Mark Reads ‘Small Gods’: Part 5

In the fifth part of Small Gods, Fri’it meets his fate and Brutha begins his journey to Ephebe. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.

Trigger Warning: For talk of torture, death.

This book is TOO REAL at times.


Well, now it seems that all the shit I wrote about prayer in the last review is just as relevant to the opening of this part of Small Gods. I think that’s one of the reasons this is so disturbing to me. I mean, granted, torture is not exactly a PLEASANT THOUGHT. But the idea of someone losing their life for voicing dissent terrifies me. It does! It’s a fear of mine, despite that I am regularly confrontational about things that do put my life in danger. But beyond that, I am also someone who had religion used against me, consistently and brutally, for a good portion of my life. It is not an enjoyable thing to equate God with punishment or to fear God’s retribution for every tiny transgression that you commit. (Most of which weren’t transgressions at all, but that’s a separate issue.)

Obviously, Fri’it’s issues with prayer are ones that I share, but I think there’s a different problem here that Pratchett is addressing: the fear of disagreement. Fri’it is willing to commit murder in order to free Omnia from the clutches of its religion. We’ve witnessed the complicated dance that Fri’it and the others have to complete in order to avoid the Quisition. Yes, that’s Pratchett being absurd, but it’s for a reason. Plenty of us have gone through that same routine to avoid discrimination or ire or rejection from religious communities. There’s a long history of it, too! This experience was a huge influence on my decision to get a Bad Religion crossbuster tattooed on my neck: I was tired of having to keep my thoughts quiet in order to prevent religious offense.

Unfortunately for Fri’it, Vorbis gets to him mere seconds after he decides to kill him. WHICH IS SO UNREAL AND UNNERVING, Y’ALL. (How? How did he do that???) But it is in his failure that Pratchett finds release. I really think that Fri’it’s death is one of the most satisfying things I’ve read in the Discworld series. For me, there’s a poeticism to Fri’it’s realization that his afterlife is not what Vorbis or the church told him:

There were no lies here. All fancies fled away. That’s what happened in all deserts. It was just you, and what you believed.

What have I believed?

That on the whole, and by and large, if a man lived properly, not according to what any priests said, but according to what seemed decent and honest inside, then it would, at the end, more or less, turn out all right.

I love the idea that death brings Fri’it to this point, especially since it gives him a satisfaction he’d not had for most of his life. Most importantly, though, he got to choose. He could choose to traverse the desert and face the consequences, but didn’t have to fear making the choice in the first place.

Crossing the Desert

Fri’it’s choice is also thematically relevant because we learn that the Omnians are not allowed to cross the desert. I feel like there’s an aspect of Pratchett’s satire that’s commenting on the act of repression, since it’s clear now that the Omnians have denied themselves virtually everything because of what the Church has decreed. The Church controls the lives of its believers, many of whom are so brainwashed that they don’t even question what they’re told. Now, I don’t think that people who are religious are brainwashed; I think this commentary is about a very specific phenomenon within a specific type of faith. Pratchett is taking aim at state churches and evangelist faiths, not the private and personal beliefs of everyday people.

I see that manifesting in the decision to sail the sea to Ephebe rather than take the more direct and efficient route. I don’t believe that Vorbis truly thinks that one cannot cross the desert; I’m sure he’s just following tradition to maintain the facade. At least, I think that’s what is happening. I would find it just as disturbing if he truly believed that “no one can cross the desert” or “live in the heart of the desert” like Brutha states. Still, I think this story is about control and manipulation, and Vorbis is actively doing those things to Brutha, telling him to forget the soldiers that are clearly following him.

As silly as that idea is, that’s how much of my experience with religion felt. I was told to believe things that made no sense to me, that my instinct told me were utterly untrue, and I found a way to “believe it” just so that I wouldn’t seem different. That sense of pressure could crop in small moments, such as interactions with family members or friends. It could also manifest in a much more extreme sense when my own church tried to tell me things that were nonsensical. I see this in Sergeant Simony’s interaction with Vorbis. The entire exchange has an air of black humor to it because at the heart is a disturbing look at how dissent is crushed within the Omnian religion. Simony can’t even relate a common folk tale to Vorbis without risk of offense, and that’s messed up.

Well, this whole book is pretty messed up, too.

The original text contains use of the word “madmen” and “mad.”

Mark Links Stuff

– The Mark Does Stuff Tour 2015 is now live and includes dates across the U.S. this summer and fall Check the full list of events on my Tour Dates / Appearances page.
– My Master Schedule is updated for the near and distant future for most projects, so please check it often. My next Double Features for Mark Watches will be the remainder of The Legend of Korra, series 8 of Doctor Who, and Kings. On Mark Reads, Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series will replace the Emelan books.
– Mark Does Stuff is on Facebook! I’ve got a community page up that I’m running. Guaranteed shenanigans!

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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