In the tenth part of Equal Rites, Esk discovers a lot of things: that her presence in Unseen University isn’t as spectacular as she thought, that wizards love words a lot, and that Simon possesses a terrifying power. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Oh lord, I just feel so bad for Esk. I think Pratchett does a fine job conveying her visceral disappointment because we aren’t allowed to turn our attention away from it. It is the focus of the first part of this section, you know? Esk is flat-out bored by her job, which she can complete without any attention at all, given that her staff is her makeshift broom. (This book makes me want a magical staff like Esk’s so badly, holy shit.) Even if she does admit that there are positive aspects to working for Whitlow, the negatives outweigh that:
But she wasn’t learning any wizardry. She could wander into empty classrooms and look at the diagrams chalked on the board, and on the floor too in the more advanced classes, but the shapes were meaningless. And unpleasant.
But she still makes an effort, which I admire so much. There’s this beautiful sense of curiosity in Eskarina, a desire to learn about the world despite all the barriers that stand in her way. Of course, as someone who grew up in a super conservative high school and had to go to extreme measures just to read books, I am sitting here projecting all over this character. I can’t help it! I wouldn’t presume to understand gender-based discrimination, of course, but I find myself aching for Eskarina to get what she wants. It’s not just that this is unfair. It’s that I understand the desire to see and experience the world and to have people and societal bullshit stop you from doing so. It’s beyond frustrating. It’s discouraging. So I adore that Eskarina (who is still a child, mind you!) faces something as difficult as this, and she presses on. She still hides in classrooms, listening to lectures, trying to grasp why the wizards are so obsessed with words, and while she is totally and completely lost, she won’t give up.
It’s through her curiosity that she witness yet another bizarre and frightening display of Simon’s power. While the end of this section outright confirms it, all we get here is another suggestion that Simon has the ability to thin the walls between the Discworld’s dimension and the Dungeon Dimension we last saw at the end of The Light Fantastic. She sees this happen during a long, winding lecture that he gives to a large group of wizards. While we don’t exactly get to hear all of it, it’s clear that he was talking about the existence of multiverses and the very nature of existence itself. It’s fitting, then, that his theories about the world are basically proven by his strange ability, though he has no awareness of what he’s doing. Soâ€¦. theory time? It only seems to happen when he’s opening his mind to greater possibilities, usually through the conversations he’s happening. If it’s occurring entirely unknown to him, then I suspect that there has to be some trigger that unleashes this subconscious power. But both times, some physical aspect stops the act from continuing. In this first part, it’s the lamps being lit. Soâ€¦ that’s a clue? Maybe?
I’ll get back to this in a bit. I love that the next big scene is all in a library. It adds to the chaos; we get to see the Librarian from The Light Fantastic again; and it really meshes well with the rumination on words and their power. Pratchett is talking about the literal power these words hold within the framework of Unseen University and wizard magic, but it’s not like we can’t analyze it from a metaphorical stance, too! Because Esk’s desire to read is about her desire to have the power to read, too, since she believes this will help her understand her magic better. Of course, we can’t ignore the literal power, since the first book Esk pulls off the shelf is clearly sentient. And it’s important to note that all of this takes place after her conversation with Granny in the hallway, too! I think if you accept that Esk came into that library feeling lonely after Granny cut her off, then you can see why she’d be so eager to seek out something so new to her.
That newness is in the books of the Unseen University’s library, which is constantly alive with magic! She also has another interaction with Simon, where she defiantly insists that she’s there to learn how to read and become a wizard. Y’all, I just love how upfront she can be at times. She doesn’t care that Simon knows the truth of why she’s there, and she truly believes that he won’t tattle on her. This seems like a good time to revisit what I was saying earlier because it’s during this conversation that the walls between the universes begins to degrade, though much more violently so. Obviously, the high level of magic leakage in that space played a part, but this doesn’t fit the pattern I had initially picked up on. Simon had demonstrated his power twice before, and both times, he was talking about the universe and magic. But this time? He’s talking about getting Esk in trouble. Soâ€¦ THERE GOES MY THEORY.
Granted, this occurrence of his power is so much more violent and terrifying than any of the past ones. The books literally flee from the horrors in the Dungeon Dimension that begin to get closer than ever to crossing into this universe. And then Esk’s staff whacks Simon on the head and stops it. Again, it’s a physical interruption! Actually, it’s an interruption that Esk characterizes as distinctly purposeful and violent. So, what did the staff sense? Oh god, does it know what’s happening? WHAT IS SIMON DOING?
The original text contains use of the words “crazed” and “mad.”
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