Mark Reads ‘The Last Continent’: Part 12

In the twelfth part of The Last Continent, Ponder pursues his dream. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld

Trigger Warning: For talk of misogyny

This book still feels directionless to me, and since the wizards are STILL on Mono Island, I have no idea how they affect the future of Fourecks. (Yet.) I think the introduction of gender/sex is probably the first major hint of that, but they’re still stuck on the same island. However, Pratchett’s decision to focus the scene in this section on Ponder was fantastic, if only because he’s so utterly unlike the other wizards.

Which is the whole point. He’s younger than them, but he also comes off as a more “traditional” wizard to fantasy readers. Except he’s stuck in a series that has no traditional wizards whatsover! He thinks of magic as a world of possibility and hope, something humans can use with a bit of abandon and creativity to make life a better thing to live. Thus, when he finds the God of Evolution’s “lab,” it represents exactly what he wishes he could be doing. The god creates with a reckless sense of wonder. He asks whether he should create something after it’s already done. HE IS CALMED BY THE PROCESS OF CREATING NEW BEETLES. (Actually, it’s a step further than that; most of Mono Island exists to cater to the beetles, which amuses me forever.)

This is so exciting to me because I haven’t come across a wizard who is excited to be a wizard since Esk. (WHAT IS SHE UP TO, I REALLY WANT TO KNOW.) Ponder is very thrilled by what he sees:

And in that moment he knew that, despite the apparent beetle fixation, here was where he’d always wanted to be, at the cutting edge of the envelope in the fast lane of the state of the art.

He’d become a wizard because he’d thought that wizards knew how the universe worked, and Unseen University had turned out to be stifling.

This is a book I want to read. Yes, Ponder has some dangerous ideas about the application of magic, but I’d rather see him try them and fail than to have nothing at all. But when it comes to the wizards more than all other characters in the Discworld books, Pratchett has this strange need to reign them in, to keep them in exactly the same place as they’ve always been. I can see that happening here as the wizards descended on the god’s Creation Cave. (Totally canon term, just made it up, you’re welcome.) Somehow, they’ll get Ponder to leave, and this tiny glimmer of a character development for him will be destroyed.

At least I hope not! The final bit of this section implies that Ponder might actually get to stay with the God of Evolution, and yet I’m not sure Pratchett is going to commit to it. There’s just so much sameness with the wizards, and that includes Pratchett’s continued use of them to make everything awkward about sex. Some of this was funny, though; I can’t deny that it was hilarious to watch Ponder struggle with his explanation of reproduction to a god who little didn’t even know gender existed. But the text lost me – twice! – when Ridcully called women the “weaker sex” and NO ONE SAID ANYTHING ABOUT THAT. And Mrs. Whitlow is right there. Then, she volunteers to be the one to tell the god what sex is, and we get this line:

Mrs. Whitlow was looking intently at the ceiling. There was perhaps just a hint in her stance and the way her rather expressive bosom moved that she was trying not to laugh.

Can a bosom really be all that expressive? This feels so weirdly gross to me, especially in the context of the scene. Like, why even call attention to her bosom at all? What does this do for the text? Does it honestly communicate something that cannot be communicated in any other way? I don’t think so, and thus, the line is distracting. It makes Mrs. Whitlow out to be a joke, one that is at her own expense as a character.


Mark Links Stuff

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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