Study Guide

Nation Chapter 1

By Terry Pratchett

Chapter 1

The Plague

  • We begin on a boat.
  • Oh, good, we love sea stories.
  • Anyway, the Cutty Wren, a ship, is setting sail. Captain Samson, his crew, and his passengers—some creepy shadow organization called the Gentlemen of Last Resort—must find the heir to the throne within nine months or lose the Crown to the British Empire.
  • It seems that a pesky plague has wiped out the King and the next 137 people in line. Those plagues do not discriminate.
  • Good thing Sir Geoffrey (whom we will never see again) is wearing "a sort of a birdcage" (1.12) he calls a "salvation suit" (1.14).
  • We're not sure if dressing in a birdcage is better or worse than looking like a big creepy bird like people used to do back in the Black Death days, but he's definitely making a statement.
  • We won't see the rest of these guys again for a long time (don't worry, there's not another plague), so just tuck them away in your mind for later.
    Meanwhile, the Sweet Judy, a ship carrying the new heir's daughter, is swept up in a tidal wave, which kills its captain, Captain Roberts.
  • Meanwhile times two, in the Great Southern Pelagic Ocean, a boy named Mau is about to become a man.
  • He's all alone on a tiny island. Well, not totally alone. There are some wise words carved in a tree and an ax stuck in its trunk. The words? "Men help other men" (1.75).
  • Mau uses the axe to build the canoe necessary to ride back to his home, the Nation, and complete the coming-of-age ritual.
  • He doesn't make it.
  • Well, he does—but there's no home to go back to. On the way back to Nation, a giant tidal wave crashes into Mau. It disorients him, but does not kill him.
  • The people of Nation are not so lucky. When Mau finally makes it to the beach, he finds no survivors of the wave.
  • Problem: Mau now has no soul. See, he left his child-soul behind him on the little island, expecting that he'd get his fancy new man-soul when the coming-of-age ritual was complete. But no one's around to give it to him. So he's not a boy or a man. (And also, luckily for him, not Britney Spears.)