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Literature / Small Gods

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The turtle moves!

The 13th Discworld novel and a standalone, although it uses some characters and locations from Pyramids and its events influence later works.

Omnia is a theocratic empire, somewhere between Khomeini's Iran and inquisition-era Spain. Ruled by the Cenobiarch and his church military, the religion of Omnianism - the worship of the Great God ("holy horns") Om - dominates all aspects of life. At the bottom of the pecking order is the young novice Brutha, big and slow yet able to recite scripture on command. He finds a tortoise, dropped by an eagle in an unsuccessful attempt to smash its shell. A talking tortoise. It claims to be Om himself, reduced to this pitiful state due to Discworld's gods needing belief to survive — and unfortunately for Om, it's starting to look like everyone in Omnia (save the simple-minded Brutha) believes in the terrors that the Church will inflict on them for not adhering to their dogma more than they believe in Om himself...

Small Gods is particularly renowned for its Zelda-like havoc-wreaking with the always-spotty Discworld timeline due to the appearance of Pyramids characters in the "young Brutha" segments yet the fact that the Omnianism that appears in later books is the more tolerant post-Brutha version. This was eventually explained in Thief of Time as being due to the Timey-Wimey Ball. It's also been said by Pratchett that he was here able to more fully explore ideas he first introduced in Pyramids.

Preceded by Witches Abroad, followed by Lords and Ladies.

Contains examples of:

  • Acting Unnatural:
    "Beneath the temple, Urn and sergeant Fergmen made their way through the tunnels of the citadel using the kind of nonchalant walk which would draw detailed and arrow-sharp attention to them in seconds. Fortunately, the guards were all above ground at the ceremony."
  • Afterlife Angst: At the end of the book, Vorbis is revealed to have spent nearly a hundred years in "the desert", a place where some souls are seen to go for Judgement (according to Death) because he was afraid to go on.
  • All-Loving Hero: Brutha. Especially notable in the climax, when his last words to his soon-to-be-dead nemesis, who is in the process of torturing Brutha to death, are "You are going to die. I'm sorry." Also in the epilogue, where he decides to help said nemesis' soul to cross the desert.
  • Almighty Janitor: Lu-Tze literally acts like a janitor, while secretly tweaking the timeline to avoid a war.
    • Bishop Drunah, a member of La Résistance, is the secretary of The Congress of Iams in the Omnian Church, and as many of those people are old and of poor hearing, this is implied to give him the opportunity to alter records of the meeting.
  • Amnesiac God: Om remembers he's a god at the beginning of the book, thanks to Brutha's proximity. He has spent three years at least without being aware of what he was, and is consequently terrified of what happens if he gets too far away from Brutha.
  • And I Must Scream: Vorbis's final fate - an eternity in the absolute silence of his own mind, all alone with himself - is Subverted when Brutha mercifully takes him to the afterlife.
  • Androcles' Lion: The lion decides to follow the "nice meat" and refrain from eating it, in some symbolic way. It has no compunctions about St. Ungulant, though, but Angus proves himself not-so-imaginary by bashing its head in with a rock.
  • Animal Motifs: Pretty explicitly Brutha with tortoises (harmless, slow, thoughtful) and Vorbis with eagles (predatory, focused, elevated); the eagle will lift the tortoise off the ground and broaden its horizons only to drop it to its death, just as Vorbis promotes Brutha with every intention of eventually having him killed. The problem for Vorbis comes in when the tortoise, as described in the opening tale, learns how to fly...
  • Apologetic Attacker: Simony apologises to a soldier just as he shoots the man dead (to prevent him from killing Didactylos).
  • Arc Words:
    • Several characters throughout the book, when they're killed and find themselves in the spectral desert of the afterlife which they must journey through, ask Death "what awaits at the end of the desert?", to which Death replies Judgement. At the end, there's a twist when Brutha does the same, considers for a moment, then asks: "Which end?"
    • "The turtle moves!", the cry of the revolutionists against Omnia's dogmatism and a Shout-Out to Galileo.
    • "In a hundred years we'll all be dead, but here and now we are alive" becomes the cornerstone of Brutha's philosophy.
  • Artistic License – Biology: Om bites an eagle in the testicles even though birds don't have any external genitalia.
  • As the Good Book Says...: At the beginning of the story Brutha often quotes the Septateuch, the holy text of Omnianism, which he knows by memory.
  • At the Crossroads: "the spirits of places where two ant trails cross".
  • Awesome by Analysis: Brutha, although it really only comes into play at the end.
  • Bald of Evil: Vorbis, who deliberately shaves his head.
  • Bait-and-Switch Gunshot: Done with crossbows when Didactylos is on the run from Vorbis's soldiers. One of the soldiers lines up an easy shot, there's the twang of a crossbow bolt, and... the soldier falls, having been shot by another soldier who's a member of the resistance.
  • Beware the Silly Ones: Why Ephebe keeps so many philosophers around. As Om observes, 99 out of every 100 ideas they come up with are complete rubbish, but the 100th tends to be an absolute humdinger. For instance, one minute they're wibbling on about beauty and truth, the next they're saying "incidentally, putting this mirror up on that tower would make for an interesting demonstration of optical principles", giving Ephebe their own death ray with which to burn an approaching enemy fleet.
  • Bilingual Bonus:
    • In the Italian translation when Didactylos abiurates, he declares that he will write "more balls than you could imagine"; in Italian, it means "more lies than you could imagine". In English it's a sort of Triple Entendre - there's the obvious meaning, the slyly insulting meaning (balls, as well as bollocks, is British slang similar in connotation to "bullshit") and naturally, knowing the guy saying it, the crude meaning - balls (and bollocks) is slang for testicles.
    • Combines with Genius Bonus when you realise that "omnia" is Latin for "all". What's another word meaning "all"? Catholic.
  • Black Eyes of Evil: Vorbis. It's said that it has something to do with his coming from a tribe living deep in the desert.
  • Blindfolded Trip: Anyone being brought through the trap-filled labyrinth, which is why Vorbis needs Brutha's perfect memory.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: More or less all the gods have this, with concern for humans and, indeed, ethics, being a puzzling concept to them. Om even refers to small gods looking to make it big seeing humans as "prey" before immediately performing a Verbal Backspace. Om is the exception, eventually, with it being noted both by the narration and Om himself that humanity - specifically, Brutha's Incorruptible Pure Pureness - ends up rubbing off on him.
  • Bowdlerize - Played With: The footnoted translation of the phrase mentioned in Gratuitous Latin is given as "When their full attention is in your grip, their hearts and minds will follow." "Testiculos" doesn't translate to "full attention"...
  • Bolt of Divine Retribution:
    • Om tries a few, but it doesn't really work; the most he can produce is a pathetic little spark. The Ephebians are quick to compliment their gods immediately after saying anything disrespectful about them, unless the Library's copper roof is above them to ground out this trope.
    • A few Ephebian philosophers mention that it's not a good idea to start pondering whether the gods exist or not, because the poor bugger who does gets hit with one that has a note tied to it saying "yes, we do".
    • Played with, with the philosophers in a pub. They declare the gods are outmoded, until the rumbling starts, listing each god and how they like them, until they get to the god of avalanches. Noting they're a long way from any snow, they start dissing him... until Brutha has the sudden urge to ask if it just got colder.
    • Also subverted. When the Tyrant says trouble started after the Omnian missionary pushed over the statue of Tuvelpit, the Ephebian god of Wine, Vorbis asks mockingly if he was then struck by lightning. The Tyrant says no, he was struck by an amphora of wine, because Tuvelpit was in the crowd and threw it.
    • Didactylos remembers old "Charcoal" Abraxas, who just seemed naturally immune to being fried. Hit over a dozen times, to no apparent ill-effect. The last anyone saw of him was a pair of charred sandals, so Didactylos figures he's probably not coming back.
  • Break the Cutie: Brutha, as he realizes just how corrupt and tyrannical the Omnian church is.
  • Brick Joke: Didactylos's quip, "Do Deformed Rabbit, it's my favorite", referring back to a Running Gag from Moving Pictures. Also, the summary of Didactylos's philosophy references this novel's own previous Ephebian tavern scene, by having him pick up some extra packets of peanuts because of the near-naked woman depicted on their labels.
    • The connection between peanuts and naked ladies may be unclear to some readers - it refers to the once-common practice of stapling peanut packets to a cardboard bar display with a picture of a woman on it. The more packets you buy, the more of the woman is revealed.
  • Brought Down to Normal: Once a mighty and feared deity who ruled many civilizations, lack of belief turned Om into a tortoise. It gave him a lot of perspective.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Om often struggles to remember the many, many commandments, prophets, and texts he sent to his followers over the centuries. Some of these are implied to be false or exaggerated while others he genuinely doesn't remember. Brutha knows Om's religion better than Om himself.
  • Call-Back: During Vorbis and the Tyrant's discussion, Vorbis' remark about Omnians having no slaves gets a remark that fish have no word for water. Later on, the narration notes Ephebe's uprising against the Omnian occupation notes that who exactly is the slave in the slave versus soldier fighting depends on your point of view.
  • Caligula's Horse: When Vorbis announces his plan to promote Brutha straight to Archbishop, the other clerics are surprised but note that precedents exist, such as... Ossory's ass.
  • The Cameo: The Death of Rats briefly appears when the Sea Goddess drowns an entire ship. He fills the ship's rat population in on what happened.
  • Character Development: Over the course of the book, Brutha develops from a clueless novice into a wise leader, and Om from a selfish, uncaring and cruel god to a god who appreciates human life. Om even lampshades it, when it occurs to him that he never even thought about words like 'unfair' before he became a tortoise.
  • Chekhov's Gun: One chapter has Urn casting metal for the Moving turtle and commenting "S’not ’n important cast anyway, ... Jus’ the control levers." Later on, the Moving Turtle fails when the lever to start it breaks.
  • Chess Motifs: Brutha becomes a bishop, which (the narrative reminds us) moves diagonally to crop up in unexpected places.
  • Chess with Death: Provides the page quote. The Abbot of the History Monks plays it at the end - however, Death can never remember how the little horse-shaped ones move, and the Abbot just continuously reincarnates anyway. The reader doesn't see how it ends, but the Abbot was back to being a baby in his next appearance.
  • The Chosen Many: The Prophets of Om (holy horns), of which there have been several, Brutha just being the latest. Explored, and subverted, since Om didn't actually choose any of them. Half the time he never even met or talked to them, and in one case the lengthy amount of things he said was actually no more than "hey, look what I can do". And then Brutha manages to single-handedly institute a cultural and religious revolution, managing to actually play the idea relatively straight.
  • Chromosome Casting: The only women mentioned in the book are Brutha's late grandmother and a couple of goddesses (although it's made clear that the Church doesn't approve of women, and Ephebe conscientiously excludes "women" from the category of "people").
  • Church Militant: Vorbis. Ultimately he cares more about his personal power and the power of the church than the god it was supposed to be dedicated to. Part of what makes him frightening is how completely unaware he is of this; he believes he's following the commands of his god all the way to end, until he passes to the desert and finally learns that he's only been hearing himself. And now that's all the company he'll ever have...
  • Clueless Boss: The Cenobiarch, the High Priest of the Omnian Church, is this. He's just a senile old man who nods at anything said during meetings with the high-ranking church members, who tries to bless anyone nearby.
  • Comically Missing the Point: When Brutha encounters the philosophers' colloqium:
    Xeno: We're philosophers. We think therefore we am.
    Ibid: 'Are'.
    Xeno: We are therefore we am.
  • The Commandments: Which the Exquisition enforce. Part of the anticipation of the new Prophet is wondering what commandments he will give unto Omnianism this time. They're all made up, and in the end Om destroys the massive carving when he gets his power back.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • The Ephebian philosophers previously appeared in Pyramids (which caused a Continuity Snarl mentioned in Thief of Time since the books are set a century apart).
    • The Librarian is glimpsed rescuing books from the burning Library of Ephebe and then vanishing — using his skills seen in Guards! Guards! to navigate through L-Space from one library to another, including through time.
      • It's Lampshaded as a Continuity Nod cameo by the narration noting that the scene doesn't have anything to do with the rest of the story - it's just nice to know it happened.
    • Way back in the fifth book, Sourcery, Death muses that he dreads those cliched chess games because he can never remember how the knights are supposed to move. Sure enough, when he's playing chess with the Abbot, he has to ask again.
    • A dead character once again laments that there's "no justice", and gets the response Just me.
  • Conveniently Coherent Thoughts: Averted - Om can't read minds because they're too chaotic, but he can get a feel for the general shape of them.
    "You think it's like watching words paint themselves across the sky? Hah! It's like trying to make sense of a bundle of weeds. Intentions, yes. Emotions, yes. But not thoughts. Half the time you don't know what you're thinking, so why should I?"
  • The Corrupter: Vorbis is noted at least twice to have a tendency to make those around him more like himself.
  • Crucified Hero Shot: Brutha is flogged and then strapped to the iron turtle to die slowly and horribly while being mocked. The local Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler creates a miniature statue of a tortoise obviously analogous to a crucifix.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: Om and the religion built around him are a defining example of this trope.
  • Culture Police: One of the many duties of the Exquisition, because so many things are outlawed in Omnia. Books, for example.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The actual fight between Vorbis' hidden army and the Ephebians is entirely skipped over, save the narration stating that the Omnian troops win decisively.
  • Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon: Om at the beginning, angered by people ignoring him, says many creative curses, such as "Your intestines to be wound around a tree until you are sorry!" or "Your sexual organs to sprout wings and fly away!"
  • Darker and Edgier: There's plenty of humour here but the jokes don't come as thick and fast as they do in earlier Discworld books. That's because the narrative deals with subjects like torture and religious intolerance that weren't easily laughed off on publication in 1992 any more than they are today. Vorbis is the first Discworld character to be really terrifying. Small Gods marks the beginning of a different tone in the Discworld series, one with more social commentary.
  • Deadly Distant Finale: A hundred years after the events of the main plot, Brutha, having become head of the Omnian Church and thoroughly reformed it, dies on the anniversary day of his crossing of the desert.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Om. Oh so much. After all, a turtle doesn't have many ways to vent its anger.
  • Death Glare: Brutha's first impression of Simony. The man shoots him an expression of pure and unfiltered hatred.
  • Death Equals Redemption: In the epilogue, after a hundred years in the desert with only the company of his own thoughts, Vorbis gets a chance at redemption thanks to Brutha.
  • Defiant to the End: Double subverted. Vorbis has Didactylos summoned up to him, assuming the philosopher will do this and allow Vorbis to make An Example of him... and then Didactylos says that maybe Vorbis has the right idea, maybe the Disc is round after all. Vorbis is utterly baffled by the idea of a philosopher suggesting that his ideas aren't the singular truth... and just as Didactylos walks off, he hurls his lantern at Vorbis' head.
    And yet... the turtle moves!
  • Department of Redundancy Department:
    They went out into the desert but did not come back, preferring a hermit's life of dirt and hardship and dirt and holy contemplation and dirt.
    There would be talk of holy wars and blood and crusades and blood and piety and blood.
  • Deus ex Machina: Played with. A god really does descend from the sky to save the day. Just not in the way you're picturing.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Urn and Didactylos' discussion re: armored turtles. Compare to discussions of doomsday weapons. Urn figures that if someone else builds armored turtles, he'll just build bigger ones.
  • Doomed Moral Victor: When Brutha is about to be executed, Simony argues that they can't save him, and if they do nothing, his death will become a "symbol for people". Urn is disgusted by this, telling him that now he thinks like Vorbis. He even muses that the most horrible thing about Vorbis is that he makes other people like himself.
  • Doublethink: Vorbis repeatedly refers to the difference between the trivial, surface truth and a deeper, 'fundamental' truth. The latter, of course, is always a convenient justification for his actions.
  • Dreadful Musician: Brutha's singing is so awful that he receives special dispensation to be excused from choir practice; the music master says it puts him in mind of a disappointed vulture arriving too late at the dead donkey. Om himself compares it to the lamentations of the plague-stricken.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: General Fri'it, one of the leaders of La Résistance, gets a fair amount of focus in the first quarter of the novel, but then is caught by the Quisition and Killed Offscreen.
  • The Easy Way or the Hard Way: At the end of the book, Brutha tells Sergeant Simony to stop the Exquisition the hard way—that is, with as few casualties as possible.
  • Enemy Mine: At the end, the (usually hostile) countries of Ephebe, Tsort, Djelibeybi and Klatch combine their naval forces to invade Omnia and destroy it once and for all. It doesn't quite work out like that.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Deacon Cusp of the Exquisition joined mainly because he really wanted to hurt people. Vorbis terrifies the spit out of him, because hurting folk is all Cusp wanted. Vorbis, meanwhile, thinks people should be hurt, but doesn't even afford people the dignity of hating them for it.
  • Evil Overlord: Subverted: The ruler of Ephebe is called the "Tyrant"... because, as with the original definition of the word, he didn't inherit his title. Rather, he was democratically elected.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Om at the beginning is very callous and self-centered, throwing excruciating death curses around left, right, and center (which might actually work if he wasn't reduced to only one actual believer). However, even he's horrified by the torture chambers of the Omnian inquisition. He silently takes in what happens in absolute horror, tries not to think of what he just saw, and tries to get back to the surface as quickly as possible, while in total shock.
  • Exact Words: Vorbis swears up and down that the Ephebians killed the preacher Omnia sent. When Brutha starts questioning this story, Vorbis tries using these to say that while they didn't kill him exactly, their not listening to him did. Brutha points out this means he was actually killed by the Inquisition on his return.
  • Expy: A two-for-one with Legibus. He appears running down the street, fresh from his (incomplete) bath, naked and soaked (much as Archimedes is reputed to have run into the street shouting excitedly when he realized that objects immersed in fluids displace their own volume of fluid), to a potter's shop to ask for a few mundane items, and a few axiomatic devices. The potter is quite familiar with the routine, having been through it so often that he has a towel belonging to Legibus and some chalk so he can draw some diagrams on the walls (a reference to Albert Einstein, who is reputed to have been so absent-minded in his later years that he would go to his customary diner for breakfast on his way to Princeton University, and discover when he went to pay that he'd left his wallet in the pants he forgot to put on, and would then be given a spare pair kept in the diner for this exact reason).
    • According to "The Unseen University Challenge" book, "Brutha's build, his powerful mind, and the fact that his fellow-novices call him the Big Dumb Ox, should remind the discerning of St Thomas Aquinas."
    • Brutha's zen-like tolerance of all, his quest to bring salvation free of status or dogma, and simple patience calls to mind the Buddha. Of special note is that Om is named after Ohm, an important phrase in Buddhism.
    • Didactylos living in a barrel and carrying a lantern to look for a good man (as well as his generally irrevant attitude to authority) is meant to evoke the Greek philosopher Diogenes.
  • Face Death with Dignity: General Fri'it, literally (also a heartwarming moment) after his failed attempt to kill Vorbis. While initially reluctant to cross the Desert and be all alone with his beliefs, he considers what his beliefs are and decides:
    That on the whole, and by and large, if a man lived properly, not according to what any priests said, but according to what seemed decent and honest inside, then it would, at the end, more or less, turn out all right. You couldn't get that on a banner. But the desert looked better already.
  • False Prophet: Deacon Vorbis deliberately lied about a missionary being killed when the Ephebians were not responsive to the Omnian message, so as to create a casus belli for invading and annexing the country, then converting the people, by force, to Omnianism.
  • False Reassurance: On seeing a large bronze statue of Himself as a bull, Om is told the church burns things in it. Brutha tells him they don't burn people in there, just paperwork and such. Then he mentions where they do put people...
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture:
    • Although the shape of the world controversy is clearly based on the Catholic Church vs. Galileo, Omnia is more like Iran (the most obvious example of a theocracy to the modern mind). Besides its terrain and climate being reminiscent of Iran, its capital city and seat of the Cenobiarch is Kom—compare the Iranian holy city and seat of the Grand Ayatollah, Qom. Dibbler's counterpart is also "Cut-Me-Own-Hand-Off Dhblah", a reference to how Sharia law punishes theft by cutting hands off. Word of God confirms this: the novel was inspired by a documentary about Khomeini's Iran.
    • Ephebe is clearly Classical Greece (specifically Athens), with Greek-sounding names, philosophers, slavery and democracy. The name derives from the Greek word for an adolescent boy, a sly reference to the Greek practice of pederasty.
  • Feathered Fiend: The Eagle and its tortoise-crushing skill. He'll be back...
  • Flat-Earth Atheist:
    • Simony, who refuses to believe in the existence of the gods even when they're speaking to him personally. Om likes him because atheism that militant is basically the same as religious belief from the point of view of a god — they're thinking and talking about the gods as frequently and as strongly as believers, if not more so.
    • The Ephebean philosophers dismiss the gods as "relics of an outmoded belief system". Then they have to take it back when various gods send them warning signs.
      • Funnily enough, they're literally atheists on a flat planet carried by giant elephants carried by a huge turtle. Although, Discworld does make a distinction between objective knowledge and faith: sure the gods exist, but they don't believe in them, no sir.
    • Inverted with the Omnian church, who keep insisting the flat world is round. Vorbis proclaims that even if someone traveled to the edge of the world and looked over, it doesn't matter: "Truth lies within, not without. In the words of the Great God Om, as delivered through his chosen prophets. Our eyes may deceive us, but our God never will."
  • Flipping Helpless: Om, courtesy of Vorbis. He took it hard. He later gets his own back, forcing an eagle to drop him so he'll hit Vorbis smack between the eyes.
  • "Flowers for Algernon" Syndrome: What Om is very, very afraid of if Brutha should die.
  • Gambit Roulette: Lu Tze manages to change the fate of Omnia from centuries of religious war and hideous institutionalised torture to a constitutional theocracy (which means Om has to follow the rules about not killing as well). He does this with a strategically placed pile of compost, sweeping the floor at a crucial moment, and a bucket of cold water.
  • Genius Ditz: Crossed with Idiot Hero in Brutha. Probably the weirdest example, in that he is brilliant, but in a different way than most people understand, and it takes a while for him to get to the point where he can use it.
  • Giant Animal Worship: An extremely backwards swamp-dwelling tribe worships a giant newt and has no concept of fire or war. The newt shows up on Cori Celesti (because of how belief works on the Disc) and is just as ignorant as its worshippers, conceptualizing war as "like the time Pacha Mog hit his uncle with big rock, only more worse".
  • A God Am I: All gods. They don't make 'em humble.
  • God Is Flawed: Om is very far from the omnipotent, omniscient creature Brutha first believes him to be (and he was far from it even before he became a tortoise). It's common for Discworld gods to be less intelligent and moral than their followers.
  • Gods Need Prayer Badly:
    "You're more afraid of him than you are of me, now. Abraxas says here: 'Around the Godde there forms a Shelle of prayers and Ceremonies and Buildings and Priestes and Authority, until at Last the Godde Dies. Ande this maye notte be noticed.' "
    —Om, when Brutha refuses his command(ment) to kill Vorbis.
    • When Om does regain a lot of die-hard believers, he's able to beat up Dunmanifestin's chief god Io because nobody believes in thunder gods all that strongly anymore.
  • Good Shepherd:
    • Brutha guides the spiritual development of his own god, then moves on to the worshippers.
    • The wording of the trope is played with; Vorbis is more like a shepherd than Brutha, since sheep are stupid and need to be driven. Brutha is more like a goatherd, since goats are intelligent and need to be led. This is deconstructed - going off from the sheep vs. goat analogy, the narration notes that, had Om followed a goatherd (whose goats can think for themselves and would follow a benevolent leader) instead of the shepherd that Om actually did follow, he would not have grown up to be a violent authoritarian thinking his followers were easily cowed simpletons there to please him and needing constant dogma to be kept in check. Even after Om is reformed in the presence of Brutha, he does hold on to the one positive lesson the good shepherd had taught him—that if he wanted to keep his followers, he needed to watch out for them, which he does when he stops the war that would have resulted in Brutha being killed.
    • Omnia is the medieval Catholic Italy of the Discworld. Perhaps the best is, "Cuius testiculos habes, habeas cardia et cerebellum", when Om hijacks the eagle.
    • For the non dog-Latinists among us, this translates roughly to "Get them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow." The book Bowdlerizes this, at least partly for humor (given the circumstances of Om hijacking the eagle); see below.
  • Grandpa God: Discussed and justified. A common personification for gods is "A big beard in the sky," because all a baby can see of his father is a big beard hovering over them, and if a god is one's heavenly father, and one is to believe with the faith of a child, it stands to reason that god looks... like a big beard in the sky.
  • Groin Attack: Om utilizes this method to commandeer the eagle he uses to transport him to the execution site and lay the smack down on Vorbis. According to the Annotated Pratchett file, this is anatomically incorrect, but hey, no reason to let that get in the way of a good joke or plot point.
  • Happiness in Slavery:
    • Brutha discovers that the Ephebean slaves have much better working conditions than the (nominally) free Omnians, and slavery offers the chance to earn their freedom and own slaves themselves. When the Omnians free the slaves during their stay, the slaves go spare (which ends up being the deciding factor in Ephebe's revolt).
    • Vorbis boasts to the Tyrant that in the Omnian language, there is no word for 'slavery'. The Tyrant muses that this is likely similar to fish having no word for 'water'.
  • Heel Realization: Vorbis finally gets this after death, realizing that he'd never actually been following the commandments of a god—that the only voice he'd ever heard came from his own head.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Sergeant Simony becomes disturbingly zealous in his efforts to overthrow the church of Om, until Urn points out how much like Vorbis he's become.
  • History Repeats: A common problem with Ephebian democracy. The Tyrant is elected because he has been determined to be eligible by dint of not being either a liar, a criminal, a madman, a foreigner or a woman. Then, once he's in office, he's found to be at least one of these things, kicked out, the Ephebians vote for a new bloke, who... is also either a liar, a criminal, a madman, a foreigner or a woman.
    Footnote: Really, it's amazing that people keep making the same mistake.
  • The Horseshoe Effect: The novel features an atheist character of such burning passion that their atheism works just like belief in the gods.
  • Ignoring by Singing: Brutha attempts this when he hears Om's voice and thinks it's a demon.
  • Illegal Religion: The Omnians have banned all religions other than their state religion, Omnianism. Brutha later turns this on its head, allowing all religions in Omnia, though Omnianism (in more varied forms than before) is still the prevailing one.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Brutha. Om becomes a better god as a result of spending time with him.
    • At least two characters observe that Vorbis has a tendency to make good people more like him. Brutha spends a lot of time in Vorbis's company but avoids being corrupted, and is in fact one of the first to realize this. He does pick up a nice set of Evil Virtues from the experience, though.
  • Incredibly Inconvenient Deity: Justified, where the Great God Om lacks the power to do things in a way that would be at all convenient for The Chosen One, Brutha, because Gods Need Prayer Badly and it's gotten to the point where Brutha is the only one who actually believes in him.
  • Inexplicably Identical Individuals: The first appearance of one of Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler's foreign counterparts, Cut-Me-Own-Hand-Off Dhblah, seller of very old yoghurt and very new holy relics.
  • Iron Lady: Brutha's grandmother, a stern woman who quite literally beat religion into him (on the grounds he would have done something during the day to deserve it). Not unlike an evil version of Mrs. Cake, she would run pretty much every minor duty in her village's temple. The narration notes that if she'd been born a man, Omnia would've had a new prophet several decades early, while a mildly impressed Vorbis muses that if she'd been a man, she would have made a very good Quisitor.
  • Ironic Hell: For Vorbis, the desert every Omnian has to cross in the afterlife to reach judgement turns into this, as he's spent his whole life believing that he was following the voice of his god and realizes that it was his own all along. The realization that he's now alone without anyone to guide him leaves him prostrated in terror, until Brutha finds him a hundred years later (a literal eternity from his perspective, according to Death) and takes mercy on him.
  • It Came from the Fridge: The, ahem, live yogurt sold by Cut-Me-Own-Hand-Off Dhblah, which was kept out in the sun too long. As a result, Dhblah had to keep hitting it with a spoon to prevent it from escaping.
  • It's All About Me: All gods are completely self-centered. Om in particular didn't care at all what his followers did as long as they worshipped him. He gets better over the course of the novel.
  • I Was Never Here: The meeting in which Vorbis recruits Brutha for the Ephebe mission ends with Vorbis instructing him: "You were not in this room. You have not seen us here." Earlier narration establishes that this is only the latest of many meetings that have not taken place in Vorbis's office, some of them involving people who traveled long distances in secret in order to not attend them.
  • Jerkass Gods: Again, all of them. Things like mercy, fairness and justice are too human for most of them to get their heads around, and that's the smarter ones. Ones like the Sea Goddess will kill anyone who's nearby, just because they're in a bad mood.
  • Judgement of the Dead: Whenever characters die, they find themselves in a desert. They encounter Death, who tells them that their judgement awaits at the end of the desert. Characters find themselves in perfect clarity, and usually use the walk to reflect upon their life.
  • Just Think of the Potential!: Urn's thoughts on his experimental steam-powered boat. Simony as well, but in a different way, involving lots of fire, payback and screaming.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • Vorbis, turning Om (whom he believes to be only a tortoise) on his back and props him with pebbles to ensure that he cannot right itself, just to see what would happen.
    • Vorbis later forces the captain of the ship he's sailing on to harpoon a porpoise, because sailors generally believe that killing a porpoise is bad luck; a foolish superstition that must be overcome in the fundamental truth of Omnian doctrine. The sailors are right; Om is forced to make a bargain with the local sea goddess to spare him and Brutha. Later the ship does indeed sink as a direct result of Om's bargain (though a bit of bad luck and timing was involved), though after Om, Brutha, Vorbis and Simony have all disembarked.
  • Language Equals Thought: Fasta Benj, a man from a tiny tribe that is unaware of the rest of the world, gets mixed up in the final conflict when his boat is swept along by the attacking fleet. Thus, his god also appears along the rest of the gods, and forbids him to wage war against Omnia. His people have no word for war, since they have no one to fight, so the god uses the description: "remember when Pacha Moj hit his uncle with big rock? Like that, only more worse." The fisherman comes away with the impression that it's not good if lots of people hit Pacha Moj's uncle with a big rock, though he can't understand why they would.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Subverted, when the Sea Goddess sinks a vessel Vorbis is on. She doesn't actually know (and wouldn't care anyway) that Vorbis is the one who pissed her off in the first place, she just liked the bigger target his ship offered. And Vorbis survives anyway. Later on, however, he ends up being hit smack between the eyes by a tortoise (Om), who Vorbis had previously wedged upside down in the sun to see how long it would take him to die.
  • Lean and Mean: Vorbis is tall, lean and ascetic, in contrast to the good-hearted and fleshy Brutha.
  • Liar's Paradox: One of the Ephebian philosophers gets into trouble when he tries to discuss this paradox with his fellows. Discworld intellects being what they are, Xeno takes offense:
    Xeno: He bloody well accused me of slander!
    Ibid: I didn't!
    Xeno: You did! You did! Tell 'em what you said!
    Ibid: Look, I merely suggested, to indicate the nature of paradox, right, that if Xeno the Ephebian said "All Ephebians are liars—"
    Xeno: See? See? He did it again!
    Ibid: —no, no, listen, listen... then, since Xeno is himself an Ephebian, this would mean that he himself is a liar and therefore—
  • Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair:
    • Why Om is very uncomfortable when they take shelter in an abandoned temple in the middle of the desert.
      Om: A god lived here. A powerful God. Thousands worshipped it. I can feel it. You know? It comes out of the walls. A Great God. Mighty were his dominions and magnificent was his word. [...] And now no one, not you, not me, no one, even knows who the god was or his name or what he looked like.
    • Om had met a small god who had memories of prior greatness, but couldn't even remember its own name now that the worshippers were all gone. The temple may well have been to that same god.
  • Lord of the Ocean: The Sea Queen is the goddess of the sea. Worshipped by sailors, she is vindictive and causes storms to attack ships that disrespect her. One such way is by killing dolphins, who are her favorite species. For every dolphin killed, she demands a human killed in equal measure.
  • Madness Mantra: The small god Om meets keeps repeating "I", "as you may dream of", and "greater glory", even as Om asks if it can recall its own name. Om is deeply disturbed.
  • Mad Scientist: Urn has shades of this. He does care about morality... when he takes the time off his researches to think about it.
  • Make an Example of Them: In one incident, the Inquisition displayed a man trying to talk about the world being round to every town in Omnia. There are a lot of towns in Omnia, so they had to cut him up into some very small pieces to do that.
  • Meaningful Echo:
    • Om's first follower was a shepherd who had 100 sheep only because he was willing to look for days to find one. Later, Om remarks that if he wants thousands of followers, he needs to fight for one.
    • While in the desert, Om says "In a hundred years we'll all be dead," and Brutha replies, "But here and now, we are alive!" A hundred years later, Brutha dies after being told how long it was since he'd been in the desert—exactly one hundred years. For added irony, his last words were "But here and now, we—"
    • In the beginning, Vorbis turns Om over in the sun to see how long it'll take for him to die, and Om thinks "I'm on my back, and getting hotter, and I'm going to die..." Then, during the climax, when Vorbis attempts to execute Brutha on the iron turtle, Brutha thinks "I'm on my back and getting hotter and I'm going to die..."
  • Meaningful Name:
    • The teacher Didactylos's name comes from "didactic," meaning "apt to teach". It also suggests the Greek for "two fingers" which is an allusion to the V-Sign, a rude gesture in Britain that fits with Didactylos's contrarian personality.
    • The dim bulb Nhumrod's name seems to be a play on "numbskull" and "nimrod," two words that in modern times mean a stupid person.
    • Lu Tze, the supernaturally wise and vaguely Asian monk, seems to be named in honor of Lao Tzu, the semi-legendary Taoist philosopher.
    • Simony may refer to Simon the Zealot, a follower of Jesus Christ who wanted to wage war on the Roman occupiers, or, more likely, the ecclesiastical crime of selling church offices and favours, signifying the religious corruption throughout Omnianism.
  • Messianic Archetype: Brutha. He's the only one who can directly talk to his god, he survives a life-changing journey through the desert and he reforms the religion of his country.
  • Mindless Sheep: Used as a metaphor to explain the unfortunate state of the Church of Om, which could be described as Dark Shepherds at best and more accurately as totalitarian fundamentalists.
    The merest accident of microgeography had meant that the first man to hear the voice of Om, and who gave Om his view of humans, was a shepherd and not a goatherd. They have quite different ways of looking at the world, and the whole of history might have been different.
    For sheep are stupid, and have to be driven. But goats are intelligent, and need to be led.
  • Monster-Shaped Mountain: The wind god has a rather crude sense of humor, as demonstrated by the shape of an eroded rock pillar that Om points out to Brutha as a desert landmark.
  • Motive Decay: The battle at the end; Brutha goes up to the generals and explains that there's no reason to fight. They look at him like he's an idiot and say that when two sides hate each other enough, sometimes there just has to be war. Any justification will do, even no justification at all.
  • Mushroom Samba: St. Ungulant regularly eats psychedelic mushrooms, though he never realized that they are psychedelic, noting that the desert becomes really interesting after he eats them.
    Brutha: Full of giant purple singing slugs? Talking pillars of flame? Exploding giraffes? That sort of thing?
    St. Ungulant: Good heavens, yes. I don’t know why. I think they're attracted by the mushrooms.
  • My Skull Runneth Over: Brutha experiences discomfort after memorizing the entire Ephebean library. Despite having never learned to read, the information from the books he memorized somehow manages to leak into his mind. Thankfully for Brutha, it never gets worse than the discomfort and knowledge leaks.
  • Nervous Wreck: Brother Nhumrod. Spending enough time in the Citadel will do that to a person.
    It was, in any case, hard to talk to Brother Nhumrod, who had a nervous habit of squinting at the speaker's lips and repeating the last few words they said practically as they said them. He also touched things all the time—walls, furniture, people—as if he was afraid the universe would disappear if he didn't keep hold of it. And he had so many nervous tics that they had to queue. Brother Nhumrod was perfectly normal for someone who had survived in the Citadel for fifty years.
  • Never Learned to Read: Brutha. Even though he has a photographic memory, he was incapable of understanding the concept of reading. His mind could not make the connection between the letters and the sounds.
  • Noble Bird of Prey: The crowd at the Place of Lamentation believe in this, and get very excited when a particularly noble-looking eagle perches itself atop a statue; they discuss whether it is a sign (not a sign of anything, just a sign in general), or a messenger from the Great God Om, or possibly the god himself. Om, who is nearby, is not happy, as he's currently a tortoise and eagles are one of his few natural predators; he sneers that it's just a "better-looking turkey" with a brain the size of a walnut.
  • No Clear Leader: Near the end, an alliance of several normally mutually hostile nations gather their fleets for a combined attack on Omnia, but nobody seems to know who's in charge for the situation. The Ephebian admiral thinks he is, since he's avenging the attack on Ephebe; the Tsortean admiral thinks he is because he has the most ships; the Djelibeybian admiral thinks he is because he always assumes he's in charge of everything. In fact there's only one captain who doesn't think he is, and that's because he's captain of a one-man fishing boat from a tribe that had never had any contact with the outside world until he ran into the fleet and got swept up with them.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Seems to be played straight, but then subverted. Brutha chooses to help Vorbis and bring him back to Omnia, even standing up to Om, who has first-hand experience with Vorbis's sadism. But when the trio get close to Omnia, it turns out that Vorbis had been faking helplessness the whole time, and knocks Brutha unconscious, allowing him free rein to spin what happened however he wants it. However, this ultimately makes it possible for Om to eventually kill Vorbis in a very dramatic moment, causing the Omnians to believe in him again.
  • No Infantile Amnesia: Again, Brutha.
    "What is the first thing you can remember, my son?" said Vorbis, kindly.
    "There was a bright light, and then someone hit me," said Brutha.
  • Non-Mammal Mammaries: Or the male equivalent, considering eagles shouldn't have certain anatomical features on the outside.
  • Not a Game: The gods literally treat the world of mortals as a game, dice and all. Om finally realizes it is Not a Game thanks to Brutha. After that, he (brow)beats the other gods into realizing it, too.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Om, wandering around the Citadel, gets a brief glimpse into one of the torture pits. Mercifully, we don't get a description, but it's enough to terrify him.
  • Not Quite the Almighty: A major trope for the work given that Brutha has long conversations with the monotheistic god of his god within a world that is explicitly polytheistic while also being a major example of Gods Need Prayer Badly. Coming to terms with this trope is a central part of Om and Brutha's character arcs.
  • Not-So-Imaginary Friend:
    • Angus is set up as a hallucination of the clearly-mad prophet St. Ungulant. No one else can see/hear him, and he doesn't drink any water because it "[gives] him gas." Then, when the starving lion is primed to kill St. Ungulant, Angus knocks it out with a rock. Also a case of Fridge Brilliance: small gods become real through belief, and St. Ungulant believes in his imaginary friend. It certainly helps that he's the patron saint of small gods.
    • Indeed, Om could be considered this to Brutha. For most of the book, no one else can hear Om's words but Brutha; everyone else thinks Om is just a tortoise, and most believe Brutha is a bit mad in this regard.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Vorbis pulls a chilling example of this on Brutha as they are about to leave the desert.
  • Odd Job Gods: Om mentions he knows a goddess of lettuce. He actually praises her ingenuity; it's such a specific niche that she'll never be all that powerful, but it also means nobody cares enough to challenge her for it and she can fit herself into the mythology of whatever major god is dominant at the moment as a lesser spirit.
  • The Only Believer: As mentioned earlier, people believe in the structure of the Church and its rules, not the god they actually worship. They have feelings like vague hopes and fears about Om, but no belief. The only exception is Brutha, who believes in Om in the sort of simple, wholehearted way that a young child believes in something that their parents tell them is true.
  • Oppose What You Suffered: Brutha is used (and abused) as a useful pawn (or sacrifice) by the authorities of the Church of Om, the god Om himself, and even by those opposing the church. Later, once Om has regained his power and instated Brutha as the new head of the church, Brutha works to reform the church as well as his own god to make sure that people are never treated as mere pieces on a chessboard by the church or his god ever again. This has backfired a bit by the time of Carpe Jugulum, but still.
  • Painting the Medium: When Om regains his full power, he begins speaking in numbered verse, like a holy text.
  • Pedophile Priest: Defied. Brother Nhumrod may suffer from demons and voices that tempt him in that direction, but he makes sure that his thoughts stay inside his head.
  • Pet the Dog: A man comes to Vorbis bringing word of the proto-tank being built, hoping that it would earn the release of his incarcerated father. Vorbis outright states that he knows that he would be in league with the rebels if not for his father... and nonetheless orders that the father be released. It appears for a moment that he is baiting him by asking an inquisitor if they know where the man lives, but never follows up on it. Then again, Vorbis may simply not have gotten around to it. He was rather busy from that point until he died.
  • Photographic Memory: Brutha, to the point that he has No Infantile Amnesia. He remembers everything ever since, to the extent that he can copy out books he's only seen once despite not being able to read them himself. He doesn't forget a thing until he's about to die, 100 years after the main plot.
  • The Plan: Vorbis' plans, among other things, include invading Ephebe by sending the Omnian fleet to attack Ephebe directly - and getting burned by a giant Ephebian magnifying glass - partly as a justification to his main plan to cross the desert, helped by several expeditions that left caches of food and water along the way. Pratchett referred to it as "planning your counter-attack before your attack." If the first attack works, excellent. If not, it sets up the second. Vorbis may be the most frightening villain Pratchett has ever created, because he is essentially what Vetinari would be if he were actually evil and sadistic.
  • Punch-Clock Villain/Just Doing My Job - Lampshaded, when describing the torturers of the Exquisition. In among all the horrific torture implements are holiday mementoes, family photos, mugs saying "world's best dad", and letters from retired colleagues thanking everyone for the money at their leaving do.
    And it all meant this: that there are hardly any excesses of the most crazed psychopath that cannot easily be duplicated by a normal, kindly family man who just comes in to work every day and has a job to do.
  • Real Dreams are Weirder: Urn says harnessing lightning is the dream of mankind. Didactylos says: "Is it? It’s not my dream. I always dream of a giant carrot chasing me through a field of lobsters."
  • Really 700 Years Old: The History Monks, who use 'circular aging' the way those who play wind instruments use 'circular breathing'.
  • Red Herring: The desert lion seems like it'll be important later, but really only exists after the initial encounter to provide a punchline.
  • Running Gag: Everyone who notices Om for the first time remarks, "There's good eating on one of those."
  • Saying Too Much: Initially, Om keeps reining himself in during conversation with Brutha, since he doesn't want to give away some of the major details about his chenolialism.
  • Secret Test of Character: The desert afterlife, with judgement at the end. The judgement isn't a secret. Which end of the desert the judgement happens at is.
  • Shoot the Builder: "Killing the creator was a traditional method of patent protection."
  • Shout-Out:
    • There are many references to famous Greek philosophers in the book. In fact, if you know the legend of how Aeschylus died, then with some thought it becomes obvious how Vorbis will die.
    • A rather obscure shout-out can be found in the name of one of the ancient prophets of Om: Ishkibble.
    • Speaking of obscure shout-outs, there's one to the educational programming language Logo, of all things (a pun on Logo's "turtle graphics.")
    • The Messenger of the Gods (the equivalent of Hermes) in Ephebe is called Fedecks, a reference to the famous delivery company FedEx. (May be a case of Fridge Brilliance, since there exists another delivery company named Hermes).
    • Terry also manages at least one truly audacious Shout-Out. (Well, he has said that he's disappointed none of his books have yet been bonfired by Deep South Fundamentalists.) When Brutha is in his old familiar garden praying for guidance from a God who has apparently withdrawn himself, when he is frightened of the consequences of disobeying Vorbis but knowing he has to do it, while wishing somebody else would: this is Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane.
    • Another rather obscure one: early in the book it is mentioned that some of the more cruel novices call Brutha "the big dumb ox". The "dumb ox" was one of several nicknames for St Thomas Aquinas (though "dumb" in his case referred to his not speaking very much, rather than a lack of intelligence,) who re-examined a lot of his Church's dogma in conjunction with natural law and Aristotelian logic, and whose work continues to be extremely influential. One of Aquinas's other nicknames, the "gentle doctor", is also appropriate for Brutha's All-Loving Hero status.
    • Om's first follower was a shepherd, looking for a lost sheep. It's said of him that he "had a hundred sheep, and it might have been surprising that he was prepared to spend days searching for one sheep; in fact, it was because he was the kind of man prepared to spend days looking for a lost sheep that he had a hundred sheep." This is a reference to the Parable of the Lost Sheep from the New Testament: "If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?"
    • Didactylos recalls that he once told a prince that there is no royal road to learning, a paraphrase of a quote attributed to the ancient Greek mathematican Euclid.
    • The abandoned temple that Om and Brutha find in the desert has a bas-relief that has mostly deteriorated, except for a few "strange designs that mainly consisted of tentacles."
    • This is the second book where someone paraphrases the last recorded words of Lawrence Oates. ("I'm just going out. I may be some time.") The line will reappear again in Soul Music.
  • Slavery Is a Special Kind of Evil: Vorbis is disgusted by Ephebe practicing slavery, but the Tyrant throws it back in his face with a "Not So Different" Remark.
    Vorbis: Slave is an Ephebian word. In Om, we have no word for slave.
  • Sleep Learning: A king wants to become learned without actually taking the time to read anything, so Didactylos suggests having slaves whisper bits of knowledge in his ear while he sleeps.
    "Did that work?"
    "Don't know. The third slave stuck a six-inch dagger in his ear. Then after the revolution the new ruler let me out of prison and said I could leave the country if I promised not to think of anything on the way to the border. But I don't believe there was anything wrong with the idea in principle."
  • Smarter Than You Look: Brutha. While he's not classically clever, he's got an impossibly good memory, and he's quite perceptive - he has to think about thinking, so while he's slower than most, he actually really thinks about things, allowing him to properly understand them. He's also got a level of Incorruptible Pure Pureness that allows him to hang around Vorbis and only pick up a bunch of Evil Virtues (mostly relating to leadership and understanding human nature).
  • Straight Edge Evil: Vorbis is an ascetic; aside from being celibate, he only consumes water and dry bread (he actually waits until the fresh bread dries).
  • Sturgeon's Law: Om says that ninety-nine percent of the Ephebian philosophers' ideas are useless but they are tolerated because that last one percent is a "humdinger".
  • Super-Speed Reading: Brutha, although with the twist that he doesn't understand any of it — he's just using his photographic memory to memorize the shapes and orders of the letters so he can copy it down again later.
  • Superstitious Sailors: The sailors have a number of superstitions and ritual practices, most notably a taboo against killing dolphins. Almost all of these turn out to be justified as they are part of a system of obeisance to the vindictive Sea Queen, who is enraged by killing dolphins.
  • Tank Goodness: Urn invents what is possibly the Disc's first one in the Moving Turtle, though see also Eric.
  • There Is a God!: Played for Drama; the sight of Brutha being saved from execution and martyrdom by a falling tortoise (Om) striking Vorbis on the head is enough of a miracle to instantly restore Om to his full power.
  • Time Abyss: When Brutha discovers that Vorbis has languished in limbo, he wonders aloud if time works differently there in such a way that he's been there for far shorter than the most-of-a-century that passed on the mortal plane; Death implies that it may have been far, far longer - or at least felt that way.
  • Time Police: The History Monks, who ensure the timeline doesn't stray too far from its course.
  • Tranquil Fury: Om, after he realizes his screamed curses and punishments ("Turn into a mud leech and wither in the fires of retribution!") fail to materialize:
    Om: One day I'm going to be back on form again and you're going to be very sorry you said that. For a very long time. I might even go so far as to make more Time just for you to be sorry in.
  • Unwanted False Faith: Didactylos hadn't intended to start a cultural revolution. He'd just published a philosophical piece, and is embarrassed when he comes face to face with Simony's resistance movement.
  • Velvet Revolution: Things end the hard way — which is not with bloody warfare, as Brutha and Om are able to stop the armies from attacking Omnia.
    Lu-Tze: Er... you know the books say that Brutha died and there was a century of terrible warfare?
    The Abbot: You know my eyesight isn't what it was, Lu-Tze.
    Lu-Tze: Well... it's not entirely like that now.
  • Verbal Tic: Brother Nhumrod has a habit of repeating the last few words of every sentence said to him, as if it's taking his entire concentration just to parse out the statements.
  • Vow of Celibacy: Evidently applicable, although never stated outright, for the clergy of Om. This caused Brother Nhumrod great difficulty.
  • Wham Line: Throughout the book, deceased characters end up in an afterlife that takes the form of crossing a desert. They ask Death what lies at the end of the desert, and he replies Judgement. At the end of the book, Brutha dies, asks the question and considers Death's answer, and then asks:"Which end?"
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Used for drama, when Om starts thinking about his past, and remembers his old arch-enemy, Ur-Gilash, and realises he has no idea what happened to the guy. He can barely remember what he did, some sort of spider-like god if he remembers correctly. Then, later on, Om and Brutha take refuge in a temple with a very spidery look to its artwork...
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Urn gives this to Simony when he states he wants to let Brutha die and become a useful martyr for Simony's war against the Church of Omnia.
    • Near the end of the novel, Brutha chews out Simony, Urn, and company for following him to a parley with the incoming armies when he had previously stated he wished to do so alone—their presence had disrupted the peace talks and was about to precipitate a war.
  • What You Are in the Dark:
    • When Brutha leads Vorbis through a labyrinth, he thinks: "I could run forward. I could hide, and he'd walk into one of the pits or a deadfall or some­thing, and then I could sneak back to my room and who would ever know? I would."
    • Also Vorbis when he is forced to examine himself after death, then Brutha again when he finds him there a century later.
    • Something similar (What You Are In The Storm?) comes into play when Simony realises he can't leave trapped soldiers, even enemies, to die in a shipwreck. When it comes down to it, he doesn't even hesitate.
  • Who's on First?: Brutha's awkward name is lampshaded when Vorbis thinks of what will happen when he's Brother Brutha. Or even Father Brutha. He concludes they should promote him to subdeacon as soon as possible to avoid this.
  • Won't Take "Yes" for an Answer: Vorbis, when demanding Didactylos recant the word of the turtle, has to be told by Brutha that he's agreed.
  • You Are a Credit to Your Race: Despite the institutional misogyny of the Omnian church, Vorbis is genuinely impressed by what Brutha tells him about his grandmother, remarking that she would have made an excellent inquisitor... if not for the obvious deficiency of her sex.
  • You Can't Fight Fate - Subverted: Lu-Tze changes events, and the Discworld's usual Rubber-Band History does not come into play because the History Monks can just edit the books which contain the whole history of the world so it fits his changes.
  • You No Take Candle: Lu-Tze, during his brief conversation with Brutha. Knowing him, he's probably more fluent than he lets on. The advice he gives is still clear enough.