Terry Pratchett Book Club

Terry Pratchett Book Club: Feet of Clay, Part III

We’re going to need more beer and pig’s feet sandwiches, I think.

 

Summary

Vimes is looking into Vetinari’s second poisoning, zeroing in on his book and assuming the page edges have been poisoned. Carrot and Angua come across their fourth golem that has committed suicide, who has also left a note with the words “Clay of my clay. Ashamed.” There’s no poison on the book, but it seems like a woman who worked there was suddenly called home to Cockbill Street, the same spot where Vimes grew up. The heads of all the various guilds get together and decide that should Vetinari die (and indeed, even if he makes it), they should set about finding new leadership for the city… and they settle on Nobby. There’s a fight at Gimlet’s Hole Food Delicatessen with dwarves accusing him of poisoning them with not-rat. Gimlet insists that the food that made the dwarves sick was rat, and Carrot asks for a sample of his stock (gotten from Wee Mad Arthur) to see what’s gone wrong with it. Vimes heads to Cockbill Street and arrives in time for two funerals. He finds the woman from Vetinari’s, Mildred Easy—she took some food out of the palace, and now her mother and baby are dead. Carrot sends Fred and Nobby to talk to Wee Mad Arthur, insisting that he’s not investigating the Vetinari case (since Vimes told him not to), just Gimlet’s one.

Cheery gives Angua a list of names she’s considering for herself, and Angua tells her that she likes “Cheri.” Colon and Nobbs talk to Wee Mad Arthur, who insists his rats aren’t poisoned, so Fred decides they need to go around and ask people around his hunting grounds if they’re using poison just in case. Carrot reports to Vimes that they found eleven golem who killed themselves, but now others were killing them too, like they’d been waiting for an excuse. Vimes insists they have to find out who’s responsible because of Mrs. Easy and her grandson. They try to figure out all the ways poison might have gotten into Vetinari’s food; the Patrician is bemused and thinks that if Vimes takes much longer figuring out this mystery, he’ll have to start giving him hints. Carrot puts the words back into Dorfl’s head, removes his own armor, and watches as Dorfl makes to hit him and then… can’t do it. Carrot tells Dorfl that he thinks he’s got a rough picture of what actually happened with the golems, but he needs Dorfl’s help. Dorfl won’t give him any answers, so Carrot lets it go, knowing it didn’t murder the priest. Carrot notices that Cheery is wearing a skirt, which prompts Angua to tell him that Cheery is a woman—Carrot has a minor freak out over this and the idea that Cheery wouldn’t keep her gender hidden, which Angua calls him out for.

Nobby goes to his first major social event as the Earl of Ankh; Angua thinks again about how she’s going to need to leave Carrot because he can’t handle the werewolf thing; Vimes suddenly strikes upon the idea that the wallpaper in combination with the constant fog they’ve been having could be the way Vetinari is getting poisoned. Vimes starts writing out all the elements to the mystery and finally figures out a piece of it—the golems made another golem, with pieces of themselves. Nobby mingles with posh folks, telling jokes and drinking beer, and they agree that he’s likable enough to be king of the city. Colon wakes up bound and hears voices on the other side of the door, planning to get a golem named Meshugah to deal with him; only they’re not sure the golem can be trusted to do things anymore because it’s been acting up. Colon finds Wee Mad Arthur heading through the sewage below and gets himself untied. Right as Meshugah shows up to handle him, Fred jumps through a trap door and swims through cattle sewage to get free. Cheery—now Cheri—is stationed at the front desk of the Watch house and several dwarf officers come in and are mortified by her outfit. (One of them is not, as she turns out to be a woman herself and wants to try Cheri’s lipstick.)

Carrot and Angua come across Dorfl about to be killed by a mob, so Carrot stops the mob and buys Dorfl off Mr. Sock for one dollar. Then he puts the receipt for Dorfl into its own head, hoping it’ll understand that it no longer needs a master. The result knocks the golem of its feet, and then provokes something resembling speech. Angua is mortified and Carrot wants to know why; she explains that it’s difficult seeing a “thing” like a golem get acceptance when she gets constant microagressions for being a werewolf still. Colon deputizes Wee Mad Arthur and they continue to run from the golem, who keeps catching up to them. Several guild heads come to tell Carrot that they believe Vimes has been poisoning the Patrician and insists on investigating his office; Vimes is passed out drunk, but they find no poison in his desk, only sugar. Also Vimes isn’t drunk, he only pretended to be, and he did have the poison on his person because he found it and realized he was being set up. He hands it to Cheri asking her to test it to see if it’s arsenic, and Cheri mentions that it comes in all types and is usually handled by golems… and suddenly the mystery begins to snap into place for Vimes.

Commentary

There’s such wonderful meaty stuff in this book about identity and how it gets buried or weaponized against people. Angua is right about Carrot here—he’s so utterly decent that coming up against other people’s indecencies brings him up short. As a result he’s having a hard time being a good partner or ally to her for the things that really matter. He wants everyone (read: society at large) to be comfortable, so it doesn’t even occur to him that asking Cheri to hide her gender when she doesn’t want to is wrong. He can stop people from trying to kill a defenseless golem, but he won’t defend his girlfriend against constant murmured slander because that’s… uncomfortable.

The line is easy to see with the golems because they’re being murdered and also treated as slave labor. It’s much harder to defend people against the constant indignities of other people’s petty prejudices. Choice personal example time: My own mother loves to tell me how she’d kill anyone who ever dared to hurt me for being different. But she doesn’t want to use my name or pronouns, and she has never once defended me against another person’s spoken prejudices. And the irony is, the latter is more useful to keeping me, and people like me, safe. No one needs to be avenged after the fact; they deserve to be defended in all the little moments where bigotry seeps in, so that larger hateful actions never gain momentum or support.

Carrot isn’t seeing this right now, and Angua’s disillusion is more than understandable in the wake of that. Cheri’s journey continues to map onto trans narratives, with the name change and even the discussions around her beard and manner of dress. But this line always hits the hardest to me: “When you’ve made up your mind to shout out who you are to the world, it’s a relief to know that you can do it in a whisper.” Because that feeling is… perhaps not universal to the experience, but certainly a commonality. Performance is a huge aspect of many facets of queerness (and all identity really, it’s just that queerness does it louder than most), but it can be exhausting. Sometimes you want to know it’s okay to whisper, or just have a chat about it.

The mystery surrounding the golems is really hard to stomach particularly once you get to the bits around suicide and the shame sitting at the center of everything. The antisemitism gets pretty crystalline at the point where Dorfl tells the mob what he’s worth and then gets accused of only caring about money, something that Carrot helpfully dispenses with. There’s no real need to be subtle about it with everything else that’s going on.

But it’s the commentary about “waiting for a reason” to hurt them that stands out. One of the common factors of antisemitic attack (and it’s true for any minority group as well, of course) is scapegoating; Jewish people have been kicked out of their homes all over the world for it. The fear of people finding their reason and using it as an excuse to do any manner of harm, up to murder—and it’s important that the sentience of the golems is repeatedly in question, which Carrot keeps using to his advantage in an effort to keep them safe—is where that through line lies.

We see it all over the book, but it’s particularly relevant that we get it from Vimes. He doesn’t consider the golem to be sentient, and Angua has genuine pain over the opposite issue—the idea that people will begin to consider golem sentient, that they will get consideration and thoughtfulness ahead of her and other undead beings. It has been stated over and over again when it comes to activism that rights are not pie; your slice doesn’t get halved because there are more people asking for dessert. But the very real, very human knee-jerk reaction to feel slighted and overlooked when others might get considered ahead of you is a problem that never goes away. Emotions don’t work like that.

Asides and little thoughts:

  • I dunno, I just appreciate this book being from the mid-90s before computers had taken over every inch of our lives, but Vimes has his weird demonic organizer buddy and still writes things down for himself anyhow because “He could think better when he wrote things down.” Which is a thing they’ve basically proved about writing.
  • The wallpaper thing does make me laugh because I keep thinking of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and imagining Vetinari being trapped in his own palace by his awful husband.
  • But like… the golem’s name is Meshugah? Really? (It’s Yiddish for “crazy.” Poor thing never had a chance.)

Pratchettisms:

What a mess the world was in, Vimes reflected. Constable Visit had told him the meek would inherit it, and what had the poor devils done to deserve that?

There were no public health laws in Ankh-Morpork. That would be like installing smoke detectors in Hell.

“D*mn!” said Carrot, a difficult linguistic feat.

Three men with hammers were approaching the golem cautiously, in the way of mobs, each unwilling to strike the first blow in case the second blow came right back at him.

It is traditionally the belief of policemen that they can tell what a substance is by sniffing it and then gingerly tasting it, but this practice had ceased in the Watch ever since Constable Flint has dipped his finger into a blackmarket consignment of ammonium chloride cut with radium, said “Yes, this is definitely slab wurble wurble sclup,” and had to spend three days tied to his bed until the spiders went away.

Next week we finish the book! Woo!

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