Follow TV Tropes


Literature / The Carpet People

Go To
They called themselves the Munrungs. It meant The People, or The True Human Beings. It's what most people call themselves, to begin with. And then one day the tribe meets some other people and give them a name like The Other People or, if it's not been a good day, The Enemy. If only they'd think up a name like Some More True Human Beings, it'd save a lot of trouble later on.

"This book had two authors, and they were both the same person".

A novel by Terry Pratchett which was originally published in 1971, but was later re-written by the author when his work became more widespread and well-known. The Carpet People contains much of the humour and some of the concepts which later became a major part of the Discworld series, as well as parodies of everyday objects from our world. Before creating the Discworld, Terry Pratchett wrote about two different flat worlds, in this novel, and Strata.

The story follows the journey of a tribe called the Munrungs, across a world known as the Carpet. Instead of trees, the landscape is a forest of hairs, littered with large grains of dust. Below the surface is the Underlay, riddled with caves, and below that the Floor. The Munrungs cross the carpet to find a new home after their village is destroyed by the powerful and mysterious natural force known as Fray. The origins of Fray are never explained in the book, but it is described in a way to suggest sweeping or vacuuming, or possibly a human stepping across the carpet (Pismire does say the incidents all lie in a straight line, and it's described in terms of pressure downwards...)

The tribe is led by Glurk, who is advised by Pismire, a philosopher and the tribal Shaman. Glurk's younger brother Snibril, however, is the book's protagonist, and is described by Pismire as having the kind of enquiring mind which is "dangerous". Snibril also has the unique ability to detect Fray a few minutes before it strikes - this ability manifests itself as an extremely painful migraine.

This book contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Always Chaotic Evil: The Mouls look like this, although the Chief Moul later is treated like a Worthy Opponent.
  • Arc Number: 7 is very important to wights, possibly because their work as artisans encompasses seven different raw materials. Wights only travel in groups divisible by 7, a fact that becomes plot-relevant when it gives away five of the non-wight characters' attempt to pass themselves off as a band of wights.
  • Arc Words:
  • Backhanded Apology: Pismire got sentenced to death for one. After calling the Emperor "an ignorant sybarite who didn't have the sense of a meat pie", he was sentenced to death for saying that he was sorry, because on reflection the Emperor did have the sense of a meat pie.
  • Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": "Horses", which are said to have compound eyes that change colors with their emotions.
  • Cargo Cult: There are some borderline examples. The "fire-worshipers of Rug" are mentioned to worship the great fire in the sky. The Vortgorns live on a dropped penny (referred to as the High Gate Land because a British penny has a portcullis inscribed on it), and their battle cry is On Epen Ny (i.e. "ONE PENNY") and they have also found words on the other side reading "...Izabethii" (i.e. "ELIZABETH II").
  • The Corrupter: Mouls prefer to work this way on enemies too strong for brute force.
  • The Croc Is Ticking: The termagant's body is draped in bangles and ornaments by its long-ago worshipers - presumably blindfolded ones - that jingle as it moves, allowing Snibril to track its movements without looking at it.
  • The Empire: The Dummii Empire, which extends all the way from the Woodwall (a matchstick) to the western outpost of Rug, where the natives worship the fire in the sky.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The Dummii are Carpet Romans.
  • Headache of Doom: Early on, the Munrung Snibril starts to develop an intense headache, which rapidly becomes agony. It turns out that he's sensing the approach of Fray, which proceeds to destroy the Munrung village. Once Snibril realizes this, he's able to provide warnings against subsequent Fray attacks.
  • Horse of a Different Color: While most people in the Carpet ride horses (and even then they're described as having color-changing compound eyes), the Deftmenes ride very small ponies with six legs, and the Mouls ride Black Snargs, enormous, saber-toothed panther-like beasts from the Unswept Corners the Mouls themselves come from.
  • Humans Are Cthulhu: Whatever Fray is, it seems to be some kind of human activity.
  • I Am a Humanitarian: The Mouls have this reputation. They themselves do not eat other humans, though, only animals. It's worth noting, however, that the Mouls' name for themselves means "the True Human Beings"...
  • Load-Bearing Hero: Glurk deliberately tries to invoke this so he can be a hero in a story.
  • Lilliputians: To get an idea of how tiny they are, the introduction states that the city of Ware is about the size of a period.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Pismire's name is an antiquated word meaning "ant" (specifically, Myrmicinae, a subfamily of ants of whom some species retain a functional sting; note that the present day Swedish word for said subfamily is pissmyra).
    • In-universe: 'Mouls', 'Munrungs' and, as below, 'Wights' all mean 'The People' or 'The True Human Beings'.
  • More Dakka: This is the Dumii's approach to ranged warfare, focusing on just having regimented squads of archers sending a continuous hail of arrows at the enemy. It negates the need to aim, and seems to be rather effective.
  • Mouse World: Not quite Beneath the Earth, but only very, very slightly above it.
  • Mr. Exposition:
    • Pismire is the usual source for any kind of knowledge.
    • Glurk gets to be this for a short while after he meets Culaina, and he absolutely relishes knowing more than Pismire.
  • Multiple-Choice Future: All wights can see the future and so they assume that Hard-Determinism is real and that their fates are fixed, and do what they've foreseen themselves doing because that's what they've foreseen — except for one, who can see multiple possible futures and knows that it's possible to choose between them.
  • Non-Linear Character:
    • The wights, who can 'remember what's going to happen'—effectively they already know the script for their entire life and see time deterministically. When destiny really does change, they are traumatised and see it like being blind, and it takes time for them to start 'remembering' the new history instead.
    • A few wights, called thunorgs, are born with a different perception that lets them see probabilities, alternate possibilities that history could go down, rather than a single deterministic narrative. They appear to be shunned by the others.
  • Order Versus Chaos: A major theme, personified by the Deftmenes (chaos) and the Dumii (order). The Deftmentes reject hierarchy beyond a simple monarchy and refuse the rule of the Dumii Empire, but their way of life would be much more difficult without the stability the Empire causes all around them. The Dumii have largely ended inter-tribal warfare by currency, roads, etcetera, but blind adherence to bureaucracy makes it too easy for the Mouls to infiltrate them. Ultimately, you need a bit of both.
  • Our Orcs Are Different: The Mouls are essentially your standard fantasy orcs in a carpet, being a horde of Always Chaotic Evil cannibals who worship a natural disaster and seek to end all civilization in the Carpet because they believe their "god" wants them to. Throw in their downright animalistic appearance — they're shown in the illustrations as very hairy, and with pointed ears and beast-like snouts — and you're all set.
  • Our Wights Are Different: Very different indeed - more like Our Elves Are Different with a different name, even. Given that 'Wight' simply means 'person' in Old English, this is another case of a tribe name meaning 'The People' or 'The True Human Beings'
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Bane. When Brocando argues that the women of Ware should be trained and armed in preparation for the moul siege, Bane absolutely forbids it, insisting that women don't know how to fight and that their presence would turn the battle into a "vulgar mess". (Brocando, who knows better, goes ahead and does it anyway.)
  • Precursors: They live in a carpet. Also, most of the ecosystem is based on human litter and debris.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: The Deftmenes, who fight for the sake of fighting.
  • The Quisling: Brocando's brother sells Jeopard to the mouls in Brocando's absence so he can say he's the king.
  • Royal Brat: The current emperor, who's entirely under the sway of the Mouls.
  • Shorter Means Smarter:
    • Tiny Snibril is much smarter than his huge brother Glurk.
    • Averted with the Deftmenes; though they're even more diminutive than the other tribes, their main trait is excessive belligerence.
  • Spider-Sense: Snibril and the Mouls can sense when Fray will strike.
  • Strategy, Schmategy: Frequently, the heroes reason that being outnumbered just means you have your pick of enemies; a bigger enemy means you have a choice of targets, and at one point during a four-on-one battle it's noted that the four aren't trying as hard because they're basically each holding back as they expect the other three to take the risks for them. The Deftmenes lead by Brocando don't go in for planning much beyond "charge", unlike the methodical techniques of the Dumii under Bane. Brocando later makes good use of this when he trains Ware's women to fight with spears; they're all amateurs, which means they'll do just about anything with the weapon.
  • Supporting Leader: Bane, who was in fact a stand-in for Aragorn in the earlier "LOTR set in a carpet" form of the book.
  • Taken for Granite: The termagant's victims are turned to stone.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: Deconstructed: Before the climactic battle one of the heroes throws a sword to kill a bad guy. It works. Seconds later, enemy forces attack and he asks whether anybody can lend him a spare one...
    • Also, Bane was originally banished from the imperial court because he Threw His Sword and killed an assassin. This saved the emperor's life, but breached the rule that no one may draw a weapon in the ruler's presence.
  • Tragic Monster: The termagant, which is the Last of His Kind and seems to have no idea that it's turning people into stone; it just thinks that they're rudely "freezing up" just when it wants to greet them. It even dies when it sees its reflection in the mirror, not because its Deadly Gaze backfired, but because it was so happy to see another living termagant.
  • To Serve Man: One of the reasons the Mouls take prisoners. Also implied to be the fate of a traitor who worked for them.
  • Wake Up Fighting: When Snibril finds a stranger asleep in Pismire's shack, he approaches him cautiously with a knife. The stranger, Bane, springs out of bed, grabs Snibril's knife and puts it to his throat... and then wakes up.
  • Warrior Poet: General Baneus.
  • Woodland Creatures: A huge crowd of wild animals from all parts of the Carpet gather in Culaina's grove to lick at the giant sugar crystal.