In the eleventh part of Equal Rites, Esk and Granny rush to save Simon from the Things, but Esk is pulled into a world she was trying to avoid. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Well, this was awe-inspiring.
Make no mistake, I’m horribly biased towards fiction that explores parallel worlds and alternate dimensions. Begin talking about it and I’m listening. I can recognize the tropes used in it, and I’m sucker for nearly all of them. I’m admitting this up front not to then state that this disappointed me or anything, because it didn’t. I’m saying this because it’s necessary to understand why so many aspects of this were so pleasing to read! ALSO, ESK IS JUST UNIVERSALLY MY FAVORITE CHARACTER HERE, BUT WE’LL GET TO THAT.
While this is mostly a deeply serious part of Equal Rites, we do open with one hell of a joke: the wizards inability to comprehend Simon’s theories on what magic is and how they turn that into them being enlightened:
They both savored the strange warm glow of being much more ignorant than ordinary people, who were ignorant of only ordinary things.
The wizards are largely portrayed as bumbling egotistical fools in this series, which is why it’s so interesting to compare how two characters – Rincewind and Esk – exist separate from their fellow wizards. Both of them want to be wizards for different reasons. Well, yes, Rincewind was always a wizard, but his unique circumstances kept him out of Unseen University and the larger wizarding community. The context is much different (and way more harsh) for Esk, since her gender alone has stopped the wizards from accepting her, but I also couldn’t ignore the dynamic here: a lone character who possesses more sense and wisdom than the wizards trying to save the world.
And while I don’t want to detract from the humor of the joke, I do think it presents a fascinating concept that is built into Esk’s journey: Who possesses knowledge? How much? And why are certain people made gatekeepers in our society if they ostensibly don’t know what they’re doing or they don’t know what to do? The wizards are useless here, and even though I am not done this book, I’m pretty comfortable stating that they’re not going to be the ones to save the day. They celebrate their own ignorance by turning it into a virtue! So why is it that Eskarina is excluded from that? Obviously, there’s the sexist bias of their entire organization, and that should be first and foremost in our criticism of Unseen University.
We’ve also got the complications from having so much knowledge. I know I was confused earlier, but I now understand that it’s the very application of tons of magic (even in terms of merely thinking about it) that attracted the Things from the Dungeon Dimension. Yes, I had to have Granny spell it out to me because sometimes I am really dense. But it makes sense! I knew from the end of The Light Fantastic that the creatures were desperate to find a way into our world, and it makes sense that they’d exploit Simon, who has a better understanding of the magic in our universe than anyone I’ve come across in Discworld. But I think it highlights why Granny has such an aversion to wizard magic! To use her words, it’s never like a knife going through water. It has a tendency to be the brightest, messiest beacon imaginable. So, every time that Esk demonstrated how powerful she was, Granny reacted as she did. I UNDERSTAND A THING, Y’ALL.
Also, this part ruled:
“Um, women aren’t allowed in,” said Esk.
Granny stopped in the doorway. Her shoulders rose. She turned around very slowly.
“What did you say?” she said. “Did these old ears deceive me, and don’t say they did because they didn’t.”
“Sorry,” said Esk. “Force of habit.”
“I can see you’ve been getting ideas below your station,” said Granny coldly.
It is with this that Granny and Eskarina march (and half-limp) into the Great Hall, despite protestations and physical attempts to stop them, and Granny picks a fight with Archchancellor Cutangle. WHILE CONSTANTLY BEING SUPER CONDESCENDING TO ALL THE WIZARDS, WHICH IS BEAUTIFUL. I did think that maybe Granny, of all people, should have been a little more aware of what her little battle with Cutangle would do. Like, she spends all this time lecturing Esk about how magic attracts the Things, and then she uses a ton of magic? It seemed jarring to me. (This might be an intentional thing that I just Did Not Get, I accept that.)
Regardless, it’s because of this that everything turns into a beautiful, beautiful chaos. I love so much that Esk is at the center of this. I have enjoyed that the narrative has been split between her and Granny, but this whole part needed to be from Esk’s perspective. She heads to Simon’s room, knowing that he’s a portal of sorts to the other Dimension, and she shows the wizards-in-training that their magic is not superior. She uses witch magic to Borrow the stone of the University in order to open Simon’s door. WITCH MAGIC. Not the fancy, theoretical magic of the wizards. And she uses it in the place where it’s considered inferior. IT’S SO MEANINGFUL, I LOVE IT.
But holy shit, I can’t deal with Pratchett when he just gives up the humor and goes for the fantastical. His prose is always dense with meaning, but like the Borrowing sequences early in this book, it takes on a poetic edge when he’s just living in these moments he’s created. I was completely and utterly taken in by Esk’s journey into the Dungeon Dimensions. It’s a scary, surreal thing, but it’s also exhilarating because we know that this little girl never got to travel outside of Bad Ass her whole life. And in the past few weeks, not only did she make a ridiculous and thrilling trek to Ankh-Morpork, she’s one of the only humans to see the entirety of the Disc, to glimpse Great A’Tuin, to go in to the Dungeon Dimensions and facedown the horrific Things that lurk there.
There’s a deliberate dreamlike quality to everything, which fits the notion that these Things are constantly changing, that they are so nightmarish that they actually are too frightening to be scary anymore. They don’t make sense. And then she finds Simon, HOLDING ON TO WORLDS. Entire worlds!!! (One of them was our planet, wasn’t it?) If we accept that the possession of knowledge is an important theme in Equal Rites, then Simon’s possession of multiple universes here is one of the most terrifying things imaginable. Well, it’s not Simon himself, of course, but I don’t think we should ignore that, intentionally or not, his actions are what set this whole disaster in motion.
So what does it mean, then, that the only thing that has any sort of affect on the Things has nothing to do with magic? I was perplexed by that. Eskarina kicks one of them, discovering that it actually works to stop them. They can’t seem to stand very well or move gracefully, either. Is it possible that… I don’t know. Non-magic attacks are their antithesis? If they’re attracted by magic, what about offensive maneuvers that have nothing to do with magic? I don’t know if this is a very good theory, but it was triggered by Real Simon’s insistence near the end of this section that ideas have a shape in the Dungeon Dimension. Why did he use that word? If they they can’t actually access these worlds, why could they get into our world through an idea of it?
It’s probably a terrible theory, but I’m grasping at straws here, AS I ALWAYS DO. I just don’t think all these thematic similarities are an accident, you know? Still, I’m eager to see how on earth Eskarina is going to get out of this and save the Discworld and Simon, and WHAT IS GRANNY DOING AT THIS MOMENT??? I must go find out.
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