In the first part of Guards! Guards!, everything is better with dragons in it. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For general discussion of oppression
Gods, this was a delight to read, y’all.
I made a comment during my read of Pyramids that the Sphinx scene was very readable, and I’d actually counter that with the meeting between the Brethren: this was SO MUCH MORE FUN. Pratchett’s got a knack not just for how people talk (and interrupt one another), but his dialogue feels like it should be performed. (For real, at some point on tour this year, I am going to assemble folks and perform this because IT NEEDS TO BE DONE. I call dibs on the Supreme Grand Master.)
But before I talk about the Supreme Grand Master and his mischievous goals, let’s talk about DRAGONS. Well, there’s not much here aside from discussing them in the third person, but I really love dragons. They’re one of the few things I’m generally interested in when it comes to fantasy. But how does Captain Vimes fit into this? Since I know nothing about any of the Discworld books to come, I don’t even know who the main character is. It’s comfortable to be back in Ankh-Morpork again, and YAY, CAMEO APPEARANCE BY THE LIBRARIAN! But how does Vimes relate to the Grand Master’s scheme? I assume by his name that he is the actual Captain of the Night Watch, but… I don’t exactly recall the Night Watch existing in past books set in Ankh-Morpork. (It’s been some time since I started Discworld, forgive me! A lot has happened since then.) I also think he’ll find fighting a dragon difficult if he’s in the gutter, but hey! You never know!
So, let’s talk about the Elucidated Brethren of the Ebon Night. First of all, I love that Pratchett not only further builds the world of Ankh-Morpork (of course there are secret groups in the city!), he pokes a great deal of fun at secret societies and the role they often play within a fantasy narrative. Christ, how many books have I read or how many movies have I seen where some ultra-secretive organization was quietly manipulating events behind-the-scenes? They’re not treated with the sort of reverence I’m used to in these kind of stories, you know? That’s not to say that the threat posed by the Supreme Grand Master is to be ignored. I think I need to take him seriously. There’s a bit of Dios in his characterization, particularly since he is such a manipulative person. As he collects his Brethren together to begin to push them towards awakening the dragons mentioned at the start of Guards! Guards!, it’s made very clear that he purposely chose men he could control:
But incompetents with possibilities, nevertheless. Let the other societies take the skilled, the hopefuls, the ambitious, the self-confident. He’d take the whining resentful ones, the ones with a bellyful of spite and bile, the ones who knew they could make it big if only they’d been given the chance. Give him the ones in which the floods of venom and vindictiveness were dammed up behind thing walls of ineptitude and low-grade paranoia.
Sooooo… he just described a fairly specific portion of Reddit, right? COULDN’T RESIST.
I do think this is a brilliant choice for Pratchett to make, though! The Brethren here are not smart enough to realize what the Supreme Grand Master is doing to them, but they do believe they are quite brilliant and observant themselves. We see that through the recurring gag of Brother Watchtower interrupting the Grand Master to wax poetically about the things that he knows. Even if he’s completely wrong. Of course, I don’t want to ignore that the entire conversation about kings, “skions,” and princesses is a hilarious joke about fantasy tropes. It is!!! LIKE THIS PART:
“He has to marry a princess, too,” said Brother Doorkeeper. “On account of him being a swineherd.”
They looked at him.
“Who said anything about him being a swineherd?” said Brother Watchtower. “I never said he was a swineherd. What’s this about swineherds?”
“He’s got a point, though,” said Brother Plasterer. “He’s generally a swineherd or a forester or similar, your basic skion. It’s to do with being in wossname. Cognito. They’ve got to appear to be of, you know, humble origins.”
But y’all. Y’ALL. I just… I’m so thrilled with the entire section where the Supreme Grand Master manipulates the Brethren into agreeing with him by having them validate their mutual sense of misguided oppression. Because ultimately, that’s what this is: misguided. Note that every example that Pratchett has these characters give one another is nothing more than an irritation. That doesn’t mean that someone being cruel or rude isn’t meaningful; it doesn’t mean that feeling irritation doesn’t matter. It means that these aspects of life are not systemic failings. Paying rent sucks (IS THAT NOT AN ABSOLUTE TRUTH), but playing your tuba at night? Other people having nice things? Not paying your bills? Okay, nice try. The only reason I latched on to this as I did in the video is because, as I said then, I know people who do this. I have met actual living human men who believe that because someone didn’t have sex with them, they were oppressed. (Rejection/lack of reciprocation sucks. Not an oppression for you, sir.) I have met an actual living straight man who thought he was oppressed because he didn’t get to have a straight pride parade and was upset that he “wasn’t allowed to have the same fun as the gays.” I CANNOT EVEN MAKE THIS SHIT UP. It’s this horrifying combination of entitlement and disrespect. They’re so used to the world catering to them that they can’t fathom something not including them. That’s not to say that this is precisely what’s happening here, but I don’t think any of these men are actually suffering under the weight of any societal bigotries here. There’s no oppression actually happening.
And the Supreme Grand Master knows this. He exploits their self-confidence, and then he exploits their dislike of wizards, all so that he can get people to assist him in awakening the dragons. But why does he need them? Why doesn’t he do this himself? I’m also perplexed as to his end game, especially after this line:
He’d won. There’d be dragons again. And a king again. Not like the old kings. A king who would do what he was told.
Again, very Dios-like to me. So, he doesn’t aim to make himself king, but a sort of advisor who holds the real power? Why? How is he going to do that? And if the second half of de Malachite’s book is “a charred lump,” how is that going to affect the Supreme Grand Master’s plan? Does he even intend to kill the dragons once he raises them?
I AM INTRIGUED.
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