In the seventh part of Interesting Times, Rincewind learns more about the Empire while Cohen rethinks his siege of Hunghung. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For continued talk of racism/Orientalism.
As usual, I’ll split this up based on the two unfolding plots here!
I think I’m beginning to understand why I might be having problems with this plot, despite that I do think it’s got something fascinating to it. I feel like Cohen in the other Rincewind books is much different from this Cohen because the whole “barbarian” aspect is defined differently. Particularly in The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, Cohen felt like a hero – and yes, a violent one – who was realizing that the world was passing him by due to his age. Here, however, he feels more like his name: a barbarian. He has no real interest in heroism anymore, does he? So, I don’t feel like he’s a parody of fantasy heroes who don’t have a place within the Discworld anymore; he comes across as a thieving, murdering asshole who doesn’t have a place within a “civilized” world.
It’s a weird change, isn’t it? He and the Horde want to invade the Empire just for the wealth and the women, apparently, but there’s nothing here about rescuing anyone, so I’m curious as to why Pratchett has tweaked the trope. That’s not a criticism in and of itself; I’m basically thinking aloud. I commented in earlier reviews that many of these characters were static throughout the series, so it’s definitely piqued my interest to realize that someone appears to be portrayed differently. I just want to know why, though. What’s the end goal with the Hoard?
I mean, that’s also a good question because HOW THE FUCK DO THESE MEN PLAN ON INFILTRATING THE FORBIDDEN CITY? At least Teach has part of a plan, but the problem is that no matter how they approach this, they’re horribly outnumbered. (Even if they use the invisible ducks!) Granted, Cohen has always been stronger than he looks, and he easily takes out a guard here. Which still feels really disturbing because… what did this guy do to Cohen to deserve having his throat slit? Or the guy with the terrible name who got stabbed by Hamish? And then there’s the uncomfortable implication that all these Hunghungese citizens are ready to bow down to every white person they see as more powerful to them, and I’m really tired of the unacknowledged racial stereotype in this. Portraying practically every “Asian” character as submissive and thoughtless is not borderline racist; it’s overt! It’s a trope that is so abundantly popular in our world that I’m still confused why an author who is so brilliant at subverting and destroying fantasy tropes doesn’t treat this one with any concern.
You can see this same stereotype in the “Polite” revolution unfolding everywhere, especially since Pratchett sets up a mind-numbing dichotomy: the Agateans are prone to submission, politeness, and quiet resistance, whereas the Ankh-Morporkians are brash and get shit done. I am worried this is leading to the exact point I expected from this kind of set-up: that all the Agateans need is some good ol’ “European” know-how, and it’ll solve all their problems.
It’s only through Pretty Butterfly that this is deconstructed, so it’s no surprise that she’s my favorite character in this book so far. Here, Pratchett wields that satiric and self-aware wit that I enjoyed a great deal in his other books. Plus, her philosophy fits beautifully within the greater motif of belief within the Discworld series. She recognizes the ancient legend of the Great Wizard, she understands the power it has to positively influence other revolutionaries, and she knows that Rincewind could be a huge force for good within this Empire. At the same time, she personally finds it to be bullshit, and she’s very, very open and direct about criticizing it. It’s funny and it’s insightful, that perfect combination of satirical storytelling that I want from Pratchett.
“Personally I suspect there has been a misunderstanding,” she hissed. “But now you’re here you’ll be a Great Wizard. If I have to prod you every step of the way!”
Is this ideal? No, but I enjoyed it because it means that Pretty Butterfly ultimately is the architect of what happens for this revolution while Rincewind is just the face of it.
On a more positive note, I loved the descriptions of the market places because it all felt so different from what we’ve seen in these books. Granted, Rincewind was confused while he was in them, but that’s okay. It’s a culture shock for him, and it reminded me of the beauty of Chinatown in San Francisco or New York City. And no, neither of those places are an accurate depiction of China’s marketplaces; they’re versions within an American metropolitan city. But that’s the kind of worldbuilding I actually want from this book. How do these people live? What can I learn from these people? And how are they similar? That question is answered by the presence of Disembowel-Meself-Honorably Dibhala, the Agatean version of Dibbler. Even thousands of miles away, someone is peddling wares that are… well, unique. Challenging. (To one’s insides.) (Though a MAJOR thumbs down to the reference to the Hunghungese eating “dog noses.” Jesus, STOP INVOKING REALLY TERRIBLE STEREOTYPES WITHOUT COMMENTING ON THEM.)
Dibhala is interesting because he appears to by sympathetic to the revolutionaries. I’m taking every appearance of the What I Did… pamphlet as evidence of a desire to escape the repressive walls of the Empire, even if it’s just for “merchandizing opportunities.” So, he wants this world to change and he doesn’t believe the lies handed to him by the Empire. How will he play a part in changing that? That’s still the central mystery to this story: how will any of this change?
The original text contains use of the words “mad” and “insane.”
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