In the sixth part of Equal Rites, Esk continues on her journey to Unseen University – by herself. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of racial stereotypes, particularly anti-Roma; antiziganism.
So I’m having a blast reading about Esk, I swear, but let’s start this off with something that’s probably uncomfortable.
I was so excited that a canonical brown dude was a character in this book, and then:
He was taller than her father, although no quite so old, and dressed like a g***y. Most of his teeth had turned gold, but Esk decided it wasn’t the time to ask why.
And while I found the next section super funny (BECAUSE IT MAKES ME LAUGH SO HARD WHEN PALER FOLKS ASK ME HOW I GOT MY BROWN SKIN hint: i was born with it), it didn’t stop me from feeling super uncomfortable about the Zoons. Half of the joke here seems to be that Pratchett took Roma stereotypes – that Roma are prone to theft and lies, that they’re a race who constantly travel, that their teeth are full of gold, that they have gigantic families – and then just flipped it around so that they literally can’t lie. And in terms of satire, I just don’t get it. What’s funny about this? I understand that there is something entertaining about the existence of the Liar in Zoon culture, but when you pair that with a visual stereotype like the one attached to Amschat B’hal Zoon? At best, this is a terribly unfortunate implication.
And the reason I’m comfortable saying that is because… look, y’all, the Discworld is very white. I think we’ve met more speaking magical creatures and supernatural beings than characters of color. So when you finally have a character like this, and all of the described physical characteristics apply to a stereotype associated with that group… it’s not helping, that’s what I’m trying to say. It’s not like Amschat is one of 20 characters of color who are all important parts of the narrative; he’s one of the only ones who gets any dialogue at all, and I feel like this is the last we’ll ever see of the Zoons, given that Esk meets them and then leaves them over the course of these 25 pages. It’s not like the Zoons are portrayed terribly, either! Esk enjoys them a whole lot, they undoubtedly help her get to where she’s going, and Amschat treats Esk with respect. (I loved that he gave her those silver coins as payment for her work.) I’m not saying that this is a negative representation, per se; I’m more or less stating that the satire here (or the joke) doesn’t work. Is it possible that Pratchett had no idea that that word was a slur? Of course. No one can be expected to know everything. But even if we take it away, what remains isn’t all that great anyway.
(PS: Massive middle finger to the jerk on my YouTube page who not only said that g***y wasn’t a slur, but then used it nearly ten times and explained that because people called them that word, that meant it wasn’t a slur. You’re an asshole, go away.)
I think that you could easily say that Esk takes after Granny Weatherwax in one definite way: she is not prone to panic. After climbing aboard Amschat’s barge and floating away down the River Ankh, she doesn’t freak out when she discovers she’s far from her grandmother. She doesn’t balk in the presence of Amschat. No, she greets her new surroundings and the new people she meets with glee and her own inquisitive nature. She’s a direct child, quick to ask questions, and unashamed to try and get what she wants. When you compare this with Granny’s only POV section in this part, there are a ton of similarities between these two characters! And I imagine that Granny would be pretty damn proud of how Esk behaved throughout this.
But Granny’s singular glimpse of Esk isn’t comforting to her. Esk is absorbing magic, through the staff, which is then leaking it out everywhere. As Esk exerts her will, intentionally or not, the world changes around her. It’s so bad that she quickly develops routines and habits that keep her uncontrollable magic out of sight, even when she’s doing things that are technically helpful. I don’t doubt that people on the Disc are jumpy around magic in general, but I don’t think it’s illogical to suggest that a young girl doing magic (magic traditionally reserved for wizards) would upset people even more than usual. While Amschat is very kind to Esk, he’s also very suspicious of her and her abilities, enough that she eventually realizes that she’s got to leave the Zoon people behind.
So she sits in a doorway in an alley and changes the fucking universe so that her staff is in her hand.
LIKE. OKAY???? OH MY GOD.
Esk, of course, had not been trained, and it is well known that a vital ingredient of success is not knowing that what you’re attempting can’t be done. A person ignorant of the possibility of failure can be a halfbrick in the path of the bicycle of history.
Just…. bless her heart? Forever? Because this is so amazing to me, y’all. I can’t imagine a better suited character for this story because Esk’s desire is so pure! Her sense of wonder is intrinsically part of who she is, so it’s perfect that she’s the first woman wizard. Look at the way she interacts with one of the men in Zemphis. She’s eager to find out what’s going on with the caravans, and once she realizes they can help her get to Ankh-Morpork, she casually reveals that the man is being cheated and SHE’S ON HER WAY. That’s it. She’s like a Johnny Appleseed of magic and secrets.
But holy shit, the conversation she has with Adab Gander is equally as great. SERIOUSLY:
“Why are you holding that broomstick?” he said.
Esk looked at it as though she had never seen it before.
“Everything’s got to be somewhere,” she said.
Nine years old. This nine-year-old has more wit and wisdom than most people in this book, I swear. Even though she has very little knowledge of how certain things work in the world, she doesn’t balk at the idea of walking to Ankh-Morpork. (Note that both Esk and Granny are totally fine with walking ridiculous distances. THEY ARE MY KINDRED SPIRITS, FOR I ADORE WALKING VERY FAR.) When Gander won’t take her, she leaves. That’s it. SHE LEAVES WITH NO HESITATION. Granted, Gander’s clearly going to allow her to travel with him, but this doesn’t negate what a badass she is. From Bad Ass, no less.
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