Mark Reads ‘Jingo’: Part 19

In the nineteenth part of Jingo, THERE ARE STILL MANY SURPRISES THIS LATE INTO THE BOOK. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.

Trigger Warning: For talk of racism/xenophobia.

OH MY GOD WHAT IS THIS BOOK DOING.

Lord Vetinari

I know that by design, I’m not supposed to be able to guess the Patrician’s plans. (At least not easily, that is.) But at this point, there are so many loose threads dangling about that I cannot figure out how they’re all going to be tied together. There’s got to be an answer in the fact that Leshp will sink again, and rather soon, but… what is it? What is it that Leonard made for  Vetinari? Why on earth did Vetinari need to know where the Klatchian army was?

I have a lot of questions. LOTS OF THEM. (Which should be no surprise, since this is a Discworld book.) I need them answered, I’m sure it’s coming soon, and I’m certain you are each laughing at me because I can’t figure this out. WHAT IS LORD VETINARI PLANNING? Does Vimes factor into said plans or is he now a free agent of chaos? I DON’T KNOW.

The Real 71-Hour Ahmed

I am absolutely floored that Pratchett took 71-Hour Ahmed and made him one of the most fascinating characters in this whole book. Perhaps more so than any other one-off character (assuming he doesn’t come back), he has changed a lot over the course of Jingo. I was not entirely surprised that he was not what he seemed at first; indeed, it felt deliberate on his part that he played up on stereotypes. Yet this massive section changes everything, doesn’t it?

The most important thing I took away from this is the fact that Vimes never knew how similar he was to Ahmed. It’s a brilliant writing choice for Pratchett to make because it complicates the whole book. (That’s a good thing.) Look, the text even said that plenty of people from Klatch had gone to school in Ankh-Morpork, and I never once thought of that as a clue, you know? It explains how Ahmed knows so very much about Ankh-Morpork society, how he knew to target Vimes, how he knew the best way to do exactly that, and how to exploit Ankh-Morpork’s failings to the best advantage. That includes:

“Always be a little bit foreign wherever you are, because everyone knows foreigners are a little bit stupid.”

And that’s such a cunning way to turn prejudice against a society, you know? So Ahmed played the part, down to the cloves and the way he talked and the way he behaved, and everyone – well, most everyone, of course – believed that he was a stereotype. It’s much easier to dismiss a stereotype than a complex person, isn’t it? Of course, that’s what makes Vimes’s growth over his books so wonderful: he refused to suspect the Klatchians because he didn’t want to be a bigot. (Hence Ahmed’s whole “good man” speech.)

But it’s in the comparison of Vimes and Ahmed as policemen that I am most intrigued by this book. Both these men operate under a sense of duty, one that is of course quite different when you get down to the details. At the heart of it, though, they fight for what they think is right, even if it makes taking an uncomfortable look at your own people. Vimes was willing to see Ankh-Morporkians as villains, even though he risked his job (and lost it, for the time being) and risked his safety and risked his reputation, and that’s an admirable thing!

And it’s still amazing to me that Ahmed saw this goodness and used it against Vimes. Vimes was supposed to see all the clues that someone had faked Ossie’s involvement, but he was never supposed to make it all the way over to Klatch in response. (I still kind of want to know how much he’s diverged things from the original timeline. TELL ME MORE, DIS-ORGANIZER.) But why? Why go to all these lengths?

Because the truth is that CADRAM IS REALLY THE ONE WHO WANTS TO UNIFY KLATCH OVER A WAR. It was never Ahmed, though he’s the one who discovered the truth. IN THE EMBASSY. WHICH HE SET ON FIRE AFTER HE FOUND EVIDENCE OF HIS PRINCE’S PLOT. Now, Ahmed isn’t portrayed in these pages as some majestic hero; Pratchett gives us a beautiful and thrilling sequence in which Vimes – who still recognizes what Ahmed is doing to save his country – angrily confronts Ahmed over him nearly killing a woman in the embassy because he was careless. It’s a great moment because, as I said earlier, what happens here complicates everything. Ahmed is trying to save his country, but at what cost? Is it right of him to risk an innocent life to save others?

At the same time, Ahmed’s idea of morality, of his duty as a “policeman” whose beat is literally millions upon millions of miles bigger, is so drastically different from Vimes’s, and I appreciate that Pratchett brings these men together, shows how they might be similar, and then wrenches them apart with differences. It’s fascinating. Rewarding. There’s this myth that all people everywhere are, at the root of things, the same, and while I understand the sentiment, I think there’s a lot of value in appreciating and accepting differences, too. Which Vimes does! He accepts that Ahmed realized he was being unknowingly complicit in some huge, awful Wrong, and Ahmed acted to correct that.

What Wrong is Vimes involved in? Well, he already made a decision about that. He knew someone – the wrong someone, admittedly – was trying to force two nations into war. This book has no qualms about criticizing war, either, so it’s accepted that war is a bad thing, and warmongers are most definitely a Bad Thing. Actually, I don’t even think that properly conveys how Pratchett feels:

But if you took a man who’d sit down and decide to start a war, what in the name of seven hells could you balance him with? You’d need a policeman the size of a country.

And that’s such a clever way to criticize men who have done this exact thing, time and time again throughout history. Their crimes are so heinous and so large that they routinely escape any accountability. How do you arrest someone for a crime that big?

Thus, I believe this is why Vimes unites himself, Ahmed, and Willikins’s forces in his own… army? I don’t actually understand the specifics here, but Vimes knows he cannot let Cadram get away with igniting a war on purpose. I’d also argue that much of what Pratchett writes into Willikins is also his attempt at anti-war social commentary, and it works incredibly well, given how creepy and unnerving it is to read him calmly reciting brutality as if it’s no big deal. (The way he eulogizes the two men killed by Ahmed – or were they killed by Willikins’s men?? – is really, really disturbing.)

But it is his view of Lord Rust that stings the most. This man has no idea what war really is, and yet he charged straight into it, convinced countless other men to come along with him, and then risks their lives for his own sense of glory and duty. To me, it’s Pratchett at his most vicious. Yes, it’s funny in a sense to watch Rust bumble his way through a conversation on strategy, but I couldn’t ever forget that people were dying.

War is a mess, and I’m glad Pratchett isn’t forgetting that.

Mark Links Stuff

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since ’09.

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