Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Written by: Terry Pratchett
Central Theme:
Synopsis: Newly-qualified assassin Teppic has to return home quickly when he becomes king of his ancient desert land. Once there he learns that leadership, history, and camels are all a lot more complicated than he thought.
Genre(s): Fantasy
Series: Discworld
Preceded by: Wyrd Sisters
Followed by: Guards! Guards!
First published: 1989
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Pyramids is the seventh Discworld book, and the first standalone story.

Teppic has just graduated from the Guild of Assassins' School, the finest educational establishment on the Disc, when he learns that his father has died and he is now King of Djelibeybi, a tiny backwards state (heavily based on Ancient Egypt) which has long since sold its empire to pay for more pyramids to bury its dead kings in. At first enamoured with the idea of being the king, Teppic soon discovers that it's not quite what it's hyped up to be. A country thousands of years old shows remarkable resistance to change (or plumbing), and Teppic soon begins to yearn for what he left behind. With the help of a surprisingly sharp handmaiden named Ptraci and a camel named You Bastard who is not all he seems, Teppic goes forth with the attempt to escape his own kingdom from the clutches of the domineering High Priest Dios.

Terry Pratchett has quoted the assassin "road test" as one of his favourite sequences, and that he had no idea where it was going while he was writing it.[1]

Pyramids is the Trope Namer for:
Tropes used in Pyramids include:
  • Abdicate the Throne: At the end, in favor of Ptraci.
  • All Myths Are True: Like the real Egypt, Djelibeybi has several different gods for the same thing (in the real world, due to Egypt assimilating Greek, Hittite, Sea Peoples, and other nations' gods alongside their original ones). So this means that they all fight for who gets the job of moving the sun around, with a nearby priest acting as a sports commentator to describe it.
    • Subverted when Teppic's father meets Death, and is confused because he does not look like a giant scarab. Apparently, Death used to look like whatever people expected the personification of death to look like, until it became too tiresome and he decided to settle for the "skeleton with a scythe" look.
  • Anachronism Stew: The Tsortean delegation is stated to be mimicking Djeli culture imperfectly; in particular, their clothing is based on clothing from multiple different eras of Djeli history. A footnote explains that it's comparable to an ambassador to the UK wearing "a bowler hat, a claymore, a Civil War breastplate, Saxon trousers, and a Jacobean haircut".
  • Anatomically-Impossible Sex: It features on a tattoo that defies biological facts. (An in-story example; all we are told about the tattoo is that it defies said facts.)
  • Ancient Egypt: Djelibeybi is a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of this, turned Up to Eleven.
  • Anti-Villain: Dios.
  • BFG: Obliquely referenced, as Teppic learned to use a "puntbow" from the ibis poacher whom his father absent-mindedly appointed as a tutor. Punt guns actually existed, and were used for the same purpose of killing waterfowl en masse.
  • Boarding School: The first part is an extended parody of English school stories in general and Tom Brown's Schooldays in particular.
  • Brother-Sister Incest: A (chaste) kiss. And this being a version of Ancient Egypt, the only one who has a problem with the idea is Teppic himself. Although, it was hinted that the mother was just as confused as her daughter and that Teppic and Ptraci weren't that closely related.
  • Creature of Habit: Dios, literally.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The Assassin's Guild school's final exam resembles the UK driving license test.
  • Doublethink: The religious beliefs of the Djelibeybians are obviously contradictory, with multiple "supreme" gods ruling the other gods. Dios believes in all of them even though he invented most of them himself.
  • Due to the Dead: A handmaiden gets in trouble for not volunteering to accompany the king.
  • Endless Daytime: Thanks to Djelibeybi's many sun gods fighting over control of the sun.
  • Evil Chancellor: Dios is more of an evil priest than an evil chancellor, but the trope is referenced in describing him. "It is a fact as immutable as the Third Law of Sod that there is no such thing as a good Grand Vizier. A predilection to cackle and plot is apparently part of the job spec. High Priests are the same way. No sooner than they're given the funny hats, they start getting ideas about throwing virgins into volcanoes."
    • Although in the aspect of him being the high priest, he very much follows expectations in that he is not explicitly insane or power-hungry, but so pious that adherence to belief and tradition override all else.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Djelibeybi is, in the words of Stephen Briggs, "Ancient Egypt turned up until the knob falls off". Ephebe and Tsort are also based on Ancient Greece and Troy respectively.
  • Fate Worse Than Death: Or to phrase it another way, the Fate After Death for almost every single person who has been mummified in Djelibeybi. As a result of the rather convoluted belief system of the Djelibeybians, no one manages to truly die but neither do they manage to ever pass on. Instead, they remain bound to their bodies, which are then methodically dismantled and placed in tombs for all eternity.
    • Depending on perspective, this happens to Dios as well.
  • Fertile Feet: Teppic, when he inherits. Although it was a later book that was the Trope Namer.
  • Fun with Foreign Languages: Djelibeybi (of course) uses hieroglyphs, which Teppic pronounces out loud as "eagle, squiggle" and so on.
    • And Fridge Brilliance for those that realised that when he imagines the hieroglyphs for 'feather mattress' it's a hippo's bottom, a reference to a long-running series of bed adverts in the UK starring a hippo and canary.
    • Of course the literal translation of 'Djelibeybi' is child of the Djel. Djeli-baby...
      • Also a Shout-Out to the Greek historian Herodotus, who referred to Egypt as "the gift of the Nile"
      • In a Usenet posting, Terry Pratchett realized that this sailed right over the heads of most American readers, as Jelly Babies are not generally sold there. One of the alternative jokes he suggested, Hersheba, later became an actual country in Discworld.
  • Grapes of Luxury: Partially subverted. Teppic doesn't really approve of the practice, and even asks that the servants not peel the grapes because most of the vitamins are found in the skins.
  • Lock and Load Montage: Teppic getting ready for his Assassination final. Subverted in that he proceeds to collapse under the sheer weight of all his gear, and has to leave most of it behind.
  • Meaningful Name: "'The trouble with you, Ibid,' […], 'is that you think you're the biggest bloody authority on everything.'"
  • Misplaced Sorrow: One of the surviving student assassins mourns the one who didn't make it, noting, "He still owed me money".
  • Moody Mount: You Bastard the camel.
  • The Philosopher: Ephebe seems to be made up of little else.
  • Pinball Projectile: The arrow ricocheting at the assassin's test.
  • Pirate: Chidder. Specifically, one who preys on other pirates.
  • Rage Helm: The soldiers wear them even during innocuous conversation.
  • Riddle of the Sphinx: Parodied.
  • Riddling Sphinx: Asks the Riddle of the Sphinx. Pteppic manages to pick apart the metaphor and confuse it into letting him go.
  • Shaggy Frog Story: Copolymer (the Greatest Storyteller in the World) constantly lapses into this due to his bad memory and short attention span.
  • Shout-Out: Go, tell the Ephebians... Subverted in that it's followed by "What kept you?" as the rest of the Ephebian army marches in.
    • Quite a lot of elements in this novel are Gormenghast references, particularly Teppic's parents and how Dios's endlessly-repeated daily activities have worn depressions in stone, he's retraced his daily path so perfectly so many times.
    • The relationship between Dios and Teppic is a shout-out to the British comedy of government, Yes Minister, with Dios playing the Sir Humphrey Appleby role of senior civil servant effortlessly running rings round an enthusiastic but clueless Minister. Dios even says "I am but a humble servant..."
    • There's a particularly clever one explained in one of the Discworld quiz books: it's mentioned the Assassins' School has a notoriously nasty bully called Fliemoe, who is clearly an Expy of the bully Flashman in Tom Brown's Schooldays. Flashman had a sidekick called Speedicut; Flymo and Speedicut are both British makes of lawnmower.
  • Sidetracked by the Analogy:

It was said that life was cheap in Ankh-Morpork. This was, of course, completely wrong. Life was often very expensive; you could get death for free.

  • Stable Time Loop: Dios definitely, to the point he may exist purely because of the loop, not even having been born but just existed. Also the Djel itself. In Teppic's Dream Sequence Khuft said the river appeared from nowhere.
  • Stepping Stone Sword: Teppic uses knives this way, and notes that it's Awesome but Impractical as you eventually run out of knives, and it can ruin their cutting edges.
  • Talking the Monster to Death: Played with. Pteppic gets past the sphinx by confusing it and tossing its own riddle back in its face. By the time it realizes something is wrong, he's already running.
  • Time Abyss: Dios. 7,000 years old at the beginning of the novel... and at the end of the book he is looped back to the beginning of the kingdom.
  • Trojan Horse: The original is parodied - both Ephebe and Tsort's armies have read their history and nowadays fight battles just by building a dozen wooden horses, placing them on opposite sides of the battlefield, and waiting for the enemy to blink first and grab one.

"The one on the end's on rockers, sir; must be the officers."

    • Both sides rationalize that if the enemy is dumb enough to try this tactic they are dumb enough to fall for it. Comes up again in Eric, where it turns out the real original was an elaborate distraction for the commandos coming in the back gate while the defenders prepared to wipe out the team in the (empty) horse.
  • War Elephants: According to Pteppic, they're useless, since all they do is trample on their own troops when they inevitably panic. The military responds to this by breeding bigger elephants.
  • A Worldwide Punomenon: Djelibeybi. Along with the fact that it literally means "Child of the Djel".
    • That Americans weren't getting the pun led Pratchett to create the nearby country of Hersheba.
  1. Back to the DMV office, where else would you expect to go?.