Terry Pratchett Book Club

Terry Pratchett Book Club: Interesting Times, Part II

We’re back! Let’s not waste time with pleasantries! Unless they’re your thing, in which case, you look lovely today!

 

Summary

Rincewind is caught for having a stolen horse, and then brought to a palanquin and told by the occupant (District Commissioner Kee) that he will be made a slave. He is told to make a mad dash run for it by a nearby guard and complies, finding refuge in a small village where he hides amongst citizens taking a test for a public works position. Once the coast is clear, he continues on until he comes across an inn, and, being hungry, stops in for a meal. By virtue of a poorly placed comment and the presence of his copy of “What I Did On My Holidays,” the innkeeper starts talking loudly about how he doesn’t serve rebels. There is a theatre troupe performing at the inn and the innkeeper gives Rincewind soup and later a fortune cookie, and then the wizard is promptly knocked unconscious. He comes to in a cart where a woman assures him that she is a friend—one of the theatre troupe who also pretended to be a guard earlier in the day and told him to escape—but she is unimpressed by what she’s seen of him. She doesn’t believe he is the Great Wizard they’ve heard tell of, and suggests him to get better or she’ll kill him.

Cohen talks to Saveloy about how they might invade the city; they get themselves captured at the gates for not having the right papers, so that the Silver Horde is taken to the guardhouse and can capture the guards. Rincewind’s cart stops and he finds that he has been delivered to Hunghung, and that Butterfly and her cohort are about to introduce him to the Red Army that he’s supposed to aid… so he runs away. He finds it hard to move about the city, and also mistakes a funeral for a celebration of some sort. He wanders into a quiet spot that turns out to be the Imperial Square, getting stopped by soldiers. Realizing that no one ever disobeyed their orders, he makes a run for it to play on their surprise. He comes across a fellow named Disembowel-Meself-Honorably Dibhala, who reminds him a great deal of someone he knows back home. Dibhala tells him about how the city feels about “foreign ghosts” and what exports they might have to trade overseas, and how they use paper money in place of all the gold sometimes. Rincewind then sees a young member of the Red Army getting dragged off for putting up posters and tries to run again. He’s hit over the head.

Saveloy tries to give the Silver Horde lessons in civilized behavior so that they can interact with the people in the city for future reference. This prove a difficult task. Rincewind wakes up amongst the Red Army again and talks to them about their plans. He realizes that they’re mostly quite young, clearly with no fighting experience and practically no rebelling experience either. They want his help rescuing their friend Three Yoked Oxen from prison, which is a tall order, but the only option he’s given. The Luggage escapes its corral where it’s being kept with other luggages. The Silver Horde spend the day shopping and Saveloy gets to teaching them table manners. The Red Army wants Rincewind to make a hole in their Forbidden City’s wall, which he doesn’t know how to do; Butterfly knows Rincewind doesn’t have any great power, but she expects he might get lucky, as he has before. The Forbidden City’s Master of Protocol hears “ghosts” beneath him (it’s the Silver Horde, entering through the sewers while they set a diversion at the wall). Rincewind pretends to attempt magic, not realizing he’s right by all the fireworks set up by the Horde, which promptly explode the wall, giving the appearance that he’s actually done magic. He’s immediately arrested.

Lord Hong is making another sword (which he does when thinking), and is approached by a messenger, who tells him that the Red Army and Great Wizard have been captured. Hong demands their imprisonment and also dispatches an assassin who has been sent to kill him in the same breath. Rincewind is brought before the Emperor and makes him laugh, so the Emperor decides to keep him. His Grand Vizier turns out to be Lord Hong, who seems perfectly happy with this turn of events. The Emperor retires for the day, and sends Rincewind to the special dungeon. Lord Hong is pleased that his plan is working out exactly as he suspected while the Silver Horde are complaining to Saveloy about their lack of murder in the invasion of the Forbidden City. Rincewind winds up in a dungeon cell and hears tapping, a form of communication between prisoners. Asking what the tapping means leads to conversation with the person one cell over—it’s Twoflower. Rincewind asks why he’s still sitting there since he wrote the revolutionary book everyone’s on about, and Twoflower admits that he hadn’t meant to start trouble. He thinks they’ve forgotten he’s down there at all.

Commentary

This book is a bit slow-going compared to Pratchett’s usual. It reminds me a lot of Pyramids in that respect; I think setting up new locales on the Disc results in taking the wind out of the story sails, so to speak. It’s actually fascinating to see when it does or doesn’t seem to hamper things, as Small Gods does a much sharper job with a similar setup.

We’re getting a lot of cross-cultural commentary in this section, and it mostly works well. I think the thing I enjoy the most is how we get translations of both Agateans speaking Morporkian, and Rincewind speaking Agatean—rather than choosing to make fun of how one particular group of speakers might mangle a foreign language, the humor is largely derived from the fact that translation is a minefield, and that different languages have different stumbling blocks. For Morporkian, it’s all in missing words and strange phrasings, whereas for Agatean, Rincewind is likely coming upon tonal issues that result in completely incorrect terms getting thrown into his sentences. It’s an accurate rendering of real difficulties in learning new languages that isn’t just down to you can’t speak English good.

Within the description of the Agatean Empire, we learn of the people who try to move beyond the wall, to travel to distant places, specifically the ones who finally make it to Ankh-Morpork with nothing and then open shops and work every hour of the day: “People called this the Ankh-Morpork Dream (of making piles of cash in a place where your death was unlikely to be a matter of public policy).” And this is interesting because… well, obviously this is a play on the American Dream, which kind of is exactly that. Except plenty of people who moved to the Unites States to partake in said dream did find their deaths and disenfranchisement becoming part of public policy. See: ICE camps on our borders, or Japanese internment, and that’s only naming a couple. Of course the quotation says “unlikely,” but that’s just the point—unlikelihood is really from the vantage point of the person who might be doing the dying. Perhaps, in this case, “a bit less likely” would be more accurate?

There’s also the bit about the Silver Horde freaking out at the idea of eating dog, and I appreciate that it’s immediately countered by one of them admitting to having tried cannibalism before, as a point of illustrating how one person’s delicacy is another person’s I-would-never, and it’s such a good way of treating the topic that I came away stunned? I was fully expecting the joke to end with everyone being upset about what the Agateans eat because you encounter that sort of thing everywhere. This is a personal peeve of mine because food is a fraught and touchy subject for so many: People love to get rude over what other groups of people eat, especially when it comes to animals (but also with everything). And it’s an area where people really should mind their own dang business because there are so many contributing factors to what is “normal” in a person’s diet: culture, upbringing, class, religious beliefs, allergies and dietary difficulties—the list goes on and on.

We love to attach morality to food when the point is that we need it to stay alive. It’s perfectly fine to make choices for ourselves, but it’s equally important to be clear-eyed about said choices. A dog is a pet to me, so I’m unlikely to eat one, but I have no call making that choice for anyone else. And here we have a horde of elderly barbarians balking at the idea of eating dog, and suddenly one of them admits to eating people, thereby reminding us that the rules of engagement around these topics are contextual and permeable, whether we want to think of them that way or not. And that’s what makes it funny. Not haha, let’s all get collectively grossed out at the idea of someone eating a dog.

Of course, now we’ve finally got Rincewind and Twoflower reunited. Which probably means everything is about to get more interesting, since they seem to have that effect on causation and the rules of reality.

Asides and little thoughts:

  • I do love meeting Dibhala, but even more than that, I love how he keeps mentioning all these things he’d like to import into Ankh-Morpork, and Rincewind responding with “yep, we get that from [pick other place].” I’ve genuinely had this conversation, usually with people who live in the suburbs or smaller towns, and want people to believe that they have everything the city has and more somehow. But this is literally the point of a big city. We’ve got it all. It’s actually weird when you come across a need for something you can’t get. It’s our one magic trick.
  • Look the thing is, once you describe paper money, you quickly realize that capitalism is a sham and it’s really hard to keep wrapping your brain around it. (I’m sorry to you if you’re hot for capitalism, but seriously. It’s all fake.)

Pratchettisms:

A foot on the neck is nine points of the law.

Rincewind rose like a boomerang curry from a sensitive stomach.

Butterfly’s anger was bad, but a spike was a spike. Of course, he’d feel a bit of a heel for a while, but that was the point. He’d feel a heel, but he wouldn’t feel a spike.

The Horde were feeling quite proud of themselves when they sat down for dinner. They acted, Mr. Saveloy thought, rather like boys who’d just got their first pair of long trousers.

The Emperor had all the qualifications for a corpse except, as it were, the most vital one.

Next week we’ll read up to: “That’s what I said, sir… er… yes.”

citation

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