Mark Reads ‘Men at Arms’- Part 2

In the second part of Men at Arms, the Night Watch adjusts to their new recruits while Vimes starts to adjust to his new life. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.

Trigger Warning: For talk about racism/xenophobia, and poverty

Some good, some not that good… we’ve got a lot to talk about!

Edward’s Plan

MAKES NO SENSE TO ME. Of course, it’s not supposed to. All we know is that he’s certain Carrot is a king, and Ankh-Morpork deserves their king back on the throne. How that benefits Edward beyond is obsession isn’t clear to me, but I know that’s what he wants. So how do Beano and Chubby fit into this? Edward apologizes to Beano before killing him, but says this cryptic explanation as he stands over Beano’s body:

“Oh… I didn’t mean to hit you that hard! I only wanted you out of the way!”

Out of the way of what? What the hell did a clown possess that would get in the way of Edward? Even more confusing, I’m fairly certain that he stole Chubby from Lady Ramkin, all so he could… make Chubby explode? In front of another dragon? Which might not be a swamp dragon??? I DON’T GET IT.

Vimes’ Boot Theory

Look, as much as I’m going to write later in this review about how certain things here don’t work for me, I’m ready to claim that this section is one of the truest things I’ve ever read in a Discworld book. Living in poverty is a challenge for many obvious reasons, but I think this specific one is something that escapes a lot of people. It is incredibly expensive to be poor. Shoes are an excellent example because until the last year or so, I’ve always had to buy cheap shoes. I buy what I can afford at the time, which is often a $40 pair of Vans. (It used to be Converse, but those got expensive as hell in the last decade!) I’d wear them every day until they wore out three to four months later, then buy another pair. I did this for most of my life because buying a nice pair of boots that would last me years? It was unattainable to me, especially if I needed shoes.

It goes beyond shoes, though. I did the same thing with jeans until I invested in some denim jeans last year that were tailored for me. It’s the first time that I’ve ever had jeans that didn’t wear out in my thighs in under six months. I STILL HAVE THEM AND THEY HAVEN’T GOT THIGH RUB HOLES. What is this miracle??? I’m sure that plenty of you could provide your own anecdotal evidence, too. It’s not just clothing but practically everything people might need to get through their day. Cars. Food. Supplies for work or school. When you can’t invest in anything, you end up spending more than if you could have done so. But Pratchett takes this a step further with Lady Ramkin:

The point was that Sybil Ramkin hardly ever had to buy anything. The mansion was full of this big, solid furniture, bought by her ancestors. It never wore out.

Granted, he doesn’t go too deep in detail about this, but it’s important to note that Ramkin has wealth. That’s different than just being rich. She’s had property and material things passed on to her. She didn’t start out with nothing, and that’s given her an advantage that lots of people can’t even fathom. I can’t! I won’t inherit anything at any point in my life except maybe the mortgage on a house I never want to live in ever. That doesn’t make Ramkin a terrible person, obviously, and thankfully, she doesn’t act like she’s disgustingly rich. It’s one of the reasons I like her as much as I do. She’s a good person! But I think it’s just as important to acknowledge how she’s been able to do what she does. Does the Sunshine Sanctuary exist without her wealth? Probably not.

First Watch

I can’t deny that I found a lot of humor in the first beat that the new Night Watch recruits went on in this section. Carrot’s recitation of the Oath? Utter perfection. Detritus’s difficult in saluting correctly? YES. It’s all a lot of fun, and I’m glad that while there are serious issues afoot here, the Night Watch can still be wacky and absurd. It’s great! And there’s something extremely beautiful about the fact that Here’n’now is truly the worst thief ever. MY GODS, Y’ALL:

“Remember when he was going to go all the way up to Dunmanifestin to steal the Secret of Fire from the gods?” said Nobby.

“And I said ‘but we’ve got it, Here’n’now, we’ve had it for thousands of years,'” said Carrot. “And he said, ‘that’s right, so it has antique value.'”

(Oh my god, I didn’t see the footnote for that line. GODDAMN YOU, PRATCHETT.)

But this section goes astray for me once Pratchett starts getting into the “ethnic” differences between trolls and dwarfs. I’m fine with Pratchett poking fun at fictional creatures, but the Discworld books have often used trolls and dwarfs as metaphorical examples of racism and xenophobia. If Pratchett is going to invoke these things within his text in ways that are obvious to anyone, then I think he should have been a lot more careful about how this was utilized within the story. In Ankh-Morpork, the influx of trolls and dwarfs is a clear immigration analogy, and practically every character who has a POV narration expresses some sort of anxiety about their presence within the city and the Night Watch. It’s fine if Pratchett wants to discuss this sort of behavior, but aside from a few textual acknowledgements from Angua, there’s virtually nothing done here to tell people that this behavior is wrong.

It’s a tricky line, of course. And it’s certainly possible that this is all addressed later in the book! I admit that. But passages like this just read as deeply uncomfortable to me:

“Weeell,” said Sergeant Colon, slowly, “it’s always very tricky, ethnic.”

“Can put a foot wrong very easily,” said Nobby. “Very thin-skinned, your basic ethnic.”

Again, I am not saying that this is part of something to be addressed later. But I don’t know if this is supposed to be a satire of xenophobic police officers or a satire of immigrants. It doesn’t seem clear to me, and one of those two options is far more damaging than the other. And given Pratchett’s track-record with non-white, non-British cultures, I’m not exactly inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt here. These are characters who are seconds away from uttering racial slurs TO THEIR OWN FELLOW GUARDS. They view “ethnics” as hyper-sensitive, unaware that their own behavior is what makes them that way. It’s not exactly comforting to see the word “ethnic” over and over again, either, especially since it’s meant to deliberate portray all these people as the Other within this narrative.

My hope is that I’m just plain wrong, that this is all part of an attempt to tear down the traditions that the Night Watch (and others in Ankh-Morpork) have clung to for far too long. The world is changing, and it’s time for them to accept that.

Mark Links Stuff

– I will be at numerous conventions in 2016! 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 season 1 of Agent Carter, seasons 1 & 2 of The 100, Death Note, and Neon Genesis Evangelion. 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.
This entry was posted in Discworld and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.