In the eighth part of Interesting Times, Mr. Saveloy keeps trying to civilize the uncivilized, and Rincewind is tested. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of racial stereotypes of Asian people and rape.
The Silver Horde
I don’t think I’m going to like the Silver Horde plot all that much.
It’s challenging for me at this point not to repeat myself, and I also think there’s no point in making the same statements over and over again. It’s also fair for a person to just not think a joke is funny without going into a missive about all the reasons it sucks or whatever. Indeed, I sometimes worry about the opposite problem. Literary criticism is all fun and games until you’ve got a whole section of a book devoted to setting up a single punchline, and you realize that explaining why that joke is hilarious is THE LEAST ENJOYABLE ACT KNOWN TO HUMANITY. For real! It’s no fun!
And it’s not necessarily fun to examine a joke and explain why it’s completely unfunny to me. Look, it’s a personal bias here, and I have no problems admitting that. But there won’t come a day where a joke that relies so consistently on the desensitizing of rape will ever be funny to me. Do I understand Pratchett’s intent? Totally. The joke here is that these barbarians are so firmly committed to the absurd stereotypes of their genre that they literally cannot conceive of how to behave in a “civilized” manner. They don’t understand how anything can belong to a person because they’re so used to just taking it away from everyone. There’s no such thing as polite conversation or small talk, and they certainly don’t bother getting to know a woman before…
Raping her. It’s there. I can’t see anything else here. These characters constantly refer to ripping the clothes off women without talking to them, and since they’re barbarians, that means they take what they want. That means women. At one point, Cohen makes a terrifying remark:
“Cor,” he said. “Er. I dunno…” He looked around again. “Never seen a woman who wasn’t running away before.”
“Oh, women are like deer,” said Cohen loftily. “You can’t just charge in, you gotta stalk ’em–”
So how many people have these men raped? How many women had their clothes ripped off and never got a word in while they were raped by these men? At what point did sexually assaulting people become part of their lives? As boys? Teenagers? Or only into adulthood? I am sure that there are people who never saw this as a literal thing, that Pratchett invoked this to make a reference that was poking fun at the whole “raping and pillaging” trope found in fantasy. Except that trope is real. That trope has a very real history attached to imperial armies. And by invoking something so horrible, so insidious, so violent, and so very painfully real, Pratchett risked that someone reading his book would be unable to think of rape in terms of a metaphor or a meta-textual reference.
I can’t think of it as a joke.
Yet even the joke itself is ultimately made nonsensical by the text:
And although they didn’t set out to give the money away to the poor, that was nevertheless what they did (if you accepted that the poor consisted of innkeepers, ladies of negotiable virtue, pickpockets, gamblers, and general hangers-on), because although they would go to great lengths to steal money they then had as much control over it as a man trying to herd cars. It was there to be spent and lost. So they kept the money in circulation, always a praiseworthy thing in any society.
So which is it? Does the Silver Horde not understand the basic premise of money being used to buy goods and services, or do they spend/lose their money on the lower class folks in any given society? I get the point: the barbarians are so barbaric that they can’t understand something as simple as bartering. If that’s the case, then stick to it. Don’t make reference to them buying things with their money.
“What is this stuff?” said Truckle, spearing something with his chopstick.
“Er. Chow,” said Mr. Saveloy.
“Yes, but what is it?”
“Chow. A kind of… er… dog.”
No. NO. WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING, TERRY PRATCHETT. STOP IT. YOU AREN’T HELPING, THIS ISN’T FUNNY, STOP IT. While there is the tiniest of truth in this stereotype, to regurgitate it so uncritically is horrifying. Stop. Equating. Dog-Eating. With. Asian. Characters.
Rincewind, The Great Wizard
I still hate the names Pratchett uses. A lot. It’s like when white writers try to make puns or clever jokes out of Native American names, and it’s so distracting that I’m pulled out of the text every single time I come across one of these abominations. Yet there is a dynamic here that I find clever and entertaining: Rincewind’s awareness of how little he’s needed and Pretty Butterfly’s refusal to worship him. In this, Pratchett does make his satire and humor clear. It feels a lot more obvious to me that he is aware that Rincewind, a white “British” wizard, has no real business helping these people with their revolution:
“We can lead ourselves!”
Nod, nod, nod.
“We don’t need any suspicious Great Wizards from illusionary places!”
Nod, nod, nod.
That’s funny, and it’s an astute observation about the reality of the situation. Rincewind knows he doesn’t belong here, and never does he once express the kind of entitled behavior that we might expect in another fantasy story. That’s also why it’s so frustrating to see other tropes appear here so unchallenged because clearly, Pratchett knows what he’s criticizing. Like, why does he compare Lotus Blossom’s face to food? (If you’re unfamiliar with this trope, please take some time reading this fantastic piece written by Colette at WritingWithColor.)
Anyway, I’m most impressed with Pretty Butterfly over the other characters introduced here. I know I’m jumping ahead to the end of the section, but her outright refusal to bow to Rincewind is entertaining. She’s also savvy enough to recognize that she can use Rincewind for her own needs, even if she is well aware of how useless he might be on his own:
“I was one of the first to read What I Did On My Holidays, Great Wizard, and what I saw in there was a foolish man who for some reason is always lucky. Great Wizard… I hope for everyone’s sake you have a great deal of luck. Especially for yours.”
She knows that this revolution has carried on without him and it’ll probably continue if he dies. She’s a pragmatist, and that fascinates me. I’m sure Rincewind’s luck will get him to Three Yoked Oxen because Rincewind is an expert at accidentally saving the day. But then what? What of this army of literal children? I thought the Red Army reference was meant to invoke the actual Red Army, but perhaps this is different!
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