In the sixth part ofÂ Interesting Times, Rincewind escapes and runs away like the professional coward that he is. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to readÂ Discworld.Â
Trigger Warning: For talk of racism (anti-Asian), and extensive talk of food.
IÂ doÂ wish we’d see something more for Rincewind aside from his usual affair. I might be less distracted by the really uncomfortable shit that surrounds his story if I didn’t feel like this Rincewind book was unfolding just like all the others did. Obviously, it’s not the same story, but how many times can Pratchett write about Rincewind disliking adventure, running away from all conflict, and inadvertently helping out along the way? Truthfully, there’s a lot of repetition within theÂ Discworld, but it’s usually much easier to ignore. Here, though, it feels forced. As funny as a few of these gags are,Â Interesting TimesÂ comes across as if Rincewind is darting from one punchline to the next instead of one part of the story to the next.
I blame that partially on the fact that I don’t actually know what the conflict is in this book. Is it Rincewind’s need to get home? Is it the polite revolution that people are quietly waging against the Empire? Is Rincewind literally going to be a white savior for these people? Like, even if that’s accidentally, that’s not exactly all that better. Yet after this section, I’m now getting the sense that this might actually happen. RincewindÂ accidentallyÂ administers a competitive exam for the position ofâ€¦ well, something to do with literal shit. HeÂ accidentallyÂ enters an inn where heÂ accidentallyÂ identifies himself as a rebel because of that pamphlet heÂ accidentallyÂ got.
I’ll get back to that. Let’s talk about food:
Besides, he liked Hunghungese food. A few refugees had opened restaurants in Ankh-Morpork and Rincewind considered himself something of an expert on the dishes.
There is a cool joke in here somewhere, but I don’t think Pratchett executes it well. The problem I see with any attempt to interpret it is that I can’t quite tell where he’s directing this satire. On the one hand, IÂ thinkÂ he might be describing a very common behavior in white people: when they consider themselves an expert in a non-white culture’s cuisine. The text might support that, given that Rincewind demonstrates that he can’t even name the food he likes without a menu, nor is he at all aware that Hunghungese food in Ankh-Morpork is totally unlike the food that people actually eat here. That dynamic really does exist in our world! How many foods are watered down to better adapt to a more bland palate? I’m not talking about cultural exchange or the brilliance of culturalÂ fusion. There’s a specific phenomenon at work here that you can see all over Europe, the UK, the United States, Canadaâ€¦ you get the idea. Have you ever had “Mexican” food in Stockholm, Sweden? I have. It was the only meal of the last decade that I simply refused to finish because it was so disgusting. (STOP FILLING EVERYTHING WITH SOUR CABBAGE, THAT’S NOT HOW THAT WORKS.) But I’m used to Mexican food in the Southwest, particularly the way that Mexican and Central American food has grown and adapted and changed in Southern California. There are certain flavors I need or find deplorable that others don’t.
I’m still mad about the sour cabbage and the complete lack of any spice in any of the “hot” sauces or “salsas,” though. NO.
But I’m worried that Pratchett isn’t going that far. Given what I’ve read in the previous sections ofÂ Interesting Times, there seems to be an amount of scorn heaped on these people that we don’t really see in other books describing other cultures. It’s the kind of satire and humor written in a way that assumes all players are on equal ground and deserve equal amounts of criticism, and I’m not so sure that’s fair. While Pratchett is certainly foolish in ordering hisÂ perceptionÂ of Hunghungese food, Pratchett never makes any sort of comment on this horrible bit about what that food is in Ankh-Morpork:
Such as Dish of Glistening Brown Stuff, Dish of Glistening Crunchy Orange Stuff, and Dish of Soft White Lumps.
I’d prefer it if I had any evidence that Pratchett knew he was invoking such an awful racist trope, but I can’t tell at all. I can’t tell if this joke is at Rincewind’s expense or he’s actually making fun of Chinese food! (And, again, aÂ versionÂ of dishes changed for consumption in a local culture.) Honestly, this joke is almost verbatim what I’ve heard from uncultured white people whenever they eat Asian food from any number of cultures. It’s all weird colors, it all glistens, it’s lumpy, and it looks lifeless. Soâ€¦ which is it?
And now we’ve got to talk about Twoflower because I AM CONFUSED. I absolutelyÂ lovedÂ the reveal that Twoflower’s account of his time spent in Ankh-Morpork during theÂ The Colour of MagicÂ andÂ The Light FantasticÂ is what comprisedÂ What I Didâ€¦Â It’s so clever! Until I had to ask an uncomfortable question:
Wasn’t TwoflowerÂ white?
At least, that’s what I remember, and that’sÂ how he’s depicted in every piece of fanart that I’ve seen of him. How doesÂ thatÂ make sense? Okay, maybe that’s simply an issue of the fandom not knowing anything about the Agatean Empire until this book, and thus, their information wasn’t complete. Now it is! Soâ€¦ is he still white? Do fans draw him looking Asian? And if they do, do you mean to tell me that Twoflower is a bumbling, ignorant tourist who takes pictures of everything? That would make him a very obvious racial stereotype and LITERALLY EVERY OPTION MAKES ME UNCOMFORTABLE.
So, Twoflower unknowingly set this all in motion, and now, the revolutionaries are reaching out to Rincewind for help. I think thereÂ isÂ something neat about perspective in this story. To the people who’ve lived under an empire as oppressive as this one, Ankh-Morpork seems likeÂ heavenÂ to them. Yet I think it’s pretty obvious how weirdÂ thatÂ feels, too. A mostly-white part of the Discworld is the place to be emulated and adored? Granted, I don’t actually think that this is the entire message. Part of the joke is that to Rincewind, Ankh-Morpork is a huge mess and not at all what these people think it is. So I wonder if Pretty Butterly,Â who finally nabs Rincewind, will see through this. She doesn’t seem ready to worship Rincewind atÂ all:
“You are maintaining a disguise?”
“It is a very good one.”
“Thank you, becauseâ€“”
“Only a great wizard would dare to look like such a pathetic piece of humanity.”
BLESS. But I actually found this second part far more interesting:
“Listen to me,” she said. “A lot of bad things are happening. I don’t believe in great wizards, but other people do, and sometimes people need something to believe in. And if these other people die because we’ve got a wizard who is not so very great, then he will be a very unlucky wizard indeed. You may be the Great Wizard. If you are not, then I suggest you study very hard to be great. Do I make myself clear?”
See, there’s a lot of great potential here! If Rincewind inspires people, that’s great, especially if that means that these people get to otherwise run the revolution as they see fit. I don’t think it’s as bad if this happens, and that’s what I hope we’ll see. ButÂ how? I don’t know that most folks would find Rincewind very inspiring, you know? I imagine that it’s probably going to happenâ€¦ accidentally.
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I genuinely think the food joke is intended to be on Rincewind. Having established many, MANY times that Ankh-Morpork’s most famous culinary offerings are all “misc. tubes, gristle, burnt crunchies etc, 1 bag of”…Rincewind’s got no room to be a snob, and every Discworld reader that’s read an Ankh-Morpork based book (most of them by now) would probably know it.
Rincewind, you ate DIBBLER’S food! Glistening Mystery Hunghung Surprise should make you homesick!
Of course, whether or not the joke WORKS as intended is a different question. I’m less sure about that one.