Mark Reads ‘Small Gods’: Part 7

In the seventh part of Small Gods, Brutha arrives in Ephebe, and it is not the place he thought it was. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.

Trigger Warning: For brief mentions of homophobia.


One of the most rewarding aspects of Small Gods is the way in which Pratchett absolutely skewers the idea of false perception. Throughout his life, Brutha has been given a very specific view of the world. Now, that’s not his fault, and I definitely don’t think Pratchett is blaming him for that. Brutha was brainwashed, more or less, into believing a narrow and – simply put – incorrect version of the world. While it’s certainly upsetting in some sense to watch Brutha face this reality, it’s also necessary. He needs to understand that the religion he was raised with has… flaws.

I suppose that’s a massive understatement, given shit like this:

Brutha stared around at Ephebe. Guards with helmets crested with plumes that looked like horses’ tails gone rogue marched on either side of the column. A few Ephebian citizens watched idly from the roadside. They looked surprisingly like the people at home, and not like two-legged demons at all.

This is an absurd scenario. As is this:

“Brother Nhumrod said Ephebians eat human flesh,” said Brutha. “He wouldn’t tell lies.”

A small boy regarded Brutha thoughtfully while excavating a nostril. If it was a demon in human form, it was an extremely good actor.

I am sure that for some of you, this is hilarious, and even I can admit this made me laugh, but for those of us raised in more conservative, extreme religions? This is so real that it is TOO REAL. I was taught that demons walked the Earth. LITERAL demons. Not people tempted by the devil or people wrestling with the difficulties of sin. When I was told that the metal bands I was listening were in league with Satan, my mother was absolutely serious. She taught me that there was a fallen angel who lived beneath the Earth who spoke to people through these bands and were recruiting souls for them. I was taught that I could be possessed by a demon for thinking gay thoughts, so I had better get rid of them as quickly as possible. When you’re a kid, you implicitly believe pretty much everything your parents and other authority figures tell you, and trust me. I did. Wholly and completely. I was frightened all the time.

I don’t think that Brutha is similar to me in that regard, but I certainly related to the sensation of creeping doubt that he felt in this section. It’s not a fun feeling, but it was integral to my own rejection of religion and God. I had to go through that kind of uncomfortable situation in order to become who I am now.

Clashing Cultures

While that’s a very personal reaction to the text, I think you could also read this section of Small Gods with the same sort of lens as we did for Witches Abroad. On a base level, Brutha is traveling to forn parts for the first time, and there’s going to be friction from the experience. It’s inevitable, even if you remove the whole religious influence from the story. The whole philosophers’ bit is brilliant because it works to help break down Brutha’s perception of this place. What might seem horrifying and disruptive to the Omnians is commonplace in Ephebe. Of course, Vorbis gives the scene an unfortunate contextualization, since he views the philosophers as nothing more than infidels. But that’s what he does here constantly. He refuses to accept that anyone else in the world can have a moral or a virtue or a cultural standard different than his own. When the gate captain refuses entry without a blindfold, he throws a temper tantrum, much like his reaction to the request to put down his arms. And how about his ridiculous assertion that the Ephebians are trying to purposefully offend him by having fruit and meat to eat?

Vorbis is the worst, y’all. And I unfortunately met SO MANY assholes like him in Europe, and guess what? All of them were American. So my country is also the worst. Oh god, Vorbis is CONSERVATIVE AMERICA. Okay, let’s not go there, I could spend all day talking about that. My point is that Vorbis – either willingly or unknowingly – barges into spaces and makes them about him. And it’s awful.

Finding a Philosopher

I don’t quite understand how this new direction of the story is going to help matters, but I trust that Om knows what he is doing. What could a philosopher provide to Om? He claims it’ll help him turn back into a god, but how? What does a philosopher know about gods that an actual god wouldn’t know?

Regardless, after the hilarious scene full of bickering philosophers, I am eager to get to a scene with Didactylos, the cheapest philosopher in Ephebe. IT’S GOING TO BE PERFECT.

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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