Order and Chaos in The Light Fantastic

As you may have surmised about a co-creator of a blog about a fantasy series, I have played my share of Dungeons and Dragons. Some people play DnD to act out different aspects of their personality that they avoid in their day-to-day lives. I play characters that are as close to my personality as possible, and I always play Lawful Good.

I can’t help it. I will wait at a stoplight at 3:00 in the morning with no other cars around until the light turns green two minutes later. I will completely read through IKEA directions before I start building that bookshelf. I play Paragon in Mass Effect. I want to do the right thing, I want to follow the rules, and I look for situations where these two goals align.

As you may expect, I can easily fit myself into the mindset of most fantasy stories where Truth and Order and Justice drive back the forces of Chaos. Our narrative of history and civilization is set up to show the progress of humanity from our chaotic beginnings to our more orderly present and our ideal future.

Pratchett’s reversal of this paired dichotomy embraces the inherently chaotic nature of our existence within an improbable universe and celebrates it.           

Trymon is the first real villain of the Discworld series, and I think that he is an effective one. Our first real glimpse of Trymon’s ambitions are his unsuccessful attempts at stabbing his way to a promotion. While this is pretty much as close as one can get to an objective villainous act that doesn’t involve a collection of baby animals and a sack, both he and Archchancellor Weatherwax take his assassination attempt in stride: it is par for the course in the cutthroat hierarchy of wizards at Unseen University.

As we will see when we eventually meet the Assassin’s Guild, killing someone to get ahead is a time-honored tradition on the Disc, and assassins, though set up to be adversarial and dangerous, are seldom the Big Bad in the Discworld series.        

What elevates Trymon to the status of villain is his fixation on organization and orlifght fantastic blackder. When someone or something tries to impose a top-down order or structure to the Disc and its denizens, they become, if not an outright villain, then a force that must be overcome by our protagonists.

The indifferent and dehumanizing aspects of imposed order is a theme that plays out through much of Pratchett’s work, and Trymon is our first real introduction to that theme. The frightening and genuinely unnerving embodiment of indifference that Trymon ultimately becomes is a rejection of the chaotic nature of the Disc.   

If Trymon epitomizes order, then he is well-matched with Rincewind, a victim of chaos if there ever was one. Manipulated by a capricious universe and the Spell inside of his own head, Rincewind is a veteran of unlikely situations and even unlikelier escapes from said situations. Both Trymon and Rincewind are motivated by self-interest and a desire for control, but where Trymon seeks power over others, Rincewind only wants to control the course of his own life.

In the climactic confrontation on the top of the Tower of Art, Rincewind rails against Trymon and the Eighth Spell and magic and his own circumstances. He is just as dissatisfied with the way the world works as Trymon is, but he uses that frustration to overpower Trymon and the creatures from the Dungeon Dimensions. Rincewind may not like the chaos of the universe, but he recognizes that the alternative is far worse.    

The story of humanity is not linear progress, but of living in a random and unpredictable reality and doing our best and making it work. The Disc, for all of its bickering gods and petty heroes and tears in the fabric of space-time, works, and in that we can see a truer narrative of our own lives and cultures.  

I may value Truth and Order and Justice in theory, but treating these ideals as absolutes is not a healthy approach to the universe. The Truth constantly shifts, comprised of multiple, sometimes conflicting, perspectives. Order without room for individuality is a totalitarian dictatorship. A world where Justice is untempered by Mercy is a world I wouldn’t want to live in.

I may never be Chaotic Good, but my time with the Disc is, at least, pushing me toward Neutral.

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