In the sixteenth part of Moving Pictures, Victor finally figures out the magic of Holy Wood. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of misogyny/street harassment.
Goddamn, this was so great.
I don’t really know how Pratchett expected us to react to Poons. Are we supposed to know that he’s utterly gross and disgusting, or are we meant to shake our heads and gently scold him for his old dude behavior? The text does not do much to criticize his behavior here at all, instead choosing to portray his actions like something a quirky old relative does at a family reunion. His harassment of other women is not quirky, nor is it funny. It’s revolting and should be portrayed that way. This kind of harassment – which often manifests as street harassment – is terribly prevalent in this world, and I don’t find it to be fertile grounds for making jokes. At least not in this context, you know?
Assembling The End
There’s a lot of build-up – much of which I don’t feel the need to summarize or comment on other than confirming it’s necessity within the narrative – to the thing, which is probably going to be one of my favorite single scenes in the Discworld series. It’s interesting now, knowing the magic of Holy Wood, to see how Pratchett has weaved that reality into the story. You could see Lord Vetinari’s interest in Victor and Ginger as part of this magic. Why else would he feel important just by association, despite that he rules Ankh-Morpork? (At the same time, I don’t want to ignore that the Patrician has a general interest in human behavior, either. That’s an important part of his characterization!)
Nearly all of the characters that matter – minus the Archchancellor and the Bursar – gather in the theater, and that alone made me nervous. SO DID THIS EXCHANGE:
At the other end of the row, Victor and Ginger were staring at the blank screen in sullen horror.
“You know what’s going to happen now, don’t you,” said Ginger.
“Yes. Someone’s going to start playing music out of a hole in the floor.”
“Was the cave really a picture pit?”
“Sort of, I think,” said Victor, carefully.
“But the screen here is just a screen. It’s not… well, it’s just a screen. Just a better class of sheet. It’s not –”
With this, Pratchett builds dread. We know that the picture pit below Holy Wood ended… well, horribly. Which is an understatement. We know that the Odium is an exact replica of that place or as close as one could get. Then we know that the fog in Ankh-Morpork is the same as the one in Holy Wood. We’re given a lot of information, all meant to set us on edge, to anticipate that something truly awful is about to happen. When Blown Away started, I expected something a lot more… explosive? Immediate? But that’s silly, I now realize, because the magic of Holy Wood is a whole lot more insidious than I gave it credit. It creeps into these people’s minds in ways that make it hard to notice. Even Victor, fully aware that something is about to happen, is momentarily trapped by the magic of that place.
Momentarily, that is.
Holy Wood Reality
I think what’s most fascinating and fulfilling about what Pratchett does here with the magic is that while we’re shown the negative affects of it, there’s still a sense of wonder to it all. Initially, Victor’s realization is one of horror. His epiphany is laced with the fear that the entirety of Ankh-Morpork is about to be exploited so that the Dungeon Dimensions can come spilling forth into their world:
That was what was under Holy Wood Hill. The people of the old city had used the hole in reality for entertainment. And then the Things had found them.
And now people were doing it again. It was like learning to juggle lighted torches in a firework factory. And the Things had been waiting…
So Victor, in a moment of desperation risks his own life to stop the projection, which more or less had a life of its own. That should have been a clue, y’all. If the projector had acted like a living creature, then so could everything else. Which meant that I wasn’t prepared for THIS:
There was a chorus of screams. The audience was waking up.
The screen Ginger was climbing out. She was three times normal size and flickered visibly. She was also vaguely transparent, but she had weight, because the floor buckled and splintered under her feet.
LIKE SERIOUSLY, WHAT THE FUCK. It was in the subsequent chaos – the patrons spilling out of the Odium, Ginger’s realization of what was happening, Victor stacking rolls of octo-cellulose in front of the escaping form of himself – that I realized that this book had become just like a major action film. Doesn’t it? In just the last twenty pages or so, there are explosions, deaths, sacrifices, and heroics. Why is that? Why does this feel so much more dramatic than a normal Discworld book? That’s not a criticism, by the way. I was totally enraptured by all this unfolding on the page. But it did feel different to me, something I wasn’t necessarily used to while reading those books. Gaspode and Laddie’s “death” (I STILL DON’T KNOW IF IT’S REAL) was way sadder than I was ready for.
It’s all part of the magic, though, isn’t it? The Things from the Dungeon Dimensions thrive on the power of belief, and it’s through this that Pratchett muses on the nature of reality and cinema:
That was the secret. The flicker.
Ordinary magic just moved things around. It couldn’t create a real thing that’d last for more than a second, because that took a lot of power.
But Holy Wood easily created things over and over again, dozens of times a second. They didn’t have to last for long. They just had to last for long enough.
That manifests here in a terrible way, but this seemed wistful of Pratchett. It felt like he was acknowledging the true magic of the medium, which is when a movie can immerse us in something utterly unreal and make us feel like we’re there. That’s a beautiful thing, you know? It’s why I try to go to the movies whenever I can because I love that experience, and I crave the kind of film that I can lose myself in.
So that’s exactly what Victor does. He loses himself in the role he helped create, and he does it so that he can utilize the power of Holy Wood. If the people believe he is an all-powerful hero, then why can’t he be that for them?
I’M SO EXCITED TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.
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