In the tenth part of Interesting Times, Rincewind meets an old friend while in prison. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Damn, what an incredible burst of energy this section provided me.
I genuinely liked this, and Twoflower’s appearance injected Interesting Times with excitement and mystery and THIS IS PRETTY COOL. I have no problem admitting that! Twoflower is an adorable character, first of all, and I do think it’s hilarious that his innocent diary turned into a revolutionary pamphlet. This is where I think Pratchett is able to use his brand of satire and humor to explore something that’s interesting without being exploitative or frustrating. Namely: Why does Twoflower’s story affect these people so much?
Let’s back up a bit before I examine that. I think one of the reasons that I was so thrilled by Twoflower’s first appearance in the text was because Pratchett had, once again, imprisoned Rincewind. He was stuck, and by some stroke of luck, he’d get out. I felt a bit bored by the static idea that governed his story, and then BAM. Something unexpected happened. Even if Rincewind ultimately got let out of his cell by some other force or person, I was less willing to criticize the repetition because TWOFLOWER WAS HERE. And gods, it makes so much sense that Emperor would have picked up Twoflower and had him thrown in jail once his manuscript started inspiring people. Why keep him around and risk having anyone else inspired to be anything other than obedient?
And in true Twoflower fashion, that man clearly had the best of intentions when he wrote that thing. Yet unlike the character we met in the beginning of the Discworld series, I don’t get the sense that Twoflower is completely unaware of himself or the world around him. No, I’d argue he’s changing, ever so slightly, because the situation warrants it. It’s not a whole lot, mind you, and he’s still the perennially cheerful and optimistic guy he always was. But look at this:
“You mean that there’s people in prison and no one can remember why?”
“Then why don’t they set them free?”
“I suppose it is felt that they must have done something. All in all, I’m afraid our government does leave something to be desired.”
That is not something you would normally expect from Twoflower, but look. He’s in prison. Who knows how long he’s been there? I feel like years have passed since the end of The Light Fantastic. What if Twoflower has been locked up since… I don’t know, right after that? He needed time to write about his trip, but then what? How long until it caught on and was adopted by the revolution? Regardless, Twoflower seems to have lost the tiniest bit of his optimism and replaced it with some realism.
Only the tiniest bit, of course.
“I’ll always remember the taste of Mr. Dibbler’s sausages.”
“A once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Ah, Twoflower. Your love for all things Ankh-Morporkian is adorable. But Interesting Times gives us insight into why he feels this way, and if anything, that’s probably the most rewarding aspect of this book. Twoflower came from a place that is utterly unlike Rincewind’s home, and his cheery perspective is due to the fact that the vast majority of the citizens here don’t ever, ever get to see the world outside their walls. To me, that’s the more fascinating story. If Twoflower lived under a regime that discouraged creativity and wonder, then what would he do in a place where no such restrictions existed? Well, he’d be sure to write about it and tell others, not out of any grand political act, but because he was excited. He just wanted others to know that he had a good time!!!
At the same time, he’s knowledgeable about where he lives. He’s aware of the legend of the Great Wizard and the cycle of history that people believe is currently unfolding. (Preincarnation makes my head hurt, but it is a funny joke.) Does Twoflower believe these things himself? I’m not really sure, but when he speaks about the people in Hunghung, he refers to them as separate from himself, as if he doesn’t consider himself among the believers. Yet he’s able to recognize how important that belief is, and he’s able to name the kind of cruelty that the Empire hands out to others. He’s not a fool, even if Rincewind sees him as one most of the time.
AND THEN THERE’S HIS FAMILY. Holy shit, Pretty Butterfly and Lotus Blossom are his kids??? So, that means that they’re all Agatean, right? So… Twoflower is Asian, right? Actually, he could have just married into this, but there’s no evidence of that, either. Regardless, I was genuinely surprised at the reveal of his daughter’s identity. LOTUS BLOSSOM MAKES SO MUCH SENSE NOW. But if Pretty Butterfly takes after her mother, than who was she? I WANT TO KNOW.
But let’s loop this back around to the question I asked at the beginning. There’s a great exchange about martyrdom and politics that I wanted to quote:
“But there are causes worth dying for,” said Butterfly.
“No, there aren’t! Because you’ve only got one life but you can pick up another five causes on any street corner!”
“Good grief, how can you live with a philosophy like that?”
Rincewind took a deep breath.
I think this fundamentally explains both of their ideals in very little time. Rincewind, the wizard who tries to run away from all danger and adventure, has no interest in such extreme political actions. Now, that’s partially because his sense of self-preservation is about as powerful as it could get. But he’s also never lived within a regime that might inspire him to feel this way. This has never been a reasonable option because he’s never been pushed that far. The people of the Red Army have lived in a world where death is a casual option, where their leader likens them to flies who deserve to have their wings pulled off for his amusement. Thus, Rincewind’s world appeals to them because it’s free of this kind of pervasive violence. Even though Twoflower thought that there’d be no real reaction to what he’d written, he struck a nerve. He gave these people sight of a world that was previously impossible to them. And once you open someone up like that, you can’t take it away.
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