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Literature: Nation

When much is taken, something is returned.

On an island in the Great Southern Pelagic Ocean, Mau has just finished the rite of passage to go from a boy to a man when a volcano creates a tidal wave that crashes down on the island, killing everyone and leaving him the sole survivor of his people, the Nation. At the same time, the ship Sweet Judy has crashed, with Ermintrude "Daphne" Fanshaw as the only one alive. Her father is 138 places from being king and her grandmother has raised her to be a "Proper Young Lady Who Has Been Taught To Maintain Standards." Scared and alone, she witnesses Mau sending the dead off into the sea.

Soon, other survivors begin to arrive and more things are stirring. There will be trials, terrors, and secrets revealed, and always the forever danger of Locaha, the God of Death.

A non-Discworld book by Terry Pratchett, Nation is about survival, the power of truth, lies, science, and faith.

A stage version, adapted by Mark Ravenhill, debuted in 2009.

The Tropes That Happen:

  • Action Survivor: Everyone to some extent.
  • Action Girl: Daphne, but not in the "fighting" sense of trope, in the "she doesn't sit around waiting to be rescued" part. She's the one who insists that Mau move the big stone in front of the Cave of the Grandfathers, which ultimately saves the Nation. Oh, and she doesn't take anybody's crap.
    • Especially considering the bit about her relative who is/was much like Cox and how she dealt with him.
    • Much like, well, every single female main character Pratchett has ever written.
  • Action Mom: The Unknown Woman and a cannon.
  • Adam and Eve Plot, subverted.
  • All Girls Like Ponies: averted. Daphne's mother suggested a pony as a present for her 9th birthday. Daphne asked for a telescope instead.
    Who’d want a pony when you could have the whole universe? It was far more interesting and you didn’t have to muck it out once a week.
  • Alternate History: It's hinted at in the beginning with the "Russian influenza," but by the end, you know what it is. Pratchett even calls in in the Author's Note "The great big multiple-universes get-out-of-jail free card..."
    • Not to mention the two Australias on the map (really just our Australia having been broken in half somehow)...
      • More that Australia hadn't been circumnavigated yet, so they didn't know it was one whole landmass.
      • Or New Zealand and Australia got lumped together under one name.
    • ReUnited States of America.
    • Or the fact the monarch killed off by the epidemic was the king — at a time when, in our history, Victoria had been ruling for at least 22 years.
  • Ancient Tradition: The Grandfathers and the Grandmothers
    • Less on the Grandmothers, more on the Grandfathers; the grumpy old men can't even hear someone respond, while the grannies are more sanity and helpfulness.
  • Arc Words: "Does Not Happen" is said by more people than just Mau and "End of the World" is referenced : geographically (Nation/England, mythologically, (the flood from the time when things were otherwise), culturally with Daphne's new life, Mau's with the wave and Locha's other worlds.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Subverted: Locaha offers to take Mau to Imo's "Perfect World." Mau refuses, wanting to stay and making this world perfect. Locaha says everyone refuses.
    • Of course, that's the whole point of the offer.
  • Atlantis: One possible interpretation.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: Played with: Mau is already the Chief of the Nation, it's Daphne's father who is crowned King.
  • Ax-Crazy: First Mate Cox. There's a reason that if a ship already has a first mate, they'll quickly ask to be second mate if First Mate Cox comes aboard.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Nation survives and flourishes. Daphne's father is crowned king. However, Daphne leaves the island and only sees Mau one more time. Although the girl who's being told the story insists that two dolphins were seen swimming together immediately after both Mau and Daphne died.
  • Bizarre Alien Locomotion: The sailfin crocodile, mentioned in a footnote.
  • Brick Joke: At first glance Mrs. Ethel J. Bundy’s Birthday Island seems like the sort of snipe hunt parents send their children on, its only relevance being that trying to find the tiny place is why Daphne studied the Mothering Sunday Islands so closely. Then Cookie later shows up and mentions his survival coffin washed ashore there.
  • Burial at Sea: The islanders' funeral rite involves dropping people into a particular riptide, where they're carried out to sea.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The axe (A Double Subversion)
    • The recipe for making beer is a Chekhov's Skill, as is Grandad Nawi's secret word for scaring sharks.
  • Colourful Theme Naming: The Gentlemen of Last Resort- Mr. Black, Mr. Brown, Mr. Amber, and Mr. Red.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: Quite literally for Mau, as he was in-between being a child and man. In fact, he thought he lost his "child soul" and would gain a "man soul" when he got back to the Nation... but when he did, everyone was dead. So afterwards, the other survivors call him the Boy Without a Soul.
  • Combat by Champion
  • Continuity Porn: Daphne explaining Nation's history to her dad at the end.
  • Cool Old Guy: In flashbacks, Grandad Nawi, who, in spite of a crippled leg, was the best hunter and fisherman in the Nation, and knew a magic word to scare sharks away. Even though Mau learns that it's just a trick, it's no less awesome.
  • Cool Old Lady: Mrs. Gurgle (called so because Daphne can't pronounce her real name).
  • Crazy-Prepared: Cookie
  • Deliberately Cute Child: although it doesn't happen onscreen, it's hinted that Daphne is not above pulling this when she has to. There's an interesting flashback when, as a child, she corners a particularly-Jerk Ass cousin, tells him to stop his antics, and promptly bursts into tears when the adults arrive. (The narrative also notes that her family could never have survived as long as it did without a mean streak.)
  • Determinator: Mau. See Survival Mantra.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: The two leads don't end up together, though it's suggested they reincarnate as paired dolphins after their deaths.
  • Disaster Dominoes: The destruction of the Grandfathers, in a literal domino effect.
  • Distant Finale: The entire book takes place in 1859 or '60, except for the Epilogue which is the "Present Day."
  • Don't Explain the Joke: Daphne's father makes the critical mistake of trying explain an Incredibly Lame Pun, only to have the Gentlemen of the Last Resort tell him it wasn't funny. Of course, he's king now, so they tell it to him in a more polite manner.
  • Don't Try This at Home: There's an afterword discussing the truth behind some implausible-sounding things that happen in the story; most of them are accompanied with warnings that you should not try this at home. The last one ends, instead, with "Whether you try it at home is up to you."
  • Duel to the Death: Between Mau and First Mate Cox.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending:
  • Embarrassing First Name: Daphne, who is not Ermintrude.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Cannibals don't like First Mate Cox.
    • And vice-versa: he won't eat their diet...
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: Not only with Mau being the last survivor of the Nation, but with Daphne, too. And Europe (and America, it is hinted at) is being ravaged by the "Russian influenza."
  • Everything's Even Worse with Sharks: Mau confronts one while trying to raise the god anchors; Cox is eaten by several of them later on.
  • "Far Side" Island: Referenced.
  • Felony Misdemeanor: Part of the reason the crew of the Sweet Judy mutinied was Captain Roberts's habit of singing every hymn from The Antique and Contemporary Hymn Book while he was on watch.
  • Flat Earth Atheist: After the wave, Mau steadfastly refuses to believe in the gods...even as the ghosts of the Grandfathers shout in his ear. Even as he talks to Locaha, the God of Death. In the end, it is said that he believes "Imo made us smart enough to realize he didn't exist."
  • Footnote Fever: Relatively restrained for a Terry Pratchett novel, but there are a few footnotes about (entirely fictitious) wildlife like the tree climbing octopus.
  • Fowl-Mouthed Parrot: Implied to be invoked by First Mate Cox, who taught the ship's mascot to say things that would infuriate Captain Roberts.
  • Genre Savvy: Daphne, and she knows it too:
    "There was something in the brain that said: Sinister-looking valley + half dead trees + ominous doorway = skulls in a bowl, or possibly on a stick. But even by listening to it, she felt she was being unfair to Mau and Cahle and the rest of them."
  • Giant Wall of Watery Doom: The Nation's fate at the beginning of the story.
  • Going Native: Missionary the Rt. Rev. Toppley, who turns down a chance to be Archbishop because "they'd make me wear shoes".
  • Good Cannot Comprehend Evil: Daphne has a hard time explaining Cox's behavior to the islanders. They can cope with cannibals, but not someone who shoots people because they're there.
  • The Grim Reaper: Locaha. And he's not as nice as Pratchett's other Grim Reaper.
    • He acts cruelly uncaring, though some or even all of this might be a ploy to make Mau figure things out himself. He's also more eager to claim lives than Discworld's Death. However, the Just So Story that opens the book depicts his creation as a necessity to avoid overpopulation and shows him taking a stand against Imo when Imo wants to wipe out the already-populated world and start over.
  • A Handful for an Eye: Mau does this during his duel against Cox.
  • Heroic BSOD: Mau goes through a pretty extreme version of this when he's sinking the bodies of his tribe in the ocean. Basically, his body's moving, but his mind isn't there any more. He doesn't even notice Daphne standing directly in front of him. He only wakes up just before drowning himself.
    • Daphne gets a beneficial one via the Grandmothers to help her birth a baby.
  • Heroic RROD: Happens to Mau after saving Ataba's life and facing down a shark.
  • Hidden Backup Prince
  • I'm a Humanitarian: The cannibal Raiders. Cox joins forces with them, but claims not to have adopted the diet.
  • In Spite of a Nail: Despite the Alternate History aspects of the story, the present day epilogue suggests many major scientific figures still exist and work in the same fields.
  • Istanbul Not Constantinople: The Great Southern Pelagic Ocean is the Pacific under an assumed name.
  • Kick the Dog: First Mate Cox is the embodiment of this trope.
  • Klingon Promotion: What Daphne's afraid may have happened after 137 people die, leaving her father as king.
    Daphne: “Has my grandmother been doing anything… silly? With knives and guns, perhaps?”
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Locaha and the ancestors are described as speaking to other characters, but always within their own subjective experiences, and Mau's struggles with religion are a major theme.
  • The Men in Black: The Gentlemen of Last Resort wear black suits and are named after colours. They mostly run things without bothering the government.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: In a rare justified example, several new bird species converge on Mau's island after the tsunami, presumably because their native isles were completely inundated and they had nowhere else to go. The Fowl-Mouthed Parrot, also a foreign species, was shipwrecked along with Daphne.
  • The Multiverse: As explained by Locaha:
    Everything that can happen must happen, and everything that can happen must have a world to happen in.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: The parrot says a lot of words that girls Daphne's age shouldn't know, although the words she really doesn't know concern her even more.
    • The last few chapters also contain a lot of "Cox swore" — but then he is the one who taught the parrot.
  • Nay-Theist: Mau claims not to believe in the gods, but he also hates them. For not existing.
    • A line relatively early in the book hints that Daphne's father is also this, due to what happened to his wife and son:
      And perhaps at the other end of the world there is a place where the screaming can't be heard, and I may find it in my heart to grant God absolution!
  • Near Death Experience: Both Daphne and Mau. Daphne does it on purpose.
  • Near Misses: Justified and then subverted: Cox has guns which he uses in his duel against Mau. Mau is just smart enough to dive into the water, where bullets don't have as much effect. He does get his ear shot off, though.
  • Only Mostly Dead: Mau in Chapter 8, causing him to briefly meet Locaha, his people's God of Death. Daphne helps him get better
  • Parental Abandonment:
    • Missing Mom: We are given massive hints that Daphne's mother and little brother died (most likely through Death by Childbirth). She was completely traumatized by the sight of the "little coffin."
      • Not so much the coffin as the fact that her little brother will be separated from his mother in death...
    • Disappeared Dad: Daphne's father went off to be the head of a colony. She was going to follow him a few months later, but then the wave happened...
  • Plucky Girl: Daphne, Blibi.
  • Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo: Foxlip suspects Daphne of trying this, but it doesn't matter which bowl he takes; they both contain poison that turns into beer when you do the ritual, and she knows he won't.
  • Refusing Paradise: Locaha, the god of death, offers Mau the chance to ascend to the "Perfect World". Mau refuses, preferring to make his own world a little more perfect. Locaha notes with pride that everyone he's chosen has made the same choice.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Daphne's father, who works all night in his role as a Foreign Office minister, shows every signs of becoming one of these.
    • The chiefs of the island civilizations are implied to have a large role in all of the island's battles.
  • Shipper on Deck: a good percentage of Nation's population are implied, offscreen, to ship Mau and Daphne. Ultimately averted.
  • Shout-Out: To Moby-Dick. The Distant Finale also mentions various modern scientists visiting the island and doing pretty much what they've done in our world; Richard Feynman playing drums, Dawkins being harassed by an intelligent tool-using animal, Carl Sagan filming for Cosmos: A Personal Voyage...
  • Sibling Seniority Squabble:
    'Which of you is the older?'
    'Me,' said the girl.
    'Huh, yes, six minutes,' said the boy.
  • Small Secluded World: the main character's world only includes a few islands since no one in his tribe ever sailed far enough to see the continent.
  • Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter: Mau is angry not only with the gods (which he refuses to believe in), but the Grandfathers, who shout in his head.
  • Spirited Young Lady: Daphne.
  • Soft Water: Averted, just in real life water can stop bullets.
  • Survival Mantra: "Does not happen!"
  • Those Two Bad Guys: Foxlip and Polegrave, Cox's cronies.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Subverted by Daphne, who kills one the mutineers by poisoning. She did warn him, but she knew he wouldn't listen, and so she begs to be put on trial by the Nation. They find her innocent.
  • Together in Death: Discussed by the children in the Framing Device, who insist that the "proper" ending to the story is that two dolphins were seen swimming in the lagoon after Daphne and Mau's funerals.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The only coronation shorter than Henry's was that of Bubric the Saxon, who crowned himself with a very pointy crown on a hill during a thunderstorm and reigned for one and a half seconds.
  • Translation Convention: Mau's language is rendered as English. So, obviously, is Daphne's English. This makes it a bit odd when they both appear to speak the same language but can't understand one another.
  • Unexpected Successor: Daphne, to the throne of England.
    • Her father was 139th in line for the throne. The improbability is Lampshaded when her father gets the news. We only hear his side of the conversation, but...
      Henry: "Me? ... What, all of them? ... What about Uncle Bernie? I know for a fact that he is in America! ... They have lions there?"
  • The Voiceless: The Unknown Woman and some of the other survivors. They have good reason.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Mau and everyone on the island except Daphne, even the women. Some pull it off better than others.
  • Wars of the Roses: One of Daphne's ancestors fought in them — wearing a pink rose, and lived because everyone thought it was bad luck to kill a madman. With the exception of Daphne and her father Henry the Fanshaws are... interesting.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Daphne and Mau. They don't, much to the disappoinment of the children listening to the story in the framing narrative.
  • Witch Doctor: Mrs. Gurgle
  • Women's Mysteries: Which include the secret of beer, which is for when a woman has had "too much husband" (needs to get him out of her hair for a while). This causes problems for Mau when the Grandfathers demand their beer.
  • Writer on Board: A little bit of this towards the end, when the whole "Science vs. Religion" debate that's been going on in the background of the story is subtly but definitely tipped towards "science".
    • The way the whole story plays out, it seems to say this: There is nothing wrong with faith and worship, but it's much better to put time and effort into tangible good (Science in this case, but it also uses food and hard work as examples). The priest who gets on Mau all the time isn't shown as a bad guy, just annoying and counterproductive at times, and in the end Mau, who got the brunt of the priest's lectures and negative faith, still forgave him in the end, knowing the priest only did what he thought was best.
    • Which is consistent with the "Here and now we are alive, so make the effort to do real good here rather than in some intangible heaven" message from Small Gods.
Chaos WalkingCarnegie MedalThe Graveyard Book
Mumbo JumboAlternate History LiteratureThe Night Circus
Mythos AcademyYoung Adult LiteratureNational Velvet
The Nanotech WarLiterature of the 2000sNoughts & Crosses

alternative title(s): Nation
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