Mark Reads ‘Guards! Guards!’: Part 4

In the fourth part of Guards! Guards!, I WASN’T READY. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.

Trigger Warning: For discussion of racism.

Holy shit. I’m still reeling from that scene, so I’m going to take the time to dissect some other shit in this section so that my brain has time to recover.

Nobby, Carrot, and Dwarfs

It’s not just that Corporal Nobbs is a bad fit for someone like Carrot; I think anyone in Ankh-Morpork would have been mystified and bemused by the way Carrot looks at the world. He’s a classic case of someone who has gained his knowledge entirely through books and theory, and he has absolutely zero experience with how the world works. Of course, Guards! Guards! doesn’t blame him for this, and I’m glad it doesn’t. He was either deliberately or accidentally deceived by Mr. Varneshi into believing that the Night Watch was… well, what it used to be. The Patrician’s policies gutted the Night Watch, making it a place for those who are escaping… well, a lot of things. Trouble. Terrible pasts. Who knows? (AHHHH, I NEED VIMES’S BACKSTORY SO BADLY NOW)

And yet, no one has sat Carrot down and just told him this. Despite that he’s already exhibited behavior that has identified him as completely misunderstanding his job, the people around him are still tip-toeing around the obvious here. Granted, that would not be an easy conversation to have. I don’t think it would be a lot of fun to destroy someone’s innocence, but someone has to.

Unfortunately, a lot happens before anyone has the heart to do the deed. Firstly, Carrot works his wonders on a dwarf bar, which I had thought at the time would be my favorite part of this book. NOPE. NOT EVEN CLOSE. I had noticed some anti-dwarf comments in past sections, but couldn’t quite tell if this was prejudicial behavior or me just completely misunderstanding the book. I wanted to be careful about that, but holy shit, it’s so obviously a bias in Ankh-Morpork. They all carry a prejudice against dwarfs! It’s a metaphor for racism… right up until the point where it doesn’t work at all. And I think this is why authors need to be careful about the whole “racism-as-metaphor” trope within science fiction and fantasy.

Here’s what I mean, using this specific example. Pratchett does a great job demonstrating how a prejudicial view of the dwarfs horrifies Carrot. Nobby tells Carrot that dwarfs are the actual worst kind of people in all of Ankh-Morprk. He laments their violence, their ugly language, and then says:

“You don’t want to mix it with them, they’re a poisonous bunch of –”

Which is ludicrous to Carrot because… well, that’s not what dwarfs are like. He knows that because that’s who raised him! Except this is where this falls apart for me. Racial stereotypes are so damaging because they sully our view of other people. We interpret their actions through them, and we assume terrible things about people just because of the color of their skin or their ethnic make-up, even if we have never actually met that person. Governments build entire policies of systemic discrimination around these stereotypes in order to justify their behavior, and you end up with one group of citizens of a nation experiencing one specific (and negative) version of life and the accepted race getting the largely positive one. Now, that’s a gross simplification of systemic racism, obviously, but the idea is that stereotypes, even if there’s a smidgeon of truth to their basis, are almost always applied in derogatory and harmful ways. And when you’ve got the weight of society and the state – in this case, law enforcement – behind them, it can have irrevocable effects on those on the receiving end of such treatment.

Except here, we’re shown that Nobby’s view of the dwarfs as violent drunkards as completely correct. Sure, you could argue that the dwarfs are just scared and misunderstood, but how could Nobby ever know that? Instead, there’s not a confirmation bias at work here; his bigotry is validated by the behavior of the dwarfs. And that’s really weird to me because it’s doesn’t engage with the nature of racial stereotypes and the damage they cause. It doesn’t show us how stereotypes discard the notion of nuance and diversity. Instead, the dwarfs are the very monolith that Nobby thinks they are, at least until Carrot (beautifully, I might add) appeals to their culture.

I do want to see more of how dwarfs fit into this specific world because even if the metaphor is sloppy, it’s still fascinating to me. Are there other races or species on the Disc that aren’t viewed positively by most people? I BET THERE IS ICE GIANT BIGOTRY RUNNING RAMPANT.

Anyway, I truly thought that Carrot’s heartfelt appeal to the dwarfs was the best thing imaginable, and then I kept reading.

The Mended Drum

I still don’t quite know what to say. I don’t want to ruin the joke. I don’t want to make this any less than what it is, which is one of the most grand and hilarious things that Pratchett has ever written. I think it would be a crime to ignore the brilliance of where this scene in placed. This is not the first or second Discworld book published; it’s the eighth. We’ve had many a scene in the Mended Drum. We’ve had many a scene featuring the Librarian’s. The Discworld series’ unique take on serialization absolutely matters here. Aside from the first two books written, Pratchett doesn’t necessarily write these books in a linear manner. Each one doesn’t take place after the one that came before. And yet, places, names, people, and events still pop up across these books, more like he’s picking from a rich tapestry that already exists instead of one that he’s creating. I had to understand why it was so suspenseful to see Carrot look at the Librarian as he does here. I had to understand why the brawl was so significant, and I could not have done that without the past.

It wasn’t a surprise to see Carrot taking notes on the various laws being broken, and I fully expected him to get laughed out of the Mended Drum. That’s exactly the sort of thing I was expecting from this group of miscreants and from Nobby himself. The very notion that it’s illegal to serve alcohol after midnight is laughable, as is literally everything else he says. That’s not how Ankh-Morpork works! We know that, of course, but Carrot doesn’t.

My guess? The Librarian was the one who threw that glass.

The result of it is both horrifying and immensely entertaining. Y’all, CARROT TOOK OUT DETRITUS THE SPLATTER. THAT IS A TROLL WHO LITERALLY SPLATTERS PEOPLE WHO GET OUT OF LINE. I knew Carrot was strong, but WHAT THE FUCK. I like that the reaction of Vimes and Colon is to just… hang out. I mean, how can they even process what Carrot has done? They can’t! They can’t even wrap their minds around someone willingly joining the Night Watch and enforcing the laws that NO ONE HAS FOLLOWED FOR… shit, how long? How long has the Patrician been ruling things? It’s been enough time that Carrot’s behavior is seen as perplexing to everyone. He’s utter alone in his thinking, which does worry me. Is he going to be heartbroken when he finds out what he’s now a part of? Will he adapt and change his way of thinking? And how the hell does this story relate to the Supreme Grand Master’s story? It’s like they belong in two different books, which just means I am horribly unprepared for their intersection.

I’m still in awe, y’all.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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