Undead (Discworld)

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In Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, the undead are seen less as monsters, and more as characters with unusual cultural quirks. They even have their own bar in Ankh-Morpork.

The term "undead" is used on the Discworld to refer to many races that seem to be more like separate species, such as werewolves, banshees and bogeymen. Zombies are the only race that belong exclusively to the category "undead", in that they were once living (and human, in all cases seen so far). Vampires are borderline, in that some used to be human, whereas most seem to have been born as vampires.

Zombies[edit]

Zombies are one of the basic kind of undead. Essentially, they are people who are dead, but haven't stopped moving. The zombie activist Reg Shoe makes a distinction between 'proper' zombies and mere 'old memories on legs', describing the former as aware and goal-oriented. Unlike zombies in most folklore and horror fiction, they are not automatically mindless, but may retain the same personality they did when they were alive.

This personality tends to be obsessive in some way. A zombie can (usually) only be created if there is something more important to it than passing on. In this case, they may be summoned back by a voodoo practitioner, or simply refuse to leave.

If, for some reason, Death is prevented from releasing someone's soul from their body, the result is many aimless zombies. This has, however, only happened once without someone else taking up the role.

The most difficult thing about being a zombie is that the body has actually stopped living. This means bits are likely to drop off unless precautions are taken. It also means thought is required regarding the autonomic processes, as its functions no longer happen automatically.

A zombie can remain active even if its flesh is lost to wear, tear, and rot. Since this is very inhibitive to social acceptance, most zombies apparently use some artificial methods of preservation. Not doing so can result in becoming a "skeleton man." (One, Gak, appears in Last Hero.)

Noted zombies in the novels include: Baron Saturday, Mr Slant, Windle Poons and Reg Shoe.

Mummies[edit]

Mummies tend not to come back to life on the Discworld. There are only two cultures (Djelibeybi and Tsort) who really believed in mummification anyway, and they have both lost interest in it in recent years. While the original purpose of the Discworld's pyramids was to bend time and create stasis in the central chamber, so that a dying ruler interred there would never completely die, the message got lost along the way, and eventually the mummification process became a case of removing the ruler's organs, drying them in salt, wrapping them in bandages etc. Pyramids, however, describes an occasion when the dead of Djelibeybi did return to their bodies. Essentially they seemed much like zombies, only better preserved. All of them retained what memories they had from the time in which they were alive. They unanimously despised the pyramids in which they were interred, and upon their release they helped to destroy the Great Pyramid and then dissolved their corporeal bodies in the Djel river. This caused some problems for Death, as he was unused to having over 1,300 souls to take at one time (he eventually processed them in queue). Prior to the events of Pyramids, the souls of those mummified appear to have been prevented from totally dying, and were instead trapped within their pyramids.

Vampires[edit]

Nosferatu Sanguineus

On the Disc, all the world's vampire legends are true, even the contradictory ones. They just aren't all true for the same vampire.

The "default" Discworld vampire is generally consistent with the Dracula image. There is also those who call themselves "vampyres", but the only real difference between them and the other vampires is that they can't spell properly (Carpe Jugulum). Their homeland is Überwald, a land that does not so much resemble Eastern Europe as the Universal and Hammer Horror movie stereotypes of the region. When you live for centuries and instinctively see humans as prey, it's very easy to decide that this means you're destined to rule by force. Überwald is filled with vampire aristocrats.

One odd element of this vampiric attraction to nobility is their names, which often run for several pages. Over the course of their long lives, vampires acquire titles in much the same way as a philatelist acquires stamps. Collecting titles is both a means to pass the time and a subtle reminder to hoi polloi of whom to respect.

The more intelligent vampire nobles know better than to oppress the local peasants too much, realising that there's no sense in driving them to become a torch-bearing mob. Others are too arrogant to worry, or see the whole business of feeding on humans as a very complicated, relatively stylized hunting sport. These vampires (most notably the old Count Magpyr, who returned from the dead so often his coffin had a revolving lid) "play by the rules" and give their quarry ample opportunity to defend themselves. Realizing that even death is rarely permanent for a vampire, these traditionalists like to give their prey a sporting chance and so keep their castles stocked with large collections of holy water, garlands of garlic, wooden stakes (complete with anatomical diagrams detailing the position of the heart in order to reduce the likelihood of their being left looking like a pincushion), metal decorations easily bent into holy symbols, and very clean windows covered by easily pulled-aside drapes. Vampires only really become dangerous when they start breaking the rules, as demonstrated by the younger Count Magpyr, who developed immunity to the traditional weaknesses by lengthy conditioning of himself and his family.

The craving for human blood appears to be more an addiction like alcoholism than a strict dietary requirement. Vampires are reported to have some need for extra "haemo-goblins" and must consume blood to survive, but this blood need not be fresh, or even human. The addiction to fresh, human blood is one which a growing number of vampires are beating, with help from support groups like the Überwald League of Temperance (the "Black Ribboners"). They refer to this change in diet as "going cold bat" (cf. cold turkey). Many get jobs at butcher shops or slaughterhouses in order to obtain their sustenance without harming human beings. In giving up human blood, most vampires sublimate their desire into a secondary, more socially acceptable addiction such as coffee, photography (which on the Discworld utilizes salamanders that store and release sunlight), or even politics. Due to their wish for vampires to become accepted as just another minority group in Ankh-Morpork, resident "Black Ribboners" deal with rogue vampires who attempt to prey on other Ankh-Morpork citizens with extreme prejudice.

Vampires denied the opportunity to satisfy their secondary addiction may begin suffering from severe withdrawal symptoms, including contagious hallucinations such as with delirium tremens. Vampires in this state will eventually become unable to control their natural addiction to blood.

Discworld vampires can survive in sunlight, provided they wear heavy clothes and broad-brimmed hats. As before, some vampires believe conditioning would reduce their vulnerability to the sun. When exposed to any strong light source (such as a camera flash) they will be immediately reduced to ashes, but require merely a drop of blood to recorporate. Many Black Ribboners carry "the kit", a dustpan, brush, small phial of animal blood and explanatory card ("Help, I have crumbled and I can't get up. Please sweep me into a heap and crush vial.I am a Black Ribboner and will not harm you") asking bystanders for assistance in reviving them; Otto Chriek carries his own self-revival kit (an extra-fragile glass phial of blood that breaks upon impact) for automatic recorporation, since his salamander-powered camera flashes have a tendency to turn him to ashes despite the variety of protective filters he experiments with.

Vampires can create new vampires with their bite, but generally prefer not to. Given the existence of vampire couples with vampire children, they seem able to reproduce sexually. Ankh-Morpork resident Arthur Winkins became a vampire as part of an inheritance that included an old castle in Überwald and the accompanying noble title. His wife Doreen Winkins refers to herself as a vampiress, or vampire by marriage, although she is not actually undead. However in Reaper Man, Doreen was not affected by the hypnotic music playing throughout the city (which turned normal people into mindless walking units) - a characteristic shared by the other undead she was with.

Coolness, poise and self-assurance come easily to natural born vampires. A female vampire will look fabulous even in a modestly priced dress. Members of the Überwald League of Temperance seek to renounce vampiric stylishness in all its forms, ditching sleek black cloaks for ratty jumpers and mournful violin playing for building models out of matchsticks.

Vampires have the ability to levitate and change into bats or other animals, although "beetotallers" find using these talents more difficult. It is easier to transform into many bats, thereby maintaining the same body mass. However, the vampire must then control all the bat bodies with a single mind and female Vampires must keep a few carrying clothes unless they wish to arrive naked (there are also complications that come up if a bat happens to get lost from the group).

This is because although male vampires can recorporate their clothes after an ashing or a transformation, female vampires find this more difficult. The reason for this is unclear, though many speculate it is to do with the "underwired nightdress thing". In other words, according to narrative convention (the all-powerful force on the Disc), female vampires must always be sexy.

A recent trend among rebellious younger vampires involves dressing in bright clothes, taking less menacing names, drinking wine (or more commonly drinking blood from wine bottles), complimenting each other on their (fake) rosy complexions and staying up until nearly noon in a parody of teenage goth culture.

Noted vampires in the books include: Arthur and Doreen Winkins (the Count and Countess Notfaroutoe), the Dragon King of Arms, the Magpyr family, Lady Margolotta, Otto Chriek, Mr Morcombe, lawyer to the Ramkin family (though some in the League suspect he may merely be a man who has stubbornly managed to live for 400 years), Maladict(a) and Salacia "Sally" von Humpeding, the first vampire City Watch constable. John Not-A-Vampire-At-All Smith, head of the Black Ribboners, appears in Thud!.[1] A Mr. Bleakley is also referred to in several books as a prospective vampire Watch officer. In Feet of Clay, there is a running joke of one particularly unlucky vampire complaining to the City Watch about his various jobs – jobs which happen to subject him to the myriad perils of vampirism: a pencil factory and a fencing firm (wooden stakes), a sunglasses tester (sunlight), a garlic stacker, and a holy water bottler.

In addition to

Werewolves[edit]

Lupus Sapiens

There is some debate on the Discworld as to whether werewolves are undead or not. The general consensus seems to be "they're big and scary, they come from Überwald, and if you stab them with a sword they don't die. What more do you want?" Regardless of whether or not they are technically undead, inhabitants of the Discworld generally lump werewolves into the same category and treat them in the same fashion.

The Discworld variant of lycanthropy is not considered as merely an infection, as it can be passed along via bloodlines (Discworld Werewolves can be born). Whether or not Discworld lycanthropy is communicable via bites or not however is disputable, but there have been two comments made in the books in support of this notion (one is a joke made by Gaspode and the other was a mental note by Angua von Überwald in the 21st Discworld book Jingo) and one actual reference to a bite-conversion (Lupine, in Reaper Man, who was initially a wolf and, every full moon, sheds some hair and his teeth recede but, as he didn't begin as human, the fact cannot be generalised to all species).

It can be claimed however that it is not entirely correct to see a Discworld werewolf either as a human or as a wolf (one wonders if this condition is an evolved form of Greebo's morphic instability); they are a separate class of being equally at home in either form, and their psychology combines carnivorous animal instincts with human abstract reasoning. In some, this manifests as a fusion of natural predatory instincts with the purely human concept of sadism. Others just make the best they can out of a life where, once a month, they find themselves stealing chickens. Some werewolves (such as Wolfgang von Uberwald) refuse to wear clothes in human form unless required, and some (such as Angua's father) spend so much time in wolf form that they frequently carry canine behaviours over into human form. Their culture combines both human and animal elements; their castles contain few furnishings, both human- and dog-sized doors, and pantries stocked entirely with raw meat. They seldom cook, and have trouble entertaining guests. Unlike most other castles, there is no weaponry hanging on the walls (and even vampires occasionally see the need to use a sword).

There are as many werewolf barons in Überwald as vampire ones, and for much the same reason.

A "true" werewolf is a human three weeks out of four, unless (s)he chooses otherwise, and a wolf the week of full moon. There are also yennorks, werewolves who cannot change, and are permanently in human or wolf form. They usually find werewolf culture uncomfortable and leave to live in a village or pack, or in at least one case as a champion sheepdog. Presumably they are as difficult to kill as regular werewolves, and only vulnerable to silver and fire.

This is where the other kinds of werewolves come from. Crossbreeding between yennorks and ordinary humans has resulted in various other forms of werewolf. The most obvious are the people who turn into wolf-men, rather than wolves, at full moon, but the spectrum ranges from people who have hairy palms and eyebrows that meet in the middle to creatures that look like feral wolf-human hybrids... except at full moon when they turn into wolves. It is also said that some crossbreeds appear human, but with strong feral tendencies, or appear wolf-like but with that extra streak of savagery that is so very human. Meanwhile yennork/wolf mating has led to some extremely intelligent wolves, and is possibly also the cause of the occasional "were-man", a wolf that turns into a wolf-man at full moon.

Werewolves do not get on with vampires. This is less to do with deep-seated politico-racial rivalry and more because the effortless cool of vampires make werewolves feel like hairy animals, and the acceptance into human society of vampires makes werewolves feel even more like outcasts.

One Hollywood stereotype they do conform to is their vulnerability to silver, which causes burns even on light contact, and their subsequent nigh-invulnerability to being killed by other means. A longtime supremacy of a number of werewolf clans in Überwald led to a ban on dwarfs mining silver in the region, though that ban was lifted when the most powerful werewolf clan showed distinct signs of breaking the deal that there would be no need for such things. Werewolves can also be killed with fire, and put to distinct inconvenience with an axe.

Werewolves are synaesthetes, being able to see and hear smells - at least, this is how they describe it once they return to human form.

Noted werewolves in the books include Ludmilla Cake, Lupine (a were-man) and Captain Delphine Angua von Überwald and her family.

Banshees[edit]

Little is known about Discworld banshees. Although the banshee of Gaelic folklore are always female (the Gaelic word "banshee" means "fairy-woman"), the only two banshee to appear in the Discworld books have been male, as all of the female banshees have now become extinct (see The Pratchett Portfolio, and The Truth). They are described as the only humanoid race on the Disc that can fly unaided.

Banshees are tall, lean figures, who appear to be wearing long leather capes. These are actually their folded wings. They have flight muscles like steel armour, but their skeletons are fragile. Banshees have two hearts and many rows of teeth.

The Discworld banshees seem to have evolved in the jungle, where they used their power of flight to help them hunt small (and many not-so-small) animals. This carnivorous instinct tends to backfire in Ankh-Morpork, where any uncooked animal is basically food poisoning on legs.

There appear to be two kinds of banshee, civilised and feral. Civilised banshees can apparently sense when a person is about to die. They will traditionally scream from that person's rooftop as a sign of impending death. However, Mr. Ixolite, the banshee featured in Reaper Man and mentioned again in Lords and Ladies, has a speech impediment and prefers to leave a note instead (usually saying "Oooeeeoooeeeooee"). Hearing the scream of a feral banshee is also a sign that you are about to die, but the connection in this case is much more direct. Interestingly, though, Mr. Gryle the feral banshee worked as a killer for large amounts of money (not a registered Assassin), and berated himself for being unable to fight the urge to snatch pigeons out of the air as they scattered.

Bogeymen[edit]

While not technically undead, verging more on anthropomorphic personifications, bogeymen are frequently lumped into this category. Bogeymen are manifestations of human fears, both childish and primal. They seem to be sustained by the fear of humans (belief has considerable power on Discworld), which gives them ample reason to keep to their traditional work of frightening people. When off-duty, quite a lot of bogeymen seem to frequent Biers, the unofficial bar for the undead in Ankh-Morpork.

Because bogeymen believe that they no longer exist if a child puts its head under the covers (although they only believe this because children do), bogeymen become extremely confused and begin to doubt their own existence if a blanket, pillow, or even a handkerchief is thrown over their own heads. Bogeymen do not have a fixed appearance, usually being able to manifest themselves as whatever the viewer fears most. Their true physical form is usually obscured by the frightening illusions they project. The only bogeyman revealed so far in the books resembled a small, wizened monkey.

The original bogeyman eventually became the Discworld Tooth Fairy.

Ghouls[edit]

Thus far, the only ghoul to make an appearance in any Discworld novel is Sister Drull of the Fresh Starters. Described as a shy old woman in a shapeless grey dress, it is uncertain whether she eats dead human flesh as a traditional ghoul, but it is confirmed that she is a terrible cook. Commander Vimes briefly suggests allowing a ghoul to work in the forensics department of the Watch, provided that the ghoul doesn't take anything home to eat.

Notable undead[edit]

Lady Margolotta[edit]

A vampire from Überwald and a major player in that region's brutal politics. Initially seen in The Fifth Elephant, and appearing a second time in Unseen Academicals, she resides in a castle that looks "as though it could be taken by a small squad of not very efficient soldiers". The inside is decorated with chintz that sports a bat-like design. Lady Margolotta herself wears a pink jumper with embroidered bats, and carries a little ratlike dog (or possibly a doglike rat) with her. Her style is described as looking like somebody who has 'read the music, but never heard it played'.

A "Black Ribboner", she has forsworn blood in favour of the far more satisfying hunt that politics can offer. Long ago, she had a liaison of sorts with the young Lord Vetinari. While Vimes believed that she taught Vetinari a lot of what he knows, she strongly hinted it was Vetinari who taught her. As of Snuff, she is described as the effective ruler of all of Uberwald above ground.

Magpyr family[edit]

The Magpyr family appeared in the novel Carpe Jugulum, in which they attempted to invade the kingdom of Lancre. They all parody vampirism in different ways:

  • The Old Count, Count Magpyr's uncle. Very much a stereotyped cinematic vampire, it is no coincidence that his first name is Bela. He kept his castle full of drapes that could be cast aside and ironwork that could be shaped into religious symbols. Because it was so easy to kill him temporarily, no-one ever went to the effort of doing it permanently.
  • Count and Countess Magpyr see themselves as modern "vampyres" unshackled by superstition. They are partially unaffected by the traditional vampire weaknesses (due to psychological mithridatism), and keen to avoid stereotyping. They see taking blood from villagers as "The Arrangement"; just an unusual form of taxation.
  • Vlad Magpyr also sees himself as a modern vampyre, but has become another stereotype; the romantic Anne Rice-type vampire. He has a ponytail and wears fancy waistcoats.
  • Lacrimosa "Lacci" Magpyr embodies a reversal of "lifestyle vampires"; an actual vampire who wears bright clothes and stays up until noon. Lacrimosa herself appears to be a vicious, sadistic, though intelligent, vampire, but some of her friends call themselves names like "Pam", file their teeth blunt and drink wine.
  • Magyrato, a briefly mentioned ancestor. His portrait is unfinished, due to him attacking the artist halfway through. From what can be seen, he resembled Graf Orlok.

It is implied that older members of the family were closer to vampires in the original legends. As befits a family of their status and condition, they are served by an Igor (who frequently feels put upon by the less traditional Magpyrs).

Mr Slant[edit]

A zombie, and head of the Lawyers' Guild. He was executed for an unknown crime centuries ago, but refuses to die until his descendants agree to pay the firm for his defending himself at the trial. His long (after)life means he has written most of the surviving books on Ankh-Morpork's legal code. He offered up ancient legal justifications for Ankh-Morpork's claim to the sunken island of Leshp in Jingo, and also served as an adjudicator in Moist von Lipwig's trial in Making Money. He has also been involved in attempts to replace Lord Vetinari as Patrician, for example hiring Messrs Pin and Tulip in The Truth.

Otto von Chriek[edit]

Otto von Chriek, more commonly called Otto Chriek, is a professional newspaper photographer ("Iconographer" in Discworld parlance). His job allows him to indulge his suicidal fascination with light.

Otto is one of the "Black Ribboners", vampire "teetotallers" who have forsworn drinking human "b-vord" (This stands for "blood", but it is not wise to say it around him, as it may lead him to revert to his old ways). Due to the supernatural nature of their "addiction", Black Ribboners must replace their craving for "the b-vord" with something else; in Otto's case, he has become obsessed with light and photography. Since sunlight reduces vampires to dust until someone administers a drop of blood, the flash salamander he uses (which gives off stored sunlight) constantly causes Otto problems. He now carries a small vial of animal blood on a chain around his neck, which smashes and reconstitutes him if his salamander goes off too brightly. Otto experiments with "dark light", the light you find when you go out the other side of darkness, but this has its own unique problems, such as not necessarily illuminating the present to the imp inside his camera (which paints the pictures he takes), but also possibly the future or the past. Most other people also object to being photographed with it, out of beliefs of it being "Unholy" or simply being uncomfortable with feeling "like your head has been opened up and icicles have been pounded into your brain", as William de Worde puts it.

Otto's first appearance in the Discworld novels is in The Truth. He then goes on to make cameo appearances in Monstrous Regiment, Going Postal, Thud!, and Making Money.

Otto is from Überwald, and it is implied that he is from the village of Bad Schüschein. He maintains a ridiculous and overly stereotypical vampire appearance, with a few concessions to his art. For example, while he still wears a black velvet opera cape, it is lined with pockets (similar to a photographer's vest). By ensuring people find him funny, he is able to ensure they do not find him threatening.

Chriek's character would seem to be inspired by the news photographer "Weegee", who was also known for his distinctive accent, self-taught skills, knack for appearing at the scene of a crime and flair for self-promotion, although not so much for any tendency to dissolve into dust. His name bears a striking resemblance to that of the 17th century Dutch painter Otto Marseus van Schrieck.

Corporal Reginald Shoe[edit]

Reginald Shoe (usually Reg Shoe) is a zombie, and a Corporal in the Night Watch. He was introduced in Reaper Man and joined the Watch in Jingo. He died in the Ankh-Morpork Revolution that took place during now-Commander Vimes' first days on the Watch force, some thirty years before the present. (Details in Night Watch.) Reg died from several crossbow bolts to the chest, although it took him some time to realise this. Afterwards he became strongly interested in his own "Dead Rights" movement, spending the years between then and now on creating his "Fresh Start Club", preaching to the cemeteries of the city on how maltreated dead people are, and taking a job as an undertaker merely so that he can leave flyers for the Fresh Start Club on the inside of the coffins.

Reg was hired on to the force by Carrot Ironfoundersson, on the basis that if the authorities maltreated the dead, they needed some more expertise. Since then, the number of complaints doubled - all against Mr. Shoe, who claims it is all because of a lack of understanding of the demands of policing in a multi-vital society. While he spends most of his time outside it, Reg has a grave in the Small Gods cemetery next to the other important casualties in the revolution.

Nonetheless, he has proven a competent officer of the law. In The Fifth Elephant, he helps decipher the mystery of the Scone. In addition, Vetinari mentions receiving only good reports about him from Vimes, though this may be related to the fact that Vimes believes complaints prove that you're doing the job right.

Lance-Constable Salacia "Sally" von Humpeding[edit]

Salacia "Sally" von Humpeding is a Lance-Constable in the City Watch and the first vampire to join up. Originally from Überwald, she travelled to Ankh-Morpork to join the city watch there. This coincided with the request by Lord Vetinari and the Ankh-Morpork Mission of the Überwald League of Temperance to Commander Sir Samuel Vimes to accept a vampire constable. Her name goes on for several pages (evolving long names is a well known vampiric hobby) and Sally is afflicted with the belief (which again seems to beset many Discworld vampires) that she can disguise secret messages by signing her name backwards as Aicalas. This is a reference to several Dracula movies in which the Count went under the alias "Alucard".

Sally was greeted with some suspicion by Commander Vimes, as he had previously held out against accepting a vampire, and was deeply disliked by Sergeant Angua, who as an Überwaldian werewolf felt that bad blood was involved. Her abilities as a vampire become of great use to the Watch, and she even manages to reach an understanding with Sergeant Angua. Sally is introduced in Thud!. She is revealed to be a spy for the Dwarf Low King (and probably lady M), but Vimes keeps her in the Watch anyway.

Windle Poons[edit]

Windle Poons was a wizard at Unseen University until the age of 130, whereupon he died and unwillingly became one of the undead, due to Death's absence. After his 'death', his senses are quite enhanced from their 130-year-old state although his appearance is somewhat unsettling, mostly from a failed attempt at preventing rotting via an advanced form of biofeedback (basically, controlling the reactions of your organs voluntarily). After numerous attempts to take his own life...or after-life...he joined a band of undead misfits and eventually helped to defend the city of Ankh-Morpork against the additional lifeforce on the Discworld. Before Reaper Man, Windle Poons appeared in one other Discworld novel, Moving Pictures. His physical and mental state then could be described as "invalid, deaf, wandering of mind and hot on the ladies' behinds in his wheelchair". The wheelchair in question is a large, iron monster akin to a rolling furnace.

Ironically once he got used to his situation Windle enjoyed life much more after dying. He had lived so long he'd been senile for most of his life. But while undead his mind was clearer than it had ever been and his memories were vivid and easily accessible so he could go through his entire life. He was also much more confident and motivated. The wizards believed him to be possessed and buried him. He agreed to this as he wanted to move on to the afterlife. He escaped after this failed to work. At the end of the novel he is no longer feared but people don't seem that interested by him. While not being unkind they are all busy forming new relationships (such as Mrs Cake talking to the wizards).

Like most of the University staff, he has also made an appearance in the Discworld computer games. In Discworld, he mainly voices a paranoid fear of having his staff taken away and, when engaged in conversation, constantly returns to the subject of pickles. He also appeared throughout Discworld II: Missing Presumed...!?; as in Reaper Man, his funeral is spoiled by the non-arrival of Death.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Pratchett, Terry (2006). Thud! : [A Discworld novel] (1st ed. ed.). London: Corgi Books. p. 23. ISBN 9780552152679.