The 26th Discworld novel. The fifth in the Death/Susan theme, although they are not the main protagonists of the story.
The Auditors of Reality are at it again. This time, they plot to stop time and therefore all the messiness of life, freezing it perfectly. To do so, they approach a driven, unstable watchmaker called Jeremy Clockson - so called because he was a foundling of the Clockmaker's Guild - to build, or rather rebuild, the Glass Clock of Bad Schüschein. This Clock, built by a Mad Scientist, previously stopped time briefly before breaking and then shattered history, causing the History Monks to have to put it back together imperfectly (and incidentally explaining all the Discworld series' continuity errors). Its existence survives only in a fairytale and the memory of an Igor, the grandson of the one who helped build the Clock. In order to interact with Jeremy, an Auditor makes a human body and inhabits it under the alias Lady Myria Lejean, but in the process finds herself losing her former nature and becoming addicted to life.
Meanwhile, another foundling called Lobsang Ludd has been taken away by the History Monks and is taught their disciplines, such as the management and upkeep of history and the running of time, and being monks in the mountains, self-defence disiplines including the time-bending martial art of deja-fu. A difficult but know-it-all student, he is apprenticed to Lu-Tze (from Small Gods), spoken of with fear yet claiming to be only a simple sweeper, and thus outside the system. Via their Mandala, the monks learn of the attempt to reconstruct the Glass Clock, and know that this time there's no hope of repairing history if it strikes. Merely a birth pang of the coming doom causes the room of Procrastinators (time manipulating machines) to go haywire, yet Lobsang somehow instinctively calms them. Lu-Tze, who failed to stop the first clock, is put on the case by the Abbot, a serial reincarnator currently in the body of a baby. He and Lobsang journey down towards Ankh-Morpork...
And meanwhile, Death has a job of his own: mustering the other three Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and recruiting his granddaughter Susan to intervene so the Apocalypse won't happen at all.
Preceded by The Truth, followed by Night Watch. The inciting incident of Night Watch is directly caused by the climax of Thief of Time, so these books are closely connected, despite being part of different "series." This is the final novel to feature cover art by Josh Kirby, who would pass away before Night Watch was published. Paul Kidby would take on the role of cover artist for the rest of the series.
Preceded in the Death/Susan subseries by Hogfather.
Not related to the potential Class/Aspect pair.
Thief of Time provides examples of:
- Against My Religion: Used by an (unusually creative) Auditor to explain his irrational behavior while disguised as a human.
- The Air Not There: Averted. Lu-Tze mentions that special precautions have to be taken when slicing time to move the frozen-in-time air molecules out of the way.
- All Amazons Want Hercules: Mrs. War (a Valkyrie) henpecks her husband for nearly all her time onscreen. But when War gets his He's Back! moment (and his spine back), she blushes happily when he stands up to her and tells her to back off.
- Alliterative Title: The X of Y style where X and Y both start with the same letter.
- Almighty Janitor. Lu-Tze in his disguise as a mere sweeper.
- Ronnie Soak, also known as Kaos, works as a milkman.
- …And That Little Girl Was Me: Played with. Lu-Tze doesn't get any further into the story than "There was once this young sweeper—" before Lobsang interrupts to point out that he's obviously talking about himself.
- Animals Lack Attributes: Invoked when Susan takes a paper tube away from Jason and informs the boy that, no, the cardboard animal which the class is constructing is a polite horse. Possibly a reference to a 20th century joke campaign to clothe animals: "A nude horse is a rude horse!" was their slogan.
- Ant War: War and his children hang around observing one of these, simply because the relatively peaceful age has left them nothing better to do. They hang severed ant heads from their saddles to fit the setting.
- Anthropomorphic Personification: Given this book is part of the Death series they're bound to show up. There's the Auditors of course but also the Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
- Time; it had previously been hinted in an earlier version of the Discworld Companion that she was female, because "Time waits for no man"... except Wen.
- Arc Words: Lu-Tze reminding everyone of Rule One, which is "Never act incautiously when facing a small wrinkly bald smiling old man!" He proves it by beating the tar out of the new personification of Time.
- Artistic License – Biology: The embodied Auditors shouldn't have felt the need to breathe, if they were using their powers to exchange gases between their new bodies and the surrounding air: it's the buildup of carbon dioxide in body fluids that makes the brain's respiratory centers trigger each breath.
- Ax-Crazy: Mr White. Literally.
- Bad Boss: Mr. White keeps the other human Auditors in line through threats of murder.
- Bait-and-Switch Comment:
- When Lu-Tze takes a shortcut through the dojo, he is accosted by a young monk who accuses him of being somewhere he's not allowed and prepares to beat him up. The dojo master intervenes, asking, "Do you not wish to know the name of the man you are about to destroy?", and when the young monk scoffs that he doesn't need to know the name of a servant, the dojo master clarifies that his question was addressed to Lu-Tze.
- When Jeremy asks Igor if he's good at glasswork, he says that he isn't — he's bloody amazing at glasswork.
- Berserk Button: Discussed towards the end of the novel as part of a discussion about little "exceptions to the rules". Soto's exception to his general pacifism? "Not the hair."
- Bittersweet Ending: For LeJean/Unity, since she decides to kill herself rather than live as an insane auditor trying to be human once she stops the invasion. Death considers it a waste of her potential, but we do see that unlike the other auditors she has earned a soul.
- The Bore: Jeremy is introduced as someone whose only topic of conversation is clocks - he can expound at length about each and every kind of clock imaginable, and is more likely to run out of listeners before he runs out of clocks. He's also said to be so dull that, if he decided to become interesting, he'd likely search for a book on how to be interesting and try to see if there are any classes he can take.
- Briar Patching: When the monks learn that a new Glass Clock is being built, Lu-Tze makes a big deal about how much he wants to go to Uberwald to look for it, correctly assuming that he will be prevented from going to Uberwald and will thus be free to go and deal with the real problem in Ankh-Morpork.
- Brown Note: During the sequence in Qu's workshop, Qu mentions that he's working a technique of weaponized chanting that incorporates frequencies that have a particular effect on the human nervous system.
- Brick Joke:
- More like a convoluted way to get to a 'perfect moment.' At the start of the book, it's mentioned that the history and lead-up to a 'perfect moment' is not straightforward. At the very end of the book, Susan and Lobsang have their 'perfect moment.'
- Early on, Lu-Tze considers the monastery's valley in which it is always the same day and the cherry trees are in blossom forever, and mentions that it might be nice to pick cherries for once. At the end, Lobsang makes the trees bear fruit as a gift to him.
- The repeated uses of Tick to mark narrative shifts between scenes is eventually proven to have a purpose when the Glass Clock stops time and a Ti- appears. When time resumes, it's with a -ck.
- When hungry, Lobsang asks if monks know a technique to feed on air, Lu-Tze responds "On the planet Sausage, maybe". At the very end Chaos says there are planets made entirely of chocolate.
- The opening scene begins with Death watching a demonstration involving large quantities of buttered toast, before the subject moves on; several pages and an extended flashback sequence later, when the reader is unlikely to be actively recalling the scene's beginning, the scene ends with Death doing a comic pratfall after slipping in some spilled butter. The explanation for this experiment (every toast ends up butter-side down) is explained much later as malignity- ordinary objects becoming more hostile to non-objects (garden hoses tangling up) is an indicator of increased Auditor activity or presence.
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Soto - one of the best field agents the Monks of Time have - refuses to cut his hair, as he believes it to be a separate entity that simply happens to live on his head. At least, so he claims.
- Call-Back: Lu-Tze and the Abbot first appear as minor characters in Small Gods. Young monks hanging around Mrs. Cosmopilite's dress shop to seek enlightenment was a gag reference in Witches Abroad.
- Chekhov's Gun:
- The obvious one is the pair of procrastinators procured by Qu, in a scene reminiscent to a James Bond film. Lu-Tze says that they're untested and to be used only as a last resort, so it's certain they'll be essential at some point.
- The Yeti's Save Scumming ability is demonstrated as a curiosity, and Lu-Tze mentions that he knows how to do it in theory but would have to be very desperate to try it for real, given the stakes.
- Clockwork Creature: One of Igor's previous insane masters constructed a "ticktock man" from wires and springs, programmed with hole-punched paper tape. It could sweep the floor and make a nice cup of tea, unless it bumped something - in which case it broke the furniture and made a furious cup of cat.
- Cold Equation: Susan is of the opinion that it's best to use cold logic in the face of the end of the world, even to the point of letting certain people die in order to save everyone else.
- Colour-Coded Timestop: Not only the passages in which time is sliced are described as having weird colours, Lobsang eventually confirms that there are scrolls explaining how the world changes its colours as time is sliced.
- And the reduced speed of light on Discworld - just 600 mph - makes the effect visible at even mild time slices.
- Colourful Theme Naming: Thanks to LeJean blurting something out upon first introducing them, the other Auditors are all named Mr or Miss [Colour] — possibly a Shout-Out to Reservoir Dogs. Or else a shout-out to the British board game Cluedo (named Clue in the American version), with characters named "Colonel Mustard", "Reverend Green", "Miss Scarlett", "Dr. Black", etc. The naming convention also has a certain resemblance to the Strangers from Dark City.
- Comically Missing the Point: The Auditors attempt to analyze art by disassembling paintings into their component molecules.
- Continuity Nod: In reference to the Continuity Snarl mentioned below, Lu-Tze points out several issues that fans have pointed out over the years about Discworld continuity as examples of problems caused by the new patchwork history. For example, there's the opera house/theatre business and the fact that Ephebe's philosophers are so long-lived (they appear both in Pyramids and Small Gods, set about a century earlier). Also a Fandom Nod.
- Leafing through his book of Memories, Death pauses when he turns to a recollection of xylophone music. In Soul Music, the raven snarks to Susan that ordinary children get given xylophones, they don't play music on their grandfather's ribcage.
- Susan asks if Lobsang has "rhythm in his soul", a reference to Soul Music.
- During the headmistress's interview with Susan, it's mentioned that one of the children who'd been terrified of bogeymen before joining Susan's class has now started hunting for them with her father's sword in hand. Sounds like belief in the poker is transferable to other implements too.
- This isn't the first time a Discworld character has crafted the masterpiece he'd dreamed of using notes scribbled all over his bedclothes: when filming Blown Away in Moving Pictures, Dibbler had Detritus carry his whole bed around so he could consult the script.
- Leonardo Da Quirm had it happen to him so often he tried to invent a helmet he could wear in bed so he'd stop waking up to designs of siege engines with carefully listed set of parts scribbled all over his sheets.
- There is a brief mention of the grand The Dysk theatre that was under construction in Wyrd Sisters now being a small, shabby regular stage theatre. Nobody remembers it ever being anything else, presumably through a Cosmic Retcon by the History Monks.
- When the angel appears to herald the apocalypse, Death informs him that his role is no longer official part of the Book of Om as of the interpretation by Prophet Brutha, from Small Gods.
- Continuity Snarl: In-universe example, this is what happened to Discworld history after the first Glass Clock struck and the History Monks were unable to completely repair it. There's even a Shout-Out to specific continuity errors fans have previously pointed out, such as some characters crossing over between Pyramids and Small Gods despite the books taking place decades apart (... probably) and the setting up of a Shakespearean-style theatre being new and radical in Wyrd Sisters when it turns out that the city has had a Victorian-style opera house for many years in Maskerade.
- Cosmic Retcon: The aforementioned Continuity Snarl is used to Hand Wave plot holes and Schizo Tech in the rest of the series.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: Even after becoming Time incarnate, Lobsang doesn't stand a chance against Lu-Tze.
- Crystal Dragon Jesus: Readers with an eastern philosophy bent will quickly notice that "Order of Wen the Eternally Surprised" — a.k.a. the History Monks — is Buddhism with a dash of Taoism thrown in for taste. Wen is even the name of the mythological author of the I Ching, an important Taoist/Buddhist book. (In this case, Wen falling in love with Time is probably a subtle pun.)
- Dark Is Not Evil: Unsurprisingly, given how Death is one of them, but the Horsemen of the Apocalypse are at worst lazy and irritating, and they side with Death against the Auditors.
- Death Means Humanity: Spending time in a human body makes Lejean / Unity start seeing human life as less of a blight on the perfection of the universe, which is at complete odds with the Individuality Is Illegal, Enemy to All Living Things mindset the Auditors have as Gods of Order, and she eventually helps to stop the invasion on humanity from The Auditors. Unfortunately, this drives her mad and she kills herself using a vat of chocolate. When she finds herself in the afterlife, apparently having earned herself a soul for her Heel–Face Turn, she is shocked.
- Defector from Decadence: Lejean decides to stop the other Auditors' plan after experiencing the sensations and thoughts that come with being alive. Though under the circumstances it's more of a defector into decadence.
- Delicious Distraction: Made easy since the Auditors are not used to their new senses.
- Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Lu-Tze beating down Time.
- Divine Parentage: Lobsang and Jeremy are the son of Time. In fact they are the same person, but her powers made two of them. Best not to think about that.
- Don't Touch It, You Idiot!:
- The narrator remarks, "If you put a large switch in some cave somewhere, with a sign on it saying 'End-of-the-World Switch. PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH', the paint wouldn't even have time to dry."
- The reaction of Qu when Lobsang starts picking up things in his workshop.
- Doorstop Baby: Both Lobsang Ludd and Jeremy Clockson were left on doorsteps as infants - Jeremy at the Clockmaker's Guild, and Lobsang at the Thieves' Guild before he was discovered in his late teens by the History Monks.
- Dramatic Slip: This causes the second half of the plot. Lobsang and Lu-Tze were running to reach the Glass Clock before it struck and would have made it if not for this trope. The stupidity is later lampshaded:I'm sorry? You were dashing to prevent the end of the world but you stopped to help some old man? You... hero!
- Duck!: One of several of the Auditor traps is a sign simply saying "DUCK." Unlike most examples of Duck!, the sign is nowhere near either a waterfowl or someplace with Low Clearance.
- Early-Bird Cameo: The book that contains the story of the orginal glass clock is Grim Fairy Tales. The niece of the authors is a main character in The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, published later the same year.
- Eldritch Abomination: Rarely for a late Discworld novel, the Things from the Dungeon Dimensions are mentioned, as statues in the History Monks' garden (they call them dhlang, demons). An Auditor statue is among them and called the most dangerous of them all, despite its unassuming appearance.
- Element No. 5: As in the previous book, it is said that on the Disc the Fifth Element is "Surprise". Fitting the number, Lu-Tze has a 'Garden of Four Elements' which Lobsang attempts to puzzle out after only finding three of them. The fourth traditional element, fire, which has no place in a garden, is found in a nearby bakery oven, so what is the fourth element in the garden? Lu-Tze puts on a cheap carnival mask with a "Boo!" "I never said it was a good surprise..."
- Emergency Temporal Shift: The yeti have technically been extinct three times, because they have the ability to basically "save" their lives and reload them if something goes wrong, basically retconning the universe into whatever killed them not happening - as one of them demonstrates by getting decapitated by Lu-Tze and suddenly being back in one piece.
- Empty Elevator: The Auditors are waiting for the last humans alive for a given value of 'human' and 'alive' to come out of an elevator. They don't.
- Enemy to All Living Things: The Auditors are this, par for course really. Interestingly this book goes into detail of how their presence causes an increase in malignity - ordinary objects becoming more hostile to non-objects. Buttered bread become tripping hazards, ropes and hoses tie themselves into knots, wouldn't be surprised rakes get under foot too.
- "Eureka!" Moment: For the first six Auditors to become human after Lady Lejean is trying to stop the clock. For beings who hated imagination and could never lie, the way they countered her attempts to stop them were quite impressive.
- Evil Lawyer Joke: Igor opens the door when Myria brings colleagues, and his tone of voice makes it clear what he thinks of them.Her ladythip is here... and thee hath brought lawyerth.
- Exact Words: Igor assures Jeremy's boss that he sees him pour out a spoonful of his medicine regularly. What he doesn't mention is that Jeremy then pours the spoonful of medicine down the sink instead of down his throat.
- Lu-Tze tells Lobsang that none of the monks know Deja-Fu. This is because Lu-Tze never taught it to them. And he's (technically) not a monk.
- Fairy Tale: Invoked to explain how stories work.
- Fake Ultimate Hero: Played with but ultimately averted with Lu-Tze, who really is as good as his legend says.
- False Reassurance: Someone from the Guild of Clockmakers regularly checks that Jeremy is taking his medicine. Igor assures him that he sees Jeremy pour out a spoonful every day — but doesn't mention that he then pours it down the drain.
- Father Time: Shows up of course, given the title. Only at the end, though, when Lobsang ascends to the position. Beforehand, it's his mother. A striking woman with long dark hair and a red dress, she's quite happy to see her son as before she was stuck wandering her glass castle, weeping for the child she could see but never touch.
- Fantastically Indifferent: After time has been stopped, Ronnie Soak drops a milk bottle and sees it stop in mid-air when it leaves the personal field of time around Ronnie. 'Another idiot with a Clock', he surmises, but is otherwise unfazed.
- Fantastic Time Management: The title character can make time flow faster or slower for himself relative to the world around him. He regularly uses this ability for mundane everyday schedule management. (And for stealing things.)
- First Time Feeling: When Lady Lejean and the other Auditors take human form, the find themselves momentarily overwhelmed by the sensory overload of simple existence. They pass out from the taste of dry toast, and chocolate kills them. Then they discover the danger of strong emotions, such as fear and anger...
- Food Porn: Just try to not be in the mood for chocolate after finishing this one.
- Foreshadowing: Lu-Tze reminds the abbot of how, traditionally, an apprentice sets off into the world with his master, to find his Way and, eventually, himself. Lobsang finds himself literally, as well as the Way home to Time's glass halls.
- At the beginning of the book, Susan's inner monologue discusses how lonely she is, and how impossible it is to have a meaningful relationship with a mortal with only five senses. The end of the book has her getting together with Lobsang, the son and new personification of Time.
- Lady LeJean uses only the first person plural for much of her initial conversation with Jeremy, only to break out of it and refer to herself as "I" at the very end. Even before her status as an Auditor-in-human-guise was stated outright in the story, her transition to individuality/Heel–Face Turn was already in progress.
- Funny Background Event: Myria LeJean/Unity in the museum after time stops; she uses a family of squatters as furniture, even offering Susan and Lobsang to "pull up a child and have a seat."
- Genre Savvy: Even after it appears Lu-Tze is Mistaken for Badass, Lobsang never forgets Rule #1.
- The Ghost: Time Herself never appears or deliberately interferes with the plot.
- G-Rated Drug: The Auditors eventually become somewhat addicted to life; narrowing their senses down to five is easy-peasy, but they are unprepared for the sheer intensity of them. It literally drives them insane.
- Great Way to Go: Unity's Death by Chocolate. Even Death himself and Kaos are impressed.
- Guile Hero: Lu-Tze by far prefers playing mind games with his foes to get them to act in his favor without having to resort to physical confrontations.
- Henpecked Husband: War.War: Do I like rabbit?
Mrs. War: Yes, dear.
War: I though I liked beef.
Mrs. War: No, dear. Beef gives you wind.
War: Oh. Any chance of onions?
Mrs. War: You don't like onions, dear.
War: I don't?
Mrs. War: Because of your stomach, dear.
War: Oh. Erm... dear, do I ride out for Apocalypses?
Mrs. War: No, dear. You always come down with a cold.
War: I thought I rather, er, sort of liked that sort of thing?
Mrs. War: No, dear. You don't.
War: Perhaps I would like a beer?
Mrs. War: You don't like beer, dear.
War: I don't?
Mrs. War: No, it brings out your trouble.
War: Ah. Uh, how do I feel about brandy?
Mrs. War: You don't like brandy, dear. You like your special oat drink with the vitamins.
- He's Back!: Kaos becomes Chaos, which is something the auditors loathe, allowing the horsemen to finally turn the tide. Shortly before that War shakes off the unfocused state the long stretch of relative peace had put him in when it's time to ride out.
- Hilarious in Hindsight: We are finally given a canonical, in-Universe explanation for Discworld's continuity anomalies. Later in the book, Lu-Tze punches Time.
- Historical In-Joke: One of Lobsang's instructors recounts to the Abbot how, in an attempt to embarrass Lobsang into paying attention, he challenged the boy to solve the problem on the blackboard; only Lobsang was looking at the wrong problem, and instead solved part of a lesson that had been impossible even for the advanced students who it had been intended for. This is more or less what happened to George Dantzig in 1939 when he was a graduate student at Berkeley; he arrived late to a statistics class one day and scrawled down from the blackboard what he assumed was part of his homework assignment. Six weeks after he turned it in, his professor came to him and told him he'd solved two rather famous unsolved problems that had been giving mathematicians trouble for years.
- Horsemen of the Apocalypse: The Five. horsemen show up as major characters, with the concomitant characterization and expansion.
- Humanity Is Infectious: The Auditors, especially Lejean and Mr White.
- Human Mail: Jeremy gets an Igor mailed to him in a box, part of the service for "We are Igors".
- Humanoid Abomination: The Auditors when they take human form.
- The Igor: Or rather an Igor. The Auditors hire one to assist Jeremy in making the clock.
- I Know Kung-Faux: Several techniques are named, including Okidoki, Upsi-Dasi, and the mystical Déjà Fu. That last one's real.
- Inconspicuous Immortal: It's revealed that dependable milkman Ronnie Soak is actually Kaos, the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse. Having left the team before they became famous, Kaos has no desire to continue his usual antics or duties even after eons of retirement, and prefers to use his otherworldly nature simply to become a supernaturally-reliable milkman.
- Individuality Is Illegal: A number of Auditors takes human form and individual names, a venture that ends in bloodshed and chaos, with the last survivor deciding to commit suicide in a vat of chocolate.
- Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Some of the Auditors end up seeming quite relatable as they navigate and endure the peculiarities of humanity, especially in other incarnated Auditors — such as Mr. White, who takes to vicious bullying almost as well as some humans.
- Insane Equals Violent: Mr. White did not handle incarnation well. Jeremy is an inverted, milder case - he's absolutely sane. The only violence he did was offscreen, a Noodle Incident, and apparently was very, very messy. He has medicine for it now.
- Kiai: The monks' various martial arts use Funny Bruce Lee Noises, allowing the Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy to turn "ohshee" into "oh shit" when he learns who he's fighting.
- The Crowbar is Inside the Box: There's a recurring metaphor about "opening a box with the crowbar you'll find inside".
- Done literally with the Igor shipped in a crate to Jeremy. He pushes the crowbar out of the crate through an airhole so Jeremy can open it since the shippers ignored 'This Way Up'.
- Knuckle Cracking: When Lady Lejean and her bodyguards first visit Jeremy, one of the bodyguards cracks his knuckles when he sees Jeremy looking at him.
- Let's Get Dangerous!: Death rides out to gather the Horsemen for the coming Apocalypse, but finds that each of them has, in some way, been rendered effectively useless by the qualities they acquired from being an Anthropomorphic Personification. The trope comes when they actually come to Death's aid, along with ex-Horseman Chaos, and War pushes his image as a Henpecked Husband aside (to his Valkyrie wife's nostalgic delight) to show that they're every bit as dangerous as they were prophesied to be. See Loophole Abuse for what happens next.
- Literal Metaphor: The narration notes because of the way the History Monks move time around, when people say things like "It's Sunday already? It feels like Friday was only yesterday!" this might literally be true.
- Logic Bomb: Used by Lejean/Unity against the orderly-minded Auditors, such as signs that point right but say "Keep Left" and signs that read "Ignore This Sign — By Order", and "Do Not Feed the Elephant" when there is no elephant.
- Not to mention going metaphysical when she puts up a sign that says "Duck" when there's no reason to duck.
- And no waterfowl in sight either.
- The Auditors finally find a way around it by creating the new category of orders that are "bloody stupid" and thus don't have to be followed, after taking heavy losses.
- Not to mention going metaphysical when she puts up a sign that says "Duck" when there's no reason to duck.
- Loophole Abuse:
- Used by the Horsemen in the climax, as they decide to fight the Auditors on humanity's behalf:Death: While it is true we have to ride out, it doesn't say anywhere against whom.
- The History Monks are supposed to shave their heads. Soto gets away with having an impressive ponytail by saying his hair is a separate entity from himself.
- Used by the Horsemen in the climax, as they decide to fight the Auditors on humanity's behalf:
- Mad Scientist: Jeremy Clockson, though he's described as being too sane rather than not sane enough.
- Only by himself. Igor considers it to be just another type of crazy.
- Magic Feather: The portable procrastinator, but only for Lobsang: he makes his own time since he's Time's son.
- Mathematician's Answer: Was the most accurate one. "Are you Lobsang or are you Jeremy?" "Yes."
- Meaningful Name:
- Doubles as punny — Wen the Eternally Surprised. His name sounds like "when", and interestingly enough, wen in Chinese means "to ask a question", which he did after his enlightenment.
- Myria LeJean, Myriad Legion. After Susan convinces her that it's no good to build her confidence on numbers, she changes her name to Unity.
- The Men in Black: The History Monks (a.k.a. The Men In Saffron, a.k.a. No Such Monastery).
- Merger of Souls: Lobsang Ludd and his not-quite-twin brother Jeremy Clockson. The really weird truth, when it comes out, is that they are not twins at all but the same soul born twice due to a temporal anomaly (their mother is the anthropomorphic personification of Time, and her labour got a bit strange, despite the best midwife in the Discworld being present). The two half-souls are allowed to fuse together towards the end of the book, with Lobsang dominating, so as to take over the job of running Time from their mother.
- The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body: This is a large sticking point for Myria LeJean who is the Pathfinder for the Auditors. They don't like having to eat and breath but Myria later embraces the disgusting aspects of life and this leads to her Heel–Face Turn.
- An Auditor imparts, what turns out to be fallacious, analogy about the "water in a jug". Where no matter what container the water is placed in it remains unchanged. It's Myria's realization that it is wrong; for a mind in a body, the "water" is truly changed by the jug.
- Mistaken for Profound: Lu-Tze thinks what Mrs. Marietta Cosmopolite says is deep wisdom. It shows up Lobsang, who assumes the Way is more mystical, when Lu-Tze manages to use the Way to ignore the cold by wearing a masterfully crafted pair of longjohns made by Mrs. Cosmopolite. Lu-Tze is later called a master at seeing "the wisdom hidden in plain sight."
- Mundane Utility:
- Chaos (Ronnie Soak) has an impossibly cold sword, and, like Death, the ability to be where he needs to be. He uses the sword to keep milk cold, and the ability to deliver milk and dairy products to thousands of customers in Ankh-Morpork. Every day. At precisely 7 AM. Everywhere.
- Susan, as part of her inherited powers from being Death's Granddaughter, can stop time for herself. She mentions this power is great for grading her students' work. She also uses the compelling voice to get some time off. The voice, however, won't be able to get her a pay raise.
- My Greatest Failure: For Lu-Tze, it's his failure to stop the first Time Crash.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Lobsang barely misses stopping the second clock because he slowed down to catch a falling Lu-tze. Susan chastises him for this, calling him "hero" in a derogatory tone.
- Noble Shoplifter: On their trip to Ankh-Morpork, Lu-Tze and Lobsang take supplies from people's houses, and leave behind IOUs that will be settled by the next History Monk to pass through who isn't in such a hurry.
- No Body Left Behind: When the Auditors "die" in their artificially made human bodies, the bodies sometimes simply break down at the atomic level, seeming to turn to dust.
- Nobody Touches the Hair: Marco Soto.
- No Medication for Me: Jeremy takes medicine to make sure he doesn't become "too sane", but then decides he thinks better without it.
- Noodle Incident: Whatever Jeremy did to that guy who kept his watch fast. He has medicine now.
- It's mentioned in passing that Susan has met the Tooth Fairy, the Soul Cake Duck, and Old Man Trouble. The Tooth Fairy encounter took place in Hogfather, and Old Man Trouble patronizes Biers like Susan does, but the Soul Cake Duck never appears in any Discworld novel.
- No Social Skills: Jeremy.
- Not So Above It All: Susan is revealed to have a sweet tooth and finds herself unable to resist the appeal of a quality chocolate. She gets quite angry when she's found out to have been eating one of the chocolates they used as ammunition and is dismayed to discover that Lu-Tze can stop after eating one chocolate coated coffee bean (although it is implied he makes a show of it to one up her).
- Not so Dire: Three novices once pushed over Lu-Tze's shrine (when he was already a Memetic Badass). The abbot tells them that until they find the courage to confess to Lu-Tze and then face him in the final dojo to learn his Way, they will remain sweepers.And the story continues: The novice who had protested that it was only the shrine of a sweeper ran away from the temple, the student who said nothing remained a sweeper for the rest of his life, and the student who had seen the inevitable shape of the story went, after much agonizing and several months of meticulous sweeping, to Lu-Tze and knelt and asked to be shown the Right Way. Whereupon the Sweeper took him to the dojo of the Tenth Djim, with its terrible multi-bladed fighting machines and its fearsome serrated weapons such as the clong-clong and the uppsi. The story runs that the Sweeper then opened a cupboard at the back of the dojo and produced a broom and spake thusly: "One hand here and the other here, understand? People never get it right."
- Number Obsession: The Auditors of Reality want to be able to count everything, as befits their role. When they experience humanity for the first time and encounter phenomena that can't be reduced to numbers, they suffer various types of mental breakdown and attempt things like breaking a painting apart into its individual molecules in a fruitless effort to determine where "beauty" comes from. (They also routinely attempt to destroy humanity in order to remove the problem.)
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Lu-Tze. In truly epic amounts.
- Oh, Crap!: When the Sweeper and Lobsang cut through a dojo as a shortcut, one of the students angrily stops him and challenges him to a fight when the Sweeper won't leave. Then the Sweeper introduces himself to the student, triggering this reaction.Lu-Tze: My name is Lu-Tze.
Student: Oh shee... oh shee-yit...
- Old Master: Played with. Lu-Tze has a fearsome reputation among the History Monks as a powerful warrior, but over the course of the story, he reveals that most of his feats are accomplished by simple trickery. Then he puts a physical embodiment of time in a submission hold.
- O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Lu-Tze is generally easy-going and seems to view the world as a big joke that only he is in on, but when it seems like he and Lobsang are going to be too late to stop time being destroyed (again), he becomes entirely serious and short-tempered. Downplayed at the very end, where he displays frightening keeness and helpfulness in front of the chief acolyte in order to get the ceremony going.
- Order Versus Chaos: Comes down on the side of chaos, because life and emotion and free will are disorderly: that's why the auditors want to destroy it.
- Painting the Medium: Throughout the book, the word tick is inserted in-between most scenes. When Lobsang fails to stop the glass clock, and time stops, the ticking stops as well, until the reborn Lobsang manages to turn it off.
- Perspective Flip: The opening chapter, discussing where stories begin, speculates about happy polar bears and seals that meet with tragedy when tons of floating iron and an exciting soundtrack collide with their iceberg.
- The Pete Best: Kaos, the Fifth Horseman.
- Pretty in Mink: To help her image as a wealthy socialite, Lejean wears a huge white fur coat when she first meets Jeremy, then a mink stole later.
- Primordial Chaos: Kaos, the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse. He left before they got famous.
- Pronouncing My Name for You: The Angel Clothèd All in White of the Iron Book from the Prophecy of Tobrun is keen to remind you that 'Clothèd' is pronounced "cloth-edd". "It's the slanty thing over the E".
- Prophecy Twist/Exact Words:
- Tobrun was right about the Horsemen bringing terror to the multitudes. He just failed to specify that they'd be multitudes of Auditors.
- The Horsemen will ride out at the Apocalypse. The prophecy never said against whom. Death is able to convince his fellow Horsemen to ride out to save the universe.
- Putting the Band Back Together: Death trying to reunite the Four Horsemen.
- Reality-Breaking Paradox: The Glass Clock; because time is simultaneously real and an illusion, a clock that keeps perfect time, down to the Plank length, will necessarily be unable to be both created and destroyed due to needing to tick first, which will trap Time, the Anthropomorphic Personification in it and prevent time from moving forward.
- Reality Is Unrealistic: Lobsang witnesses a sunrise in colours (like "surgical-appliance pink") that no artist would be caught dead using in a painting of a sunrise.
- Reluctant Mad Scientist; Jeremy Clockson just wants to make his clocks, he has no idea a truly perfect clock would be a Reality-Breaking Paradox, which is more than can be said for the first Glass Clock.
- Renowned Selective Mentor: Everyone is shocked when Lobsang becomes the apprentice of Lu-Tze The Sweeper. Even if they don't recognise The Sweeper in person, they are shocked by his rep, and because he never takes apprentices anymore. In fact Lobsang's apprenticeship is a punishment posting for both of them in different ways.
- Right for the Wrong Reasons: Clodpool, told that time will be like a coat, "to be worn when necessary and discarded when not", asks Wen if it will need to be washed. This is more or less the purpose of the History Monks.
- Rogue Drone: Lady Myria LeJean. Once she picks up a physical body, a name, and a gender, she starts seeing life as less of a blight on the perfection of the universe. And had the other Auditors spent the same amount of time, they would likely have done the same.
- Save Scumming: The yetis have avoided extinction (three times) by working out how to perform what amounts to a quicksave and reload. Lu-Tze learned it from them later.
- Schizo Tech: A key part of the backstory — when the monks repaired history, they did a somewhat patchwork job. In fact, this book manages to Hand Wave every single instance of Schizo Tech in the entire Discworld series by outright stating that all of the inconsistencies were created when the time stream was essentially pieced back together by little men in robes wielding glue-sticks.
- Screw This, I'm Out of Here!: It turns out nowhere in the Code of the Igors do they need to stay once the angry mob arrives.
- Sdrawkcab Alias: Ronnie Soak. According to Pratchett, he only realized who Soak really was a minute or two before Lu-Tze did, and ran into a bathroom with a pen and a piece of paper to check to see if it was recognizeable when it was mirrored.
- Secret Art: Deja fu. The monks don't know it because Lu-Tze hasn't taught them.
- Self-Mutilation Demonstration: Cutting off the yeti's head to demonstrate his Save Scumming ability.
- Sense Freak: The Auditors in human form, to the point that they die from taste bud stimulation.
- Shout-Out: As usual, plenty.
- Kaos being 'the one who left before they became famous' is a reference to Pete Best, former drummer of The Beatles.
- The inventive monk Qu is an obvious Captain Ersatz of Q from James Bond.
- Lu-Tze tells Lobsang he won't call him some insect nickname.
- Lu-Tze's line after figuring out Kaos' identity is a reference to a famous Rolling Stones song.
- "Jeremy Clockson" is almost certainly a pun on Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear, though the two don't share anything apart from the name (and, possibly, a fascination with engineering). This is debated here on the L-Space Wiki. It may be another case of Tuckerisation.
- The theme of Auditors in human form all dressing in monochrome grey — grey clothes, grey hats, grey shoes — might be a homage to the Grey Gentlemen in Michael Ende's fantasy novel Momo, published in 1973 (alternative titles in English were The Grey Gentlemen or The Men in Grey). The villanous (and non-human) Grey Gentlemen were also called "time thieves" because they stole time from humans by persuading them to "save" time and deposit it in the Grey Gentlemen's time banks to be paid back with interest at an unspecified date.
- Alternatively, another J.C. who is described as a chrononaut on the seas of Time is Michael Moorcock's Jerry Cornelius. And Moorcock's novel The Final Countdown sets Jerry Cornelius against an Auditor-like nemesis called Miss Brunner (cf "Miss Brown") who also uses him to help build a machine (a supercomputer in that case) that puts a stop to human history - effectively ending the passage of time.
- Jeremy and Jerry are variations on the Biblical name Jeremiah - a harbinger and a prophet of bad news, hailed by Christians as one of the Biblical prophets of the End Times, ie the end of human history in the Apocalypse.
- The stance used to stop falling is called Stance of the Coyote.
- Lu-Tze being a simple sweeper might also be a Shout-Out to the wuxia novel Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils, where the most powerful character is a sweeping monk in the Shaolin temple who only appears in a few scenes and is never named. His name is also a distortion of Lao Tzu, the legendary founder of Taoism.
- The Procrastinators are so called after the saying that "procrastination is the thief of time".
- Because it’s concerned with an apocalypse, the book makes some notable biblical references:
- Death breaks it to the Angel of the Prophecy of Tobrun that the Omnian Church has written him out of canon, deciding that the prophecy was actually a metaphor for the struggles of the early Church, which is a reference to a similar controversy over the Biblical Book of Revelation.
- The idea of Kaos being the Fifth Horseman and riding in a chariot stems from a controversy over the Book of Revelation; when it says "And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him", is this a description, or is Hell (or Hades) supposed to be a separate entity, making five in total?
- Myria LeJean’s name is... Well, see Meaningful Name, above.
- Kaos' helmet has eye-slits that look like butterflies' wings, in a reference to the Butterfly Effect in chaos theory (which was also mentioned in Interesting Times) and/or the shape of the Lorenz attractor◊.
- Lobsang Ludd is almost certainly a reference both to Lobsang Rampa and to Lobby Lud/Ludd.
- Susan's classroom forays to distant cities or ancient battles are similar to Ms. Frizzle's "field trips" in The Magic School Bus.
- Stopping time, martial arts, jumping off tall buildings and Myria renaming herself Unity... They could make a movie out of this!
- To several works of music that Terry would be familiar with... As with Soul Music, rock tracks are freely referenced, with a theme of the passing of time and history:
- The clocks ticking in Jeremy's shop - until they all chime at once: to Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon. Or possibly the opening scene of Back to the Future. Or both.
- Death's soliloquy on Space being dark, deep, cold and lonely is directly quoted from Hawkwind's Space is Dark,'' written by Michael Moorcock.
- When Lobsang slows time so far the world goes from blue to, er, Deep Purple, is he then a "Child In Time"?
- When Susan and Lobsang meet after time is frozen, she asks if he's got rhythm, then if he's got music. She then observes "And you certainly haven't got a girl. I saw Old Man Trouble just a while ago, you'd best avoid him" which is a reference to the song "I Got Rhythm" by George Gershwin.
- There is a dessert called Death By Chocolate. A literal interpretation of this name turns out to be an effective weapon against the Auditors, and the multi-layered vat of chocolate in which Unity commits suicide is a near-perfect recipe for that scrumptious dessert.
- As with the third example in Time Stands Still, below, a subtle Shout Out combined with Genius Bonus: the "sweet spot at high slicing levels" sounds awfully like the Islands of Stability at the higher end of the Periodic Table Island of Stability.
- Igor's former masters include a mad scientist who died in a burning windmill, one named Dr. Vibes, and one who attempted to extract sunshine from vegetables.
- Lu-Tze refuses to nickname the apprentice monk after "a damned insect." Actually, Lu-Tze bears a lot of resemblance to Master Po, as an example of Beware the Nice Ones whose badassery is constantly underestimated.
- See also Colourful Theme Naming above. They even soon start arguing over who gets to be Mr. Black.
- Creatures with no sense of human culture or fun try to blend in with humans but have to be told they'll have trouble being inconspicuous if the males wear dresses? Where have we seen that before?
- Smoky Gentlemen's Club: Ankh-Morpork has one, of a sort, where men of the city can get away from women. It's not that kind of gentlemen's club, which is a little down the street and much better decorated. Women aren't even allowed in this club most of the time. No, it's not that kind of gentlemen's club either. This is just a place where men who've spent their entire life being told what to do by women can sit down, put their feet up and loosen their belts for a bit. Death is allowed in, because of course he's a gentleman (he owns property in the country, is punctual and impeccably polite). Women are not allowed in. Any woman who does get in obviously doesn't really exist and can be ignored, as Susan demonstrates when she goes to pay granddad a visit.
- Sophisticated as Hell: The Fifth Horseman shows Lu-Tze the deleted passage in the Book of Om referring to him: "And the Angel clothéd all in white opened the Iron Book, and a fifth rider appeared in a chariot of burning ice, and there was a snapping of laws and a breaking of bonds and the multitudes cried 'Oh God, we're in trouble now!'"
- Split at Birth: Lobsang and Jeremy. In a very literal way.
- Stealth Pun: One that doubles as a Brick Joke, with the brick's flight spanning nearly the entirety of the book. The pronunciation similarities are too close to ignore.Lu-Tze: "What was your name back in the world, hasty young man?"
Lobsang: "Newgate. Newgate Ludd, ven-"
Final Line: Even with nougat, you can have a perfect moment.
- Super Reflexes: The History Monks use "slicing time" to give themselves enhanced perception and response. Lobsang was taken by the monks because he could do this despite being untrained in their arts.
- Synchronization: When Lobsang and Jeremy are near each other they exhibit this. The unconscious Jeremy echoes everything Lobsang says, and when Susan pinches Jeremy, Lobsang feels it too.
- Take That!: Terry Pratchett really hates nougat. He also doesn't seem to think too highly of "progressive" education, describing Madame Frout's Academy as chaos before Susan showed up.
- Taxidermy Is Creepy: While avoiding the Auditors in the Royal Art Museum, Susan and Lobsang pass through a gallery full of stuffed animals dressed in clothes and arranged in allegedly-amusing tableaux, such as frogs seated at a tiny dining table, or an outlaw fox being chased by hounds in hunting jackets. Susan and Lobsang seem to find it equal parts disturbing and tacky, and Susan notes that her cat-loving grandfather probably had cross words with whoever made the one with the dancing kittens.
- Technician Versus Performer: Though timekeeping is not exactly an art form, this describes Jeremy and Lobsang's differences to a T. Note how high-strung and terrifying exact the "technician" Jeremy is, while Lobsang is such a performer half the time he has no idea what he even is doing, but his talent is spilling over everywhere.
- That Makes Me Feel Angry: The Auditors in human form reporting their emotions without knowing the term for it. Including pain...
- Mr. Dark Avocado: I feel extreme pain, Mr. White.
- Theme Naming: The Auditors with colours, so much so that they run out of colours and start calling themselves things like Mr. Taupe.
- Third Line, Some Waiting: The main plot focuses on Lobsang/Lu Tze and Jeremy/Igor/Lady LeJean, with Susan and Death as C-plots.
- Time Police: Deconstructed by the History Monks. Before the Crash they were a straightforward example, but since the disaster (if the word 'since' is applicable) they've gone from "make sure tomorrow turns out the way it's supposed to" to a desperate "make sure tomorrow happens at all".
- Time Is Dangerous: And how! The Procrastinators will work as intended if you know what you're doing; get it wrong and you could get hit by enough extra time to reduce you to dust. Qu's special 'toys' tend to use time in interesting ways, and then explode.
- Time Stands Still:
- Deconstructed with slicing — a small pocket of space around the slicer is still subject to the ordinary passage of time, so it is necessary to move around so that the air around you doesn't get used up and cause you to suffocate. Also, touching a fast-moving object like a crossbow bolt is a really bad idea.
- Further deconstructed when it's mentioned that this is what happens when you do it right. If you screw up slicing, your sorry-ass feet get sliced to ribbons on the grass. And then you suffocate.
- And then there's what happens if you master the basics and try to go for the high-level stuff. Going for the sweet spot at high slicing levels (where there's a valley in the energy required) and missing is not recommended. The guy who discovered the first valley theorised there existed another, even closer to the point at which no human would survive. It's still only a theory because, attempting to discover it, he exploded.
- Timey-Wimey Ball: Oh the headache. After two Time Crashes things are very messed up but still fixed by the end of the book.
- Title Drop: "So easily does a thief of time repay his debts!"
- Tuckerization: While the book was being written, a chance to appear in the book as a character was offered as a prize in a charity auction. The winner, Marcus Soto, appears as a history monk (the one with the Hair).
- Uncanny Valley: Lady LeJean looks impossibly beautiful (being an idealization of the most beautiful image of a woman ever made on the Disc, rendered perfectly symmetrical by the Auditors whose concept of perfection is "mathematically consistent"). If that isn't enough to put her solidly in the Valley, because she's basically a Meat Puppet for something that has no understanding of human existence, she moves wrong at all levels. Instead of her face moving between expressions, it transitions instantly from one expression to the next without going through the intermediate stages. However, with her Character Development, it's almost certain she gets over this as time goes by.
- Uncertain Doom: Because no one knows what happens after death if the Glass Clock kills you. Or even if it does "just" kill you - the only two... entities who got close enough for it to be lethal weren't quite mortal to begin with.
- Unusual Euphemism: One of the Auditors starts spouting absolutely ---ing organic modifiers and interjections after discovering how unpleasant it is to have a body and failing to express her frustration through normal human expletives.
- Weapons of Their Trade: Lu-Tze the Sweeper, a man who spends his days being the literal Almighty Janitor of an order of monks, comments that since no one notices weird little monks who are just sweeping up the place to begin with, he's far more stealthy and better equipped than the most highly trained of ninja. Not least because, in addition to being able to seriously inconvenience someone about twenty-seven different ways with a broom, if the floor gets dirty you can take care of that too.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: The Angel of the Iron Book seemed pretty indignant (being told the work that contains your only appearance is no longer canon will do that to you), then vanished.
- What the Hell Are You?: Lu-Tze to Lobsang.
- Willfully Weak: During their sparring match at the end, Lu Tze points out that Lobsang, as the new incarnation of Time, could just rewrite the timeline or even erase Lu Tze from history in order to win their match. Lobsang knows he could, but also knows he could never live with himself if he used his full power for such petty reasons.
- World's Most Beautiful Woman: Assuming she qualified as a woman at all, Myria LeJean/Unity. Though they don't really get human standards of beauty, the Auditors copied her features from what was considered the most beautiful painting of a woman in the world ('Woman Holding a Ferret', a reference to 'Lady With an Ermine◊'), then improved upon them by erasing imperfections, adjusting symmetry, that sort of thing. One can't help but picture Photoshop or something as applied to reality.
- This artificial beauty and the fact that she doesn't quite know how to handle a human body (not always submitting to gravity, having an empty facial expression most of the time, having no 'body' smell at all) lead to Jeremy assuming at first she might be a zombie and to Igor feeling highly uncomfortable at her presence.
- The X of Y: The title.
- You Can't Thwart Stage One: Lobsang has to try and outrun a lightning bolt about to hit the glass clock, which would stop the flow of time. He fails, time stops and the auditors plan succeeds. The heroes must now work to set things right again.