Thursday, June 01, 2006

Imaginary origin of Twoflower

I'm a huge fan of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series: I like fantasy that admits it's fantasy, unlike libertarianism.

Since the first book came out, I've wondered about the name of Twoflower, one of the major characters. A lot of humorous SF has in-jokes in the names of the characters: a great example is "The Flying Sorcerors", where the character Purple's name comes from a misunderstanding of a machine translation: "as a color, mauve", which is Asimov.

According to Discworld Annotations:
- [p. 24/22] Terry has this to say about the name 'Twoflower': "[...] there's no joke in Twoflower. I just wanted a coherent way of making up 'foreign' names and I think I pinched the Mayan construction (Nine Turning Mirrors, Three Rabbits, etc.)."

So the author denies intention in the name. But it's a basic principle of literary interpretation that the author's intentions don't limit legitimate interpretation. So, in that vein I'd like to offer my own origin of the name, which I thought of many years ago.

My idea is that Twoflower is a mistranslation from Greek. Aster, the Greek word for star, is a name of a flower in English. Perhaps in Greek also? I dunno. Dis is the Greek word for twice or two. Put them together, and you get DISASTER. And that's pretty much what you got whenever Twoflower was around, and what Rincewind and the other magicians thought of him: disaster. The origin of the word disaster means "evil star", which is literally what the red star threatens in the second book.

In conclusion, it's possible that Terry has been fooling us for 20+ years, and had this in mind all the time, in which case I deserve a prize. Or it's possible my creativity has driven me to lunatic lengths to create theories that rationally explain things that are merely accidents. The latter happens a lot in literary criticism.

In any event, I find it satisfying. And since this is fiction, I can set aside my normal skepticism and just enjoy it.