Terry Pratchett Book Club

Terry Pratchett Book Club: Moving Pictures, Part IV

Fog is just fog, right? …Right? We’re all showing up to the premiere of the Disc’s biggest Moving Pictures!

Summary

They start production on Blown Away, and Dibbler keeps adding ad copy to their script, which his nephew Soll is trying to prevent. Ginger takes Victor aside to ask about her sleepwalking, and they confirm it’s getting worse. Victor tells her his theory, that there’s something about the soul of this place, and that it’s probably about to let creatures into the world through that door Ginger keeps trying to open. She asks him to come to her room that night to stop her from going back. They film the burning of Ankh-Morpork (which is considerably more dramatic than the historical event), and Soll keeps removing Throat’s stealth ads from the set. Throat promises he’ll stop messing with the picture, but goes to Gaffer later to learn about how moving pictures work and discovers subliminal messaging. Victor goes to Ginger’s room that night and waits for her to fall asleep, unsure of how he’ll handle the sleepwalking. Gaspode is waiting outside and wakes later to the sound of Victor trying to shout past a gag; he nodded off and Ginger tied him up. Gaspode goes to fetch Laddie and they get Victor untied and go looking for Ginger.

They arrive on the hill and find the door open enough for Ginger to have slipped past it. Victor isn’t keen on the dark, but Gaspode teases him until he agrees to go in. They walk along until the torch goes out and they’re plunged into darkness. Suddenly there’s a bright light and they wind up in a sort of cave that opens onto an amphitheater. There are bodies in some of the seats watching a screen that looks to be made of mercury. On the other side is Ginger, standing and holding a torch (like the woman from her dream she told him about) next to a sleeping giant figure. Victor calls to Ginger and she warns him away as though in a trance, but they snap her out of it by accidentally hitting keys on an organ, and rush back out toward the door. Unfortunately, the organ shook stones loose and the tunnel is blocked. They send the dogs out through a small space to get help, and Victor tells Ginger what happened because she can’t remember any of it. Meanwhile, the Bursar goes to check on Riktor’s unreality measuring device and finds that it is spiking wildly. Gaspode tells Laddie to take them to see the trolls because humans weren’t any good this early in the morning.

Victor and Ginger keep talking as the trolls dig them out of the tunnel. Victor reckons that the giant figure they saw is the one mentioned in the old Holy Wood book, the ones the priests were trying to keep inside. Once they’re rescued, the tunnel caves behind them and Victor hopes that will be the end of things. At a bar nearby, Silverfish and Detritus drown their sorrows while Death drinks just down the bar, knowing he’s going to be needed. Yetis are preparing to eat the five-hundred traveling elephants heading their way. Victor wakes to a fog settled around everything, but they’re supposed to head to Ankh-Morpork today, so he and Gaspode set out and Soll comes to meet them. They get into their carriage with Throat and Soll and Ginger, and head toward the city. Posters for Blown Away are circulating in Ankh-Morpork, and one gets back to the wizards at the Unseen University, who decide that the senior staff should be allowed to go see a Moving Picture and all go together. They get disguised and head out to the theater, pretending to be merchants (and doing a terrible job of it).

The Bursar awakens to tell the Archchancellor that something terrible is about to happen—the University being fairly empty as all the wizards are deciding to go about being spontaneous is a fairly good sign of that. Victor and Ginger are spotted in the carriage and the city’s crowd is going wild at the sight of them. A red carpet scenario has been set up by Dibbler, and the city’s elite begin to show up to the film. Ginger is horrified by the amount of people; she wanted to be famous, but this isn’t what she imagined. Victor suggests she pretend she’s acting in a click right now in order to meet her public. They step out of the carriage to cheers, and the wizards realize that it’s definitely Victor who has chosen to do this rather than being a wizard, for some reason. Ginger and Victor make it inside the Odium, which has been decked out with drapes and cherubs and gilding. Victor realizes the Holy Wood has made it all the way to Ankh-Morpork. The Bursar and Ridcully are going over maps to try and figure out what’s going on, then make the connection between Holy Wood and the alchemists, and realize they’re doing magic.

Commentary

I knew there was a reason I remembered the wizards being more involved in this book, though it’s surprising it took this long to get here. (The pacing of this book is actually a little odd, I’m realizing… maybe Pratchett should have gone the route he went with Wyrd Sisters and used a film plot framing for the book’s plot?) It’s another one of those places where the comedy has a cinematic quality to it, all the wizards trying to get over the wall to have a night out, and trying to get Poons’ wheelchair over, and wearing false beards over real beards and pretending to be merchants. I would honestly read a whole book of that and kinda wish he could have brought that into the story sooner.

There’s a theme here about the idea of fame and stardom being a far cry from the reality, and that’s what we see happening with Ginger. She has this trance-like dream of being the most famous person in the world, but on being confronted with her “adoring public,” she freezes in a panic. Actual fame is a beast of a thing to navigate, and the trick used here (telling her to essentially act her way through it) is a common trick that many performers use. In fact, it’s so ingrained that people tend to believe that they have a good read on their favorite famous people, that they know them to some extent. These are called parasocial relationships, and they’ve been getting a lot of psychological study in recent years because it is a genuinely fascinating phenomenon—the belief that you can truly know a person from what they display to the public on press tours, red carpets, even social media accounts, when so many of these personas are carefully constructed for mass consumption. We’ve gone so far down this particular rabbit hole culturally that we’ve turned it into its own form of performance art. What Ginger is doing here is the first steps of that.

This runs parallel to the storyline for Gaspode, and how his feats as an actual wonder dog are constantly eclipsed by Laddie, just because he looks pretty and fulfills people’s expectations about what dogs should be like. Though true to my thoughts about the odd pacing in this book, this is another place where the story ping-pongs strangely—we go through a brief period where we get a lot more of Gaspode’s internal monologue, and then we shift to Victor in this section just as we’re really digging into it. I can’t help but wonder what the book would be like with a tighter focus on fewer characters?

Either way, Gaspode himself is basically a poster for “Adopt, Don’t Shop,” which I am all in favor of as a person who has only ever had rescue dogs. (Including one from my teenage years who was smart enough that she could nearly talk, just like him.) The point is, Laddie is a very good boy, but the scraggly ones are just special. And yes, I realize that being a kid who grew up on Corduroy and his lost button has biased me in this area.

The fun part about the entrance into the theater is the flashback to what movie houses used to be like, which was on par with grand old live theatres—the curtains, the carvings, the gold paint. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I kinda wished they still decked movie theaters out this ridiculously, but Pratchett is right in describing it as being stuffed inside an expensive box of chocolates. (I just happen to really like chocolate.)

Also, I can’t get the image of a screen of mercury out of my head. It would be one of the world’s most dangerous art installations, but wish someone would make that for real.

Asides and little thoughts:

  • I do appreciate the moment when Victor breaks out into a cold sweat and marvels at finally knowing what that feels like, because haven’t we all heard phrases like that and wondered what the hell people are on about only to finally experience them and go “oh, that’s where that comes from.”
  • Ginger’s dream is basically all the movie logos appearing one after the other, from the Paramount mountain to the MGM lion roar. But my favorite bit of trivia here is that she says there’s “this roar, like a lion or a tiger,” and both of these are accurate: While the video shows a lion roaring, but lions don’t actually make those sorts of noises—so MGM dubbed the recorded roar of a tiger over their icon.
  • Conversely, the subliminal messaging joke here is particularly bemusing because study after study has seemed to prove that it doesn’t actually work, at least, not by inserting single frames into a longer film. The way you actually get audiences to buy stuff is via product placement within the film itself, provided that it’s not too overt…

Pratchettisms:

Analogies bubbled to the surface like soggy croutons.

“Messin’ around with girls who’re in thrall to Creatures from the Void never works out, take my word for it.”

It was followed by a light so harsh that it projected the image of Victor’s eyeballs on the back of his skull.

The whole of life is just like watching a click, he thought. Only it’s as though you always get in ten minutes after the big picture has started, and no one will tell you the plot, so you have to work it all out yourself from the clues.

The small, weary, moth-eaten dog thought hard about the difference between looking and acting like a wonder dog and merely being one.

Any watcher trained in reading body language would have been prepared to bet that, after the click, someone was going to suggest that they might as well go somewhere and have a few drinks, and then someone else would fancy a meal, and then there was always room for a few more drinks, and then it would be 5 a.m. and the city guards would be respectfully knocking on the University gates and asking if the Archchancellor would care to step down to the cell to identify some alleged wizards who were singing an obscene song in six-part harmony, and perhaps he would also care to bring some money to pay for all the damage. Because inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened.

It was like stepping into a box of very expensive chocolates.

I’m away next week, but the week after we’ll finish the book!

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