In the fifteenth part of Sourcery, the Pedestrians of the Apocralypse get drunk, Rincewind sees an old friend, and then he meets his fate. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For child abuse
Is this the most fucked up Discworld book? Wait, don’t answer that. I am only five books into this universe, and the unsettling nature of Sourcery might be the one thing that’s surprised me the most. This just feels so much darker than what I’m used to from these books, which is actually a good thing! I’m glad that Pratchett is exploring different themes and tones! Like I’ve pointed out numerous times, it’s not as if this book is wholly unfunny. Need I remind y’all of the appendectomy pun? Or the genie??? Or Nijel consulting a manual during a fight in order to find out how to fight?
Even the opening scene of this section (and the continuation of it later on) is super funny. THE PEDESTRIANS OF THE APOCRALYPSE. Death heads off to Ankh-Morpork to see to a bunch of wizard deaths (I’M NOT OKAY) and leaves his Apocralyptic buddies behind, which means Pratchett can gift us with this beautiful, beautiful exchange:
War watched the retreating horse.
“Sometimes he really gets on my nerves. Why is he always so keen to have the last word?” he said.
“Force of habit, I suppose.”
AHHHHHH, IT’S SO PERFECT. Or what about the brilliance of revealing that the Four Horseman often lapse into a barbershop quartet while they’re drinking? I am all for making these characters seem as non-intimidating as possible, and Pratchett is succeeding in strides.
What I did want to focus on in the bulk of this review was the number of utterly unsettling things that Pratchett does with Sourcery in this section. We’ve spent so much time away from Coin recently, and I’m beginning to understand how that’s affected my perception of what’s happening now. It’s true that I’ve mostly had to imagine what’s going on with Coin and the other wizards, but I think it actually might work in favor of the narrative. Our minds fill in the blanks based on the information we have received and what Coin says here, and it’s a pretty terrifying picture. Given that we found out ages ago that Ipslore was outright abusing Coin into complying with his demands, it’s fairly easy to assume that Coin stopped fighting his abuser. He just did what Ipslore demanded of him, and that includes the unbelievable amount of destruction we’ve witnessed through other characters.
So when we finally come back to Coin, it’s shocking to see him start to question what he’s doing. Initially, as he questions Ovin Hakardly about Carding’s warning, we know that it’s Ipslore talking through the boy, but then, the real Coin – a goddamn child – shows up:
Coin’s lips moved silently for a while. “Do you mean magic attracts these creatures?” he said eventually.
His voice was quite different now. It lacked its former edge. The staff hung in the air above the prone body of Carding, rotating slowly. The eyes of every wizard in the place were on it.
It’s not just Coin’s voice; it’s the fact that he’s asking questions just like he’s a goddamn child. This is one thing I really want to praise about how Pratchett handles something as disturbing as this: he won’t let us turn our gaze away from how fucked up it is that Coin is as young as he is. There are no jokes made at Coin’s expense in this context, and I like that. Even though there is a joke about Carding’s death, it’s more of a tragic sense a humor than Pratchett not considering the implications of putting a child at the center of this:
“He’s very still,” he said cautiously. “Is anything bad happening to him?”
“It may be,” said Hakardly, guardedly. “He’s dead.”
“I wish he wasn’t.”
“It is a view, I suspect, which he shares.”
There’s a sense of naïveté to the way Coin speaks because he’s never able to fully grasp what Ipslore has made him do. Well, until now that is. But before Coin asserts his right to do what he wants, Ipslore makes him doing something that is so absurd that it’s just plain scary: HE CAPTURES THE GODS. I mean, I knew it was going to be terrible when Hakardly made the unfortunate mistake of saying that no one could stand against wizard “except for the gods, of course.” NO, WHAT ARE YOU DOING. I mean, it’s not his fault, but I thought to myself, WELL, I DON’T THINK THE GODS WILL BE TOO HAPPY WITH THAT.
“Look at me,” Coin commanded.
They turned their eyes upwards. There was no way they could disobey.
He held the glistening thing in one hand. The other held the staff, which had smoke pouring from its ends.
“The gods,” he said. “Imprisoned in a thought. And perhaps they were never more than a dream.”
He did it. He fucking did it. You’re kidding me, THAT TOOK LIKE A FEW MINUTES, DIDN’T IT??? How? How do you defeat a power that took the gods and encased them in a tiny bubble???
You don’t use magic.
Rincewind arrives on the sourcerer’s tower silently and secretly with a weapon that has absolutely no magic attached to it: a half-brick in a sock. It’s funny as hell, I’m not going to deny that. But y’all, it’s so fascinating for me to go back and re-read Coin’s conversation with Rincewind! It’s actually Coin, not Ipslore, whose voice we hear, and it demonstrates to us just how messed up this kid is. He is so used to displays of power involving magic that he literally cannot comprehend why Rincewind showed up with a half-brick in a sock.
“Is it magical?” he said, curiously. “Perhaps it is the sock of an Archchancellor? A sock of force?”
Rincewind focused on it.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I think I bought it in a shop or something.”
And the interrogation continues. What power does it have? Is it just an ordinary brick in a sock? Can it destroy a whole city? Christ, it’s so disturbing to me! Is that the only basis for an object that Coin has? I think so, and when Coin understands that there’s no trick here – Rincewind really came with the worst (BEST, YOU MEAN BEST) weapon possible – he disobeys Isplore. And holy shit, this becomes so incredibly tense and scary, and then Pratchett takes it to an unbearably dark place:
“But he looks so funny. He’s got a sock,” said Coin.
He screamed, and his arm jerked oddly. Rincewind’s hair still stood on end.
You will do as you are commanded.
You know what happens to boys who are bad.
There was a crackle and a smell of scorched flesh. Coin dropped to his knees.
Fucked up. It’s so relentless fucked up. Coin thinks Rincewind is funny – as a child (or anyone, for that matter) should! – and that matters not to Ipslore. This has always been about control for the wizard, and he controls Coin through immense physical abuse. In this moment, Coin completely rejects Ipslore’s control, and Ipslore lashes out violently. Of importance, though, is the fact that Rincewind not only uses his weapon to knock the staff out of Coin’s hand, but when it returns, he pushes Coin behind him and takes the first blow from the staff. Rincewind, who didn’t know how he could save the world, instantaneously and without hesitation chose to protect that boy, and I fucking love him for that.
So does Death, who pops in to say hello! Which I really should have seen as a sleight of hand from Pratchett. I assumed that Rincewind wouldn’t actually die, that this was Death showing up to claim other wizard lives because Rincewind can’t die. But haven’t the stakes been raised here? Isn’t this about Rincewind knowing what he’s willing to fight for? I’d like to think that he’s not just fighting for wizardry. I feel like he saw the sourcerer for the first time, realized it was a kid, saw what the staff did to him, and refused to back down from it. Look how Rincewind offers Coin support, urging him not to obey the staff. And I’d like to believe that Rincewind helped Coin make this crucial decision:
Who gave you your destiny?
“You did,” said the boy. He raised his head.
“I realize that I was wrong,” he added, quietly.
“I did not throw you far enough!”
It’s important that this is Coin’s choice, as it is important that Rincewind’s choice follows this. He is shown just how much these other wizards care about the fate of a child when all of them abandon Coin to the horrible fate of fighting with Ipslore, all because it’s uncomfortable, because it’s suddenly unforgivable what Coin did, all because they hope they can just wait it out. It’s not lost on me that Rincewind wanted to do the same thing himself not too long ago, but instead? Instead, he offers what little help he can give Coin by leaping into the octarine fire and grabbing the staff.
I don’t know what I’m supposed to believe about the end of this section, but I feel pretty devastated about this. A huge group of wizards die when the tower’s magic is sucked into Coin and Ipslore’s fight, and the Librarian digs out the charred remains of Rincewind’s hat from the rubble. How can Rincewind survive that column of blackness? Was he taken to the Dungeon Dimensions? Has he just sacrificed his own life to save Coin?
I’M DISTRAUGHT, Y’ALL.
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