "no man is an island"; in the Nation, the individual's place in society is so fundamental that it is completely taken for granted. Mau thinks of himself as a man/boy without a soul, but what he has really become is a man without a country. When he saves Daphne's life, he says that she saved his life because as a boy alone he was nothing, but the two of them together was a Nation. At the end of the story, when the survivors have secured the survival of their new Nation, Mau gets the tattoo that gives him his man-soul.
Being part of a nation requires great sacrifice. When the first canoe of survivors arrives, it is clear that the baby will die unless someone can find milk. Mau risks his life and sacrifices his dignity in order to milk a wild pig. Commentators have noted that milking the wild pig in order to save the fledgling Nation is a direct counterpoint to Lord of the Flies, where killing pigs is central to the descent into savagery. Daphne, who has adopted the Nation as her own, sacrifices her innocence when she kills someone in order to protect the Nation. Knowing their duties, Mau and Daphne ultimately part ways in order to fulfill their roles as leaders.
The concept of "nation" can be extended to embrace all of humanity, anchoring Nation in the philosophy of humanism as an answer to the question of "what is the role of the individual in society?" As with the Tiffany Aching series, Nation contains an undercurrent of passive faith transforming into active scientific enquiry, without losing moral dimensions in the process. Pratchett reinforces this theme with an offhand reference to outspoken atheist and humanist Richard Dawkins as "that nice Professor Dawkins" who was bitten by a tree-climbing octopus).
Like Tiffany, Mau and Daphne are resourceful and logical, with a penchant for questioning authority. They are also deeply rooted to their homes, and the awakening of science does not change how Mau feels about his home or his people. Indeed, when he casts aside his superstitions and explores the forbidden cave of the ancestors, what he finds there is both more truthful and more inspiring. Pratchett's books are distinguished by the manner in which logic is warmly paired with humanism and abiding loyalty. For example, when Mau risks his life to save his Nation (whether defined as Daphne, a baby, or all of the survivors as a whole), he doesn't even see it as heroism because he thinks he is merely trying to save himself. Without others to give life meaning, Mau's own life would be meaningless. Tiffany, Mau, and Daphne are tolerant of religious beliefs, but ultimately the meaning that they care about most is the meaning that people create for each other.
The novel was well received with The Independent calling Nation 'one of his finest books yet', the Washington Post 'a thrilling story', and The Guardian printing "Nation has profound, subtle and original things to say about the interplay between tradition and knowledge, faith and questioning." Times Online called the novel "Thought-provoking as well as fun, this is Terry Pratchett at his most philosophical, with characters and situations sprung from ideas and games with language. And it celebrates the joy of the moment."
The Royal National Theatre performed a theatrical adaptation of the book by Mark Ravenhill. Previews started on November 11 and the show opened on November 23, 2009. Readings from the novel began on BBC Radio 7 on Saturday 30 January 2010 at 1800 and 2400.
- American Library Association (2010). "Michael L. Printz Winners and Honor Books". Retrieved 2011-02-03.
- Hughes, Juliette (2007-02-17). "Meeting Mr Pratchett". theage.com. Retrieved 2008-02-16.
- Pratchett, T: Nation, page 64. Harper, 2008.
- Nation (Terry Pratchett). Retrieved 2010-09-09.
- Nation, by Terry Pratchett
- Michael Dirda on 'Nation'
- Leader of men
- Nation by Terry Pratchett
- Brit Writer's Latest News
- Shenton, Mark (2009-06-18). "National Theatre Season to Include Fiona Shaw as Mother Courage, Pratchett's Nation". Playbill.com. Retrieved 2009-06-22.
|Novels by Terry Pratchett