Unseen Academicals: The Books within the Book

Seein’ pointy Bigjobs tryin’ to foote a ball is a verra big hoote, ye ken.

The story line in Unseen Academicals isn’t really all about the books that you’ll read about below, but since there are so many (20, depending on how you count) and since Terry took the trouble to translate so many of them into German, I thought it would be worth my time to explore them with you in as much detail as possible, or, at least, as much detail as I want.

The book count of 20 may make Unseen Academicals the most voluminous volume in the Discworld series. (I’m not going to go through all the Things pages here at Narrativium Reviews to find out if that’s true. I leave that as an exercise for the reader.)

The vast majority of these books are connected in one way or another to one of the main characters of Unseen Academicals – Mr. Nutt, the orc.

Before I get to the titles themselves, a brief aside about orcs in Pratchett and in Tolkien. Unless you’ve already read Unseen Academicals, you’re probably more familiar with the orcs of Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings.

In Tolkien’s story, orcs are vicious, evil creatures who may be corrupted elves. In Pratchett’s story, they are aren’t necessarily evil (cf. the learned Mr. Nutt) and may have come from the goblin or the human race originally.

In both cases, they have been used, controlled by an evil leader for battle in wars – though this was only in the distant past on the Disc.

Terry makes the modern orc into an educated, intelligent, loving (and lovable), poetic being. It is this creature that has read and studied many of the books we will now examine. Since it doesn’t matter all that much, I’ll simply look at them in the order in which they’re found in Unseen Academicals.

Book of Traditions

The Book of Traditions is the go-to work for the Master of Traditions, who currently is Ponder Stibbons. (This shouldn’t surprise you, if you know anything about Ponder and the other wizards at Unseen University.)

Following the chasing of the Megapode, Ponder records the date of the event and the time it took to find the…um, creature on a page under the heading “Hunting the Megapode”. It’s safe to assume he took note of other such events and recorded them in the book for posterity from time to time.

Compendium of Odours

The 22 volumes of the Compendium of Odours were written by Brakefast. (I don’t know that Breakfast is another author, but in case he is, don’t get the two confused.)

Twenty-two may seem like a large number of books, but, if you think about it, you might soon decide that there are more odours in the world than were found in this small encyclopedia.

Then again, we don’t know how thick each volume was. Mr. Nutt was able to plough through them in less than an afternoon.

Trumpet of Equestrianism

Written by Spout, little is known about this book. But that’s true of many of these wonderfully-titled tomes. I can only imagine that Terry was poking fun at the “sport” of horseback riding. Maybe he didn’t think much of it.

To emphasize his view, he creates a title trumpeting his thoughts. What might those thoughts have been?

Oh, look! You can ride a horse! You can make it go this way and that. You can even make it jump! Then again, what else would it do when charging, full gallop, toward a four-foot-high fence?

And who’s really the talented one here – you or the horse? Who’s doing all the real work – you or the horse? And in the end, who really gets all the credit – you or the horse?

The Speech of Trolls

Compiled by Postalhume, this is yet another book that Mr. Nutt studied. It was presented to him along with a dictionary of Dwarfish. He consumed both of them apparently quite easily.

If The Speech of Trolls is anything like the Latin or German textbooks I learned from in high school, I can understand how Nutt progressed so quickly. As I recall, the texts we used were so explicit that you barely needed an instructor to walk you through them.

Then again, that was roughly 45 years ago, so I may have remembered it wrong.

Five Hours and Sixteen Minutes Among the Goblins of Far Überwald

According to the author, J. P. Blunderbell, his visit was about 5 hours too long. Goblins, while not usually thought of as nice beings, do have rather poetic names (most of the time), according to Terry. For example, Shine of the Rainbow and Tears of the Mushroom have a nice lilt to them.

Apparently Mr. Blunderbell didn’t land amongst these types of goblins. I won’t venture to guess what actually did happen while he was in their proximity.

Discomforting Misusage

This reference book, compiled by Birdcatcher, is like a dictionary of embarrassing words and such like. For example, when Nutt told Glenda she had fecundity, she hurried to the library and asked for “a dictionary of embarrassing words beginning with F.”

The librarian (not the head Librarian in this case) recommended Discomforting Misusage to her. A few minutes later she left the library more educated and slightly more embarrassed than when she’d entered.

Now, I suppose you could say she’d have found the same thing in a regular dictionary, but I have the feeling that Discomforting Misusage spells things out in a bit more detail, knowing (probably) why it is that you opened this particular book in the first place.

Die Wesentlichen Ungewissheiten Zugehörig der Offenjundigen Mannlichkeit

This title, written by Ofleberger, translates to The Essential Uncertainties Pertaining to the Overt Masculinity. Does that clear things up for you?

Maybe not, but if you can read between the lines (which, I understand, you can’t really see), you can get the drift at least.

Mr. Cauliflower’s Big Adventure

This book, found in the University library under UUSS J3.2 (>blit) 9, as well as the next one in this list, are really only mentioned to show how volumes are shelved in the wizard’s library.

That said, Terry may have had Pee-wee’s Big Adventure or Mr. Bacon’s Big Adventure or someone else’s Big Adventure in mind when crafting this title. Mr. Cauliflower’s adventure was likely big and better than any of those to which it hearkens back.

The Tau of Cabbage

Found in the University library under UUSS (blit+) 60-sp55-o9-hl (blit). As above, this is included just to exemplify the cataloguing system of the library. It may be an homage to something like The Tau of Pooh. (I kinda hope it is.)

Ritual Aggression in Pubescent Rats

This book by Vonmausberger has something to do with childish insults and their exchange. It’s a little surprising it’s not written in German. A straight translation would have come from Rituelle Aggression bei pubertierenden Ratten, which isn’t all that interesting or confusing, so maybe that’s why Terry didn’t bother with it.

Der Selbst uberschritten durch das Ganze

Written by Trousenblert, this can be translated to Which Itself Transcended through the Whole. W. E. G. Goodnight (see immediately below) actually did translate this work and came up with a similar, but different title. Considering the other error in that translation, maybe the title isn’t all that accurate either.

Read on….

In Search of the Whole

W. E. G. Goodnight’s translation of the Vonmausberger original was marred by the mistranslation of bewußtseinsschwelle as “haircut” throughout. Bewußtseinsschwelle means threshold of consciousness, so…. (Haircut would have been Haarschnitt.)

The Doors of Deception

This is either a medical or a psychological (or both) treatise in which Fussbinder reports on a way of hypnotizing himself. One wonders if he was completely successful and, if so, if he was still under hypnosis when he wrote the book.

After all, deception is included in the title.

Doppelte Berührungssempfindung

Double Touch Sensation by Von Kladpoll is about the hidden mind. I have the feeling that Terry was just looking for the longest applicable German word he could find for use in this title. And yes, it is a real word.


This book, “discovered” by Mr. Nutt while under hypnosis, may or may not have been a real, physical book. It’s hard to tell from the context. Assuming it was real, the contents wouldn’t be hard to guess at.

The Obedience of Disobedience

A confusing title by Schnouzentintle, who as much as says that everybody disobeys. That’s true, of course. Do you know anyone who’s never done anything wrong? No, you don’t, if you’re honest in answering that question.

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” I’m not preaching at you here, but it just goes to show that Terry, though not a Christian, probably knew this passage from the Bible. Whether he did or not, the disobedience title sort of confirms the passage, or the other way around, or both.

The Effluence of Reality

According to the author, Von Sliss, the one may be a many in different clothing. E pluribus unum; ex uno multi; and all that.

Das Nichts des Wissens

Another German title, it translates as The Nothing of Knowing.

In which Herr Frugal says (possibly while on medication), “Ich kann mich nicht genau erinnern, aber es war so etwas wie eine Vanillehaltige süsse Nachspeisenbeigabe.”

Which means: “I can’t remember exactly, but it was something like a vanilla sweet dessert addition.”

Medication indeed.

Das Meer von Unvermeidlichkeit

Translated: The Sea of Inevitability. It all comes back to the idea of there being only one again. Why? Who knows?

This book was written by Doctor Maspinder. Perhaps the less we know about him, the better.

Occult Companion

Ridcully’s copy of this volume by Boddry had a secret cavity on page 14. Unfortunately for him, Mrs. Whitlow was well aware of this “secret” hiding place. The last time he checked it, it was empty, except for a note from her.

Thus ends our tour of the books mentioned in Unseen Academicals. As with many of Terry’s other creations in Discworld, I wish many of these were real. I’d read them. Wouldn’t you?

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