The Last Hero is a short novel, the twenty-seventh of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. It was published in 2001 in a larger format than the other Discworld novels and illustrated on every page by Paul Kidby. In that respect it is much different from Pratchett's other novels as Kidby's pictures play as large a part in contributing to the novel in puns, word plays and Round World references as do Pratchett's words.
The Silver Horde, a group of aged barbarians introduced in Interesting Times, led by Cohen the Barbarian, set out on a quest. The first hero of the Discworld stole fire from the gods. As the last heroes remaining on the Disc the Silver Horde seek to return fire to the gods with interest, in the form of a large sled packed with explosives. With them is a bard, kidnapped so he can write the saga of their quest, and Evil Harry Dread, the last Dark Lord.
The heroes are disillusioned with the way their lives have turned out, and angry for having been allowed to grow old. Evil Harry is just as angry; despite his efforts to give his opponents the sporting chance as an Evil Overlord should, they won't follow the Code.
Since blowing up the gods will destroy the Discworld, Lord Vetinari organises the Wizards in a quest to stop them. Since the Horde is already near the centre of the Discworld and the home of the gods, speed is of the essence. Leonard of Quirm designs the Discworld's second known spacecraft to slingshot under the Discworld and back around top to land on Cori Celesti, the mountain home of the gods. The vessel can carry only three people: Leonard of Quirm, Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson, and Rincewind (although the Librarian somehow stumbles aboard). After a few mishaps including landing on the moon and nearly having their swamp dragon powered spaceship (named "The Kite") explode on them, they crash in a spectacular fashion at Cori Celesti.
Carrot jumps out and on account of being a single brave man (and a king in disguise) the horde assumes he is a Hero and therefore unbeatable. After some explanation by Rincewind the horde takes the already live explosives and more or less jumps off the mountain. It is not explicitly stated that they die (Death does not appear to them as he sometimes does when Discworld characters die, although he subsequently appears to Vena, and is evasive about whether he is "collecting"), but Valkyries do come to take them to the Halls of the Slain. The Silver Horde steal a few of their horses, and set off to find other worlds to "...Do heroic stuff in."
Meanwhile Leonard is commanded by the gods to paint the entire roof of the Temple of Small Gods with a spectacular mural of the disc within 10 years (he finishes it in a few weeks), Carrot asks for a boon (to allow for the repairs of the Kite), Rincewind asks for a blue balloon and the Librarian asks for some library supplies (and avoids bouncing Blind Io's head on the ground after he calls him a monkey). Also he gets red balloon.
As the Horde leave with the Valkyries' horses, they stop to see the First Hero, cut off his chains, and hand him a sword that he may deal with his punisher. The bard, hardened by his experience, composes a new style of saga about it and invents the metal ballad.
Paul Kidby's cover drawing on the hardcover version of the Last Hero cover shows Cohen in a typical Conan pose, while the softcover version has Rincewind doing his rendition of Edvard Munch's painting The Scream.
The tapestry depicted on the title pages (and on pp. 152-3) not only tells the story of Cohen and the Silver Horde, but is also a brilliant parody of the Bayeux Tapestry, the 230 feet long embroidery telling the story of the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Even the position of the characters, the head gear, shields, swords and spears are consistent with the original.
The illustration of the Discworld supported by the Great A'Tuin and the Elephants is consistent with the look of the space ships in various space adventure movie shots from Battlestar Galactica to Star Wars where the space ship is viewed from below as it passes overhead. This particular painting is very similar to the USS Enterprise from the 1966-69 Star Trek TV series.
The picture of Fingers Mazda stealing fire from the gods is patterned after the painting by Heinrich Fuger called "Prometheus Brings Fire to Mankind". The circular illustration of Fingers Mazda, Io and the eagle is reminiscent of Prometheus chained to the rock with the eagle pecking out his liver and is drawn in the style of Etruscan ceramics of pre-Roman Italy, in black and terracotta. The style was revived in Europe in the eighteenth century as part of the Neo-Classical style of art, design and architecture.
The character of Leonard of Quirm is based on Leonardo da Vinci, who produced hundreds of inventions, including various flying machines.
The painting of Leonard of Quirm feeding the birds is patterned after the religious paintings of St. Francis of Assisi. The twist in this picture is that one of the birds Leonardo is feeding is a parrot with "dog" written on its body. In the novel, The Truth, William de Worde offered a $25 reward to anybody who could find the Patrician's dog. This led to Sacharissa having to explain to an enterprising citizen of Ankh-Morpork: "--- no, that's not it. No, sir, I know that's not it. Because it's a parrot, ...You've taught it to bark and you've painted "DoG" on the side of it but it's still a parrot --" (the whole scene a reference in itself to the famous Monty Python's sketch).
Throughout the book, Paul Kidby has done drawings that are parodies of Leonardo's original drawings in style and the actual annotation.
- The Frontispiece is Rincewind drawn to look like The Vitruvian Man. Later in the novel the picture is repeated with the caption beneath of "The circulation of the Vomit" a parody of Da Vinci's "The circulation of the Blood". Kidby's figure sports the same sad face as da Vinci's, albeit with skin on since he is showing vomit not the circulation system.
- The page on dragon wings reflects Leonardo da Vinci's Codex on the Flight of Birds with the addendum that his original has vanished thanks to the cleaning lady's efficiency.
- The smiling lady is clearly a take off on The Mona Lisa, La Gioconda with some of Lewis Carol's Cheshire Cat thrown in. As Leonard of Quirm says, "I've never been very good at smiles".
- The small liner drawings and sketches of ordinary everyday items are consistent with Leonardo da Vinci's work with typical Kidby twists - the eagle carrying the salmon foreshadowing the actual airship the explorers use.
- The spiraling machine late in the novel is based on a drawing of a helicopter designed by Leonardo da Vinci.
Lord Vetinari makes sarcastic remarks about the omniscope - windows and mirrors - until he is told to wave at it. "Lord Vetinari gave him a severe look, but essayed a little wave. 'Oh. How curious." In a nutshell, instead of seeing his reflection waving (a mirror image and thus using the opposite hand), he sees himself waving back (the image using the same hand as he did). He thus realizes that this is an image of himself not simply a reflection.
The line in reference to the Gods, "Who wins with the most believers, lives." is from the expression (usually seen on bumper stickers) "he who dies with the most toys, wins".
The Gods "... sometimes forgot what happened if you let a pawn get all the way up the board." - in chess a pawn who makes it to the other side of the board is promoted (usually to a queen) which makes it a dangerous opponent. In this case it is an obvious bit of foreshadowing in regard to the Horde arriving at Cori Celesti as well. Cori Celesti, the home of the Gods means Celestial Choir in Italian.
The line, 'That's what heroes want, isn't it? To crush the thrones of the world beneath their sandalled feet, as the poet puts it?'" is a reference to the classic Conan the Barbarian from Marvel Comics, each edition of which started with the following quote: ".....Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet." The lines are generally attributed to Robert E Howard, the author of the original Conan books.
Vetinari says to Leonard, 'I recall an old story about a ship that was pulled by swans and flew all the way to --". One of the earliest published accounts of space travel is the 1638, story The Man In The Moone, by Bishop Francis Godwin of Hereford in which a Spaniard travels to the moon in a chariot drawn by swans.
Genghis Cohen the Barbarian and his Silver Horde is an obvious compilation of Conan the Barbarian and Genghis Khan and his Golden Horde - Cohen's horde being Silver on account of their advanced age.
Cohen's discussion of epic poetry in which he talks about "[...] poems longer'n seventeen syllables." is an obvious reference to the Japanese Haiku style of poem which consists of 17 syllables in the form 5, 7, 5.
The Maria Pesto is a reference to the Roundworld ship Mary Celeste. The Mary Celeste left New York in 1872 with a full crew, and was subsequently found by the crew of the Canadian vessel Dei Gratia, abandoned on the open sea, with no crew, the single lifeboat missing, and half-eaten meals in the mess hall. Captain Morehouse of the Dei Gratia had dined with the captain of the Celeste the night before she sailed, which raised unfounded suspicions in some minds - had the two plotted to claim salvage on the cargo, had Morehouse and his crew murdered the Celeste crew. The crew of the Mary Celeste was never found. (the name was changed to Marie Celeste by Arthur Conan Doyle is a short story). The most likely reason for the crew to quickly abandon ship was an alcohol explosion in the hold that would have terrified the crew enough for them to leave the wooden vessel with food still on the table, etc - the alcohol explosion would have then used up its oxygen and self-extinguishing (the effect similar to the technique used to extinguish oil well fires).
The line, 'My God, it's full of elephants!' is a take off on the line, "My God, it's full of stars!" at the end of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The line about Leonard's painting "[...] he could paint pictures that didn't just follow you around the room but went home with you [...]" is a common reference to Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa which is said to have eyes that follow one around the room. In the 14th century, an Italian architect named Filippo Brunellesco discovered perspective when he served as overseer in the construction of the Baptistery in San Giovanni. Following Brunellesco's discovery, linear perspective -- a technique that uses a single point as the focus became the rage in art and this common painting technique has been used by many artists since. It is not unique to the Mona Lisa as popular mythology would suggest and is also evident in the Gobelin tapestries.
The line, "[...], Leonard had drawn a perfect circle." is a reference to the story told of Leonardo da Vinci regarding the Pope's request that Leonardo da Vinci submit some of his work for a competition for a new commission. The ability to draw a perfect circle, freehand and unsupported is one of the hardest things possible to draw, achieved by few artists, usually only after much practice and was for a long time considered to be the pinnacle of artistic achievement. Leonardo stalled, saying he was too busy. The requests from the Pope grew more and more insistent until, to avoid the Pope having him arrested, he drew, freehand, at arms length, a perfect circle on a sheet of paper and sent it to the Pope, who promptly gave him the commission.
The elderly heroine who joins the Horde, Vena the Raven-Haired, is a parody of Xena, Warrior Princess, and Kidby draws her wearing the same style of armour typical of comic and computer game heroines in general and Xena in particular.
The bard writing the story of Cohen and the Silver Hordes' adventures is a takeoff on the writers of the sagas and epic poetry from the Odyssey by Homer to the Aeneid by Virgil to Beowulf and the Poetic Edda of the Middle Ages; Wulf an obvious parallel to Beowulf. The Caves of Dread guarded by "fearsome monsters" has connections to Homer's Odyssey and the story of the Cyclops. Pratchett pokes fun at the way these epics were written; rambling on about the weather, reversing the sentence structure and taking forever to get to the action.
Evil Harry Dread, the last Dark Lord, is a take off on all the evil Dark Lord villains from Morgoth and Sauron in J R R Tolkein's Lord of the Rings, to Voldemort in J K Rowling's Harry Potter novels, to Darth Vader and Darth Sidious in the Star Wars movie series. Cohen makes a big distinction between Evil Villains, of whom Evil Harry is the last, and the modern "vicious evil underhanded bastards" who use laws now - a clear reference to every sordid modern scam artist and crook from Wall Street to corporate greed to government officialdom throughout the world.
The code of conduct for the interaction between the heroes and evil Dark Lords is a parody of all the cliches found in the adventure genre from novels to movies throughout the ages. The conveniently overlooked back entrance to let the hero into the villain's stronghold or let the villain escape, the stupid guards not realizing the villain has run off, the guard sleeping near the cell door with keys on a conveniently large ring which can be snagged from inside the cell, the guards with full face masks which allow the hero or villain to disguise himself and remain undetected are plot devices which have been copied in everything from Alexander Dumas to James Bond. The transvestite washerwoman is a clear reference to Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows, in which Toad trades clothes with the real prison washerwoman and escapes.
Similarly, the line '[...] like who leaves all the weapons and keys and medicine kits lying around in the unexplored dungeons' is an obvious reference to the valuable items left around in every adventure/1st person shooter video game created.
At the climax of the novel, this code prevents Cohen and his Horde from following through on their plans to blow up the Gods. When Carrot lands on Cori Celesti in the Kite, he is clearly seen by them as a heroic figure in the full sense. Firstly, the odds of his winning are 7 to 1 which is a sign that he will win - overwhelming odds a dead giveaway. Secondly his sword is just a plain working sword which "in the hands of a truly brave man would cut through a magical sword like suet." Thirdly, Cohen points out that there is a "watchman who's really heir to the throne but....likes being a watchman..." The number of movies where these kinds of odds and conditions face the hero are too numerous to mention. Faced with the code which has governed them all their lives, the Horde has no choice but to back down.
When Ridcully and his fellow priests meet to discuss what to do about Cohen returning fire to the Gods, they argue about the shape of the conference table. This is a reference to the Arthurian legend with the story of the table being made round so that all would be treated as equal. More currently it is a shot at the famous Paris Peace talks in 1968 regarding the seating arrangements of the various sides in the Vietnam War.
The discussions between the Patrician and Leonard about the dangers of technology echo Ray Bradbury's classic short story, "The Flying Machine". Leonard's words (“look at the birds, look at the birds!”) are also a reference to the story's final words.
The motto of the explorers is "Morituri Nolumus Mori" (literally, "we don't want to die, to die") but is intended to mean "We who are about to die don't want to". The original quote is "Ave, Imperator, morituri te salutant"- "Hail Emperor, We who are about to die salute you", by Suetonius in De Vita Caesarum ("The Life of the Caesars". It was reportedly used in the presence of the Emperor Claudius in AD 52 by the gladiators in the amphitheater and although widely quoted was not actually recorded anywhere else in Roman history.
Vetinari's speech to the mission crew where he says, "Your mission...is to land on or near Cori Celesti.." is a parody of the line from "Mission Impossible" - "Your mission should you choose to accept it..." Pratchett has used references to Mission Impossible before in Jingo.
There are many connections between the mission to Cori Celesti and the NASA missions to space, particularly in the race to the moon and ultimately the Apollo 13 voyage.
- Kidby's drawing of the mission badge bears a strong resemblance to the badges worn by NASA astronauts and to the NASA logo itself, down to the oval path around the central object.
- The caption of the picture of Rincewind as Virtuvian Man explains an experiment in the effects of air travel on the human body, including vomiting which is like the NASA experiments in simulating weightlessness in the "Vomit Comet".
- The toilet (experimental Privy Mk 1 and 2) which sucks the waste out of your body is a takeoff on zero gravity toilets.
- The tubes of food which get confused with Leonard's paint tubes are a parody of space ship fare and their containers.
- The picture of Rincewind wearing a dragon propelled pack has similarities to both James Bond's rocket pack from the1965 movie Thunderball, and the EMU (Extravehicular Mobility Unit) that shuttle astronauts use to manoeuvre outside the capsule.
- The various stages of the flight where the dragons separate from the ship to fly home are parallels to the different stages in the rocket launch when the fuel rockets detach from the space ship or shuttle.
- Pratchett uses the same time notation for the countdown to lift off as NASA does - T minus 5 hours, the reply to which is "very good, we're at supper in 10 minutes".
- The official looking crew picture is composed in the same style as the Apollo 11 official crew portrait.
Death experiments with a kitten in a box and contemplates whether it is alive or dead if he has not observed it. This is a variation on the common philosophical question that Pratchett's plays with in his novels, "If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it does it make a sound - observation as a requirement for existence. The kitten reference is an expansion on this idea and is a reference to Shrodinger's Cat which was a thought experiment, or paradox, devised by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935. It illustrates what he saw as the problem with the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics applied to everyday objects. The scenario presents a cat that may be simultaneously both alive and dead.
Carelinus untying the Tsortean Knot is a reference to Alexander the Great untying the Gordian Knot by chopping it in half. The line later in the book where "Carelinus wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer." is a line attributed to Alexander the Great after he conquered the know world and was undefeated in battle. Cohen's Horde poke fun at both these references - they view Carelinus (Alexander) as a crybaby for the latter and a cheat for cutting the knot instead of untying it as required. At the climax of the novel, Cohen, when challenged by Fate to roll a seven with a single die, throws the die in the air and slices it into two pieces with his sword - a one and a six making the seven. Pratchett uses the Gordian Knot theme again in The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents when Maurice bites through the "Gordian Knot" of rat tails of the "King Rat" and thus defeats him.
"Shark tastes like piss" - in fact it does as the high urea content makes it almost inedible if it is not immediately skinned and processed/cured in some form.
The Kidby picture of the Gods playing with the human "heroes" on the game board is a classic Greco Roman style painting with typical Kidby extras thrown in: the Aztec figure, the Egyptian Crocodile and Cat, the skull in Blind Io's hand and the human figures like game pieces on a board game.
The conversation between Rincewind and Lord Vetinari is based on the book Catch 22. Rincewind doesn't want to go with the other two crew members, so he tries to get out of it on the grounds of insanity. Lord Vetinari explains that only an insane person would embark on such a dangerous journey. Rincewind then asks what would happen if he wasn't insane, and Vetinari explains that he would only send the keenest, coolest minds on such a vital errand. Rincewind notices that there's a catch somewhere, and Vetinari refers to it as "the best kind there is".
The sign: "No handball playing allowed". is a reference to the 'Freedom 7' Mercury flight, where John Glenn pasted a small sign saying "No handball playing here" on the instrument panel of the capsule that Alan Shepard flew to become the first American in space.
The line, 'Think of it as a sort of... well, a magic carpet ride...' is a reference to the Canadian/American band Steppenwolf's song 'Magic Carpet Ride' which has been featured on the soundtrack of many films in the space genre as well as others. In the space genre, the main ones are Apollo 13, Austin Powers, the Spy Who Shagged me, Coneheads, The Dish, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and Star Trek: First Contact.
Rincewind says, 'I've got to get one of these,' words Will Smith's character's said in the 1996 movie Independence Day upon admiring a new piece of technology, after blasting off into space. Of course Rincewind wants one so he can run away more efficiently while Will Smith wants one to fly around blowing up aliens.
The line 'Ankh-Morpork, we have an orangutan...' is a parody of the line from the Apollo 13 crew, "Houston, we have a problem" said after one of their oxygen tanks blew a leak. The addition of the Librarian creates the same kinds of problems for the crew as occurred for the Apollo 13 crew requiring the same kinds of strategies to get the crew safely back to Discworld. The signs, "Standby" and "This is what you do" are references to the kinds of techniques that were used during this mission to communicate since power usage was at a premium. Using the moon as a way of getting back to earth was also used by Apollo 13 as they sling shot their way around it to return.
"...probably taste a bit like chicken" is the common refrain about any unusual or foreign meat from crocodile to guinea pig to dinosaur.
Vetineri's response to the Librarian being on board the Kite is to suggest that they sacrifice him to save the world. This is a reference to the thought experiment in ethics known as the "Trolley Problem". In its basic form (and there are many variations) it goes as follows:
There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks toward five people who are tied to the track and unable to move. You are standing some distance off next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person tied up on the side track. You have two options:
- Do nothing, so the trolley kills the five people on the main track.
- Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person.
Which is the most ethical choice? Other variations include increasing the number of potential victims, making the single person a murderer, the lever puller's own daughter, someone who is terminally ill, etc - all variations an attempt to find the dividing line between right and wrong.
Pratchett makes fun of the modern trends and problems in both government and business in the responses to dealing with the problem of the flight. Stibbons suggests that the bureaucratic wizards go off and come up with a list of ways Stibbons can solve the problem - a shot at the tendency of officialdom to overthink problems, for the department higher ups to waste countless hours and money on studies, meetings and emails while the people who actually know how to do the work try to get on with the job. This is reinforced when Stibbons makes sure that they think his solution is just a lucky guess - bureaucrats don't like to think their minions know more than they do and can solve problems without their "expertise". Similarly, the crew on the ship "workshop" the problem which Pratchett says is a system "where people who don't know anything get together to pool their ignorance."
Carrot suggests that they all hold their breath for a quarter of the time. This is a jab at the various movies where conserving air is essential for survival. It is also a reference to the once common SCUBA diving technique called "skip breathing" (still supposedly used by some firefighting teams when on SCBA) where you were supposed to only breathe in on every second breath to conserve air. It is now recognized that it has the opposite effect and increases air consumption.
The picture of Carrot standing on the moon with the flag and saluting is a parody of the iconic moon landing photos of the astronauts standing next to the American flag and saluting.
The reference to the Virgin Islands in the home of the Gods is an obvious reference to the Caribbean Island group and also the concept that for followers of Islam, life in Heaven includes virgins (the common number of 72 is actually not specified anywhere in the Quran).
Stibbons discussion with Vetineri regarding the rocks of the moon is reminiscent of the discussion around the collection of moon rocks brought back by the Apollo voyages. Obviously if the rocks were different from Discworld/Earth the moon would be a foreign body like an asteroid that was trapped by Discworld/Earth's orbit and if it were the same material it would be a chunk that broke off the Discworld/Earth - hence Stibbon's excitement at studying them.
The line, "there is a ....monkey god? In the Hindu religion the monkey god is Hanuman.
"The duchess was doing a tapestry to commemorate (the battle)" is a reference to the Bayeux Tapestry commemorating the Battle of Hastings which Kidby uses in one of his illustrations. The idea of her weaving the tapestry while the battle is raging (and insisting that it be re-fought over and over while she weaves) is a play on the whole issue of the media's role in war. Truckle says, "There's no place for the media on the field of battle" which is often a common sentiment among military leaders. Images from the Vietnam War played a large part in that war's negative image in the American public eye and led to the belief that a war could not be fought anymore unless it had public support - hence the use of media embedded within the troops as official press agents.
The illustration of Cohen striking the heroic pose on top of the cliff is typical of the adventure genre in movies and art.
Evil Harry's plan to disguise the Horde as unknown gods includes Caleb as Cupid the god of love - not surprising that he feels a "right twerp with these wings" as Cupid is always portrayed as a cherubic figure, hardly the image of a member of the Horde. Cohen disguises himself as a fish god a reference to Dagon, the amphibian culture hero who founded he Sumerian and Babylonian civilizations. In the Hebrew Bible, Dagon is the fish god of the Philistines. Dagon was half man, half fish and is depicted wearing a fish head helmet as shown in the Kidby illustration. Like so many pagan symbols it was adapted by the Christian church - in this instance it became the Bishop/Pope's mitre. St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost things - Hamish's role. Vometia (the role Boy Willie wants to use) the ancient Ankh-Morpork "God of Bein' Sick" could be a take off on Bumba the god of creation of the Kuba people of Central Africa who vomits and creates the world. Truckle's role as the "God of bloody Swearing" is likely a takeoff on the general concept of swearing an oath on the Bible or on a Saint as a way of ensuring you are telling the truth. Finally, Vena as a Valkyrie, one of the winged maidens who carry the dead off to Valhalla in Norse mythology, is an obvious choice.
The story of the N'tuitif (intuitive) people of Howondaland is a takeoff on the myths and legends of the people of "darkest Africa" except in this case the N'tuitif bear a striking resemblance to the analytical and scientific minded modern people of the post Darwin world. Their explanation for Thunder is fact rather than a primitive myth as is the explanation for the giraffe's long neck. The story of "How the Giraffe Got His Long Neck" is a parody of the Rudyard Kipling stories in the Jungle Book series - like the Elephant's Child. The fate of the N'tuitif being "hunted almost to extinction by neighbouring tribes with lots of imagination and plenty of gods, superstitions and ideas about how much better life would be if they had a bigger hunting ground" has parallels to western civilizations colonization of Africa but is also a reversal of this theme since in our Roundworld, modern scientific man is the one with "no imagination whatsoever" while the so-called "primitive" cultures have "lots of imagination and plenty of gods and superstitions."
The handles in the Kite is labelled "Troba" and "Sekarb". Leonard the creator of the Kite, like Leonardo da Vinci is left handed and like many left handed people writes right to left instead of left to right. The labels therefore mean "Abort" and "Brake". Prince Haran's Tiller is clearly an autopilot, the kind that allowed single handed sailors to continue on course on long voyages while they slept.
"'Are you omnipotent?' 'Aye lass, but there's pills I'm takin' f'r it"' Hamish is clearly confusing omnipotent - all powerful and impotent - having no power, sexual or otherwise.
Cohen says that Evil Harry has the "wrong Stuff" a reference to "The Right Stuff" the 1979 best selling book by Tom Wolfe and the subsequent movie, telling the story of the Navy, Marine and Air Force test pilots involved in aeronautical research at Edwards Air Force Base, California who included the Mercury Seven, the seven military pilots who were selected to be the astronauts for Project Mercury, the first manned spaceflight by the United States.
The lines, "...you know that religion that thinks that whirling round in circles is a form of prayer?" "Oh yes, The Hurtling Whirlers of Klatch." are a reference to the Suffi order of Konya in present day Turkey who are known as the Whirling Dervishes.
In a nice touch, Pratchett has the Orangutan Librarian as the member of the crew who saves the day by flying the Kite and landing it. In the Roundworld, monkeys were the first animals and first primates in space (most died during or shortly after the flight).
As the Kite heads toward the ground Rincewind says, "This is not the time to panic". This line is a reference to Douglas Adam's series of books "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" where the guide book cover "has the words 'DON'T PANIC' in large, friendly letters on the cover." Arthur Dent, that book's protagonist, like all humans is noted for saying lines similar to Rincewind's, "So we are going to crash". Douglas Adams sums this up by saying, "It is worth repeating at this point the theories that Ford had come up with, on his first encounter with human beings, to account for their peculiar habit of continually stating and restating the very very obvious, as in "It's a nice day," or "You're very tall," or "So this is it, we're going to die." His first theory was that if human beings didn't keep exercising their lips, their mouths probably shriveled up. After a few months of observation he had come up with a second theory, which was this--"If human beings don't keep exercising their lips, their brains start working.” As they land, the Librarian tells them to lie on their backs with "your arms folded across your chest". This is the position Forde Prefect tells Arthur Dent to assume when travelling through space - the only thing missing is the towel, the beer and the packages of peanuts, the last item of which Death offers to them upon landing, "WOULD YOU LIKE A PEANUT? I'M AFRAID IT IS A LITTLE HARD TO GET THE PACKET OPEN."
Carrot says, "according to the mission notes....a number of humans have entered Dunmanifestin in the past and returned alive" which is a reference to Orpheus returning from the Underworld with Eurydice. This image is reinforce with Kidby's illustration later in the book of the minstrel as Orpheus playing his lyre. This illustration also has overtones of Shakespeare's Hamlet holding the skull of Yorick.
In Cori Celesti, the home of the gods is Dunmanifestin which is a play on the words done manifesting as in finished appearing to the people (something gods are prone to do). It is also a play on the Gaelic word for a hill or fortress - Dun a common part of many Scottish and Irish place names: Dunfermline, Dundee, Donegal.
Pratchett's opinion of religion is expressed by the minstrel as he confronts the God Nuggan about the ridiculous prohibitions of his sect, "... All you can do here is bluff and illusion! And bullying! That's what prayers are...it's frightening people trying to make friends with the bully! All those temples were built and... you're nothing but a little-"
"That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind." is the famous line spoken by Neil Armstrong upon walking on the moon.
When Cohen and the Horde leap off the mountain with the explosives, they are following in a long tradition of heroic action movie characters, from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to Thelma and Louise, where the ultimate fate of the characters is left hanging often literally as the movie ends. The viewer is left with the remote hope that perhaps they survived the fall as Carrot expresses in his lines "Do you think they've survived?...They could have landed in really deep snow on some ledge" The question of whether they survive continues when the Valkyries arrive to claim them and take them off to the Great Hall of the Slain but the Horde steal their horses and escape instead. Similarly, when Death arrives and is asked by Vena if he is collecting, he says, "THAT IS SOMETHING ABOUT WHICH I DO NOT PROPOSE TO ENLIGHTEN YOU".
The Gods order Leonard to paint the ceiling of the Temple of Small Gods. This is a reference to Michelangelo's painting of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which is confirmed by Kidby's sketch of Cohen and Io; a takeoff on God's creation of Adam from that ceiling. Leonard does the work in 3 weeks while it took Michelangelo four years.
The Kidby illustration of the Kite being repaired by Neoldian, the smith of the Gods, has parallels with Vulcan the Roman god of Fire with his hammer and anvil as well as to the Norse God of Thunder, Thor. The illustration is also very reminiscent of God sitting in judgement on mankind on Judgement Day. The other gods mentioned besides Vulcan are: Wayland the Smith who was the Germanic Master Blacksmith (known in Nordic mythology as Völundr he appears in Völundarkviða, a poem in the Poetic Edda and Hephaistos (Hephaestus) who was the Greek god of fire and metalwork. Since these are all connected to fire and are smiths, it is likely that Dennis is a play on Dennis Smith, perhaps the English darts player or the American writer and former firefighter. Likely it is an inside joke that needs further research.
Carrot's lines, 'Second star to the left and straight on 'til morning?' are the directions to Neverland in James Barrie's Peter Pan. To which Rincewind replies, "Ithink that may very probably be the stupidest piece of astronavigatio ever suggested" followed by "we'd better not look down on the gods" which both agree would be difficult not to do - in both senses of the line.
The Seven horsewomen are the Valkyries of Norse mythology and also of Richard Wagner's opera Der Ring des Nibelungen , hence the soprano and mezzo soprano figures. Pratchett has used this opera reference in other novels - Maskerade for one. The Valkyries decide who will die in battle and who will live but arrive too late so the question of whether the Horde is still alive remains up in the air.. Pratchett continues the theme of 7 - the number on the die, the number of opponents facing Carrot. The three name Valkyries from the Last Hero correspond to the following Wagnerian Valkyries; Grimhilda is Grimgerde, Hilda is Brunnhilde, Gertrude is Gerhilde, from Wagner's opera.
Evil Harry asks the minstrel what his name is and the reply is "I'm just the singer" to which Harry says, "Play it again." This is a reference to Humphrey Bogart's classic line from the movie Casablanca, "Play it Sam" usually misquoted as "Play it again, Sam." The final line in the book is, "No one remembers the singer. The song remains". This line has Roundworld connections to traditional folk music where the songs are so well known they have become a form of collective knowledge but the original writer or singer is long forgotten. It also has a connection to the Led Zeppelin single and movie, "The Song Remains the Same."
- Последният герой (Bulgarian)
- Poslední hrdina (Czech)
- De laatste held (Dutch)
- Le Dernier Héros (French)
- Wahre Helden (German)
- Ostatni bohater (Polish)
- Den sista hjälten (Swedish)
- Последний герой (Russian)
- Az utolsó hős (Hungarian)
! colspan="3" | Reading order guide